Crushing trust and encouraging a flight from God

Posted: Jul 31, 2003 12:00 AM

The vast size of the nation's Catholic Church (at about 64 million parishioners, the country's largest by a factor of 7 or 8), may partly explain the vast scope of the scandal engulfing the church.

The scandal involves (a) sex of the most deviant sort - primarily homosexual sex by priests, primarily with boys - pederasty, pedophilia, fellatio, rape - all generally subsumed under such euphemistic headings as "sexual abuse" or "sexual misconduct." The scandal also involves (b) consequent secrecy and cover-up by in-denial church authorities who should have been, instead of "there-thering" guilty priests and reassigning them within the church, calling the cops.

The Catholic Church is not my church. Through history it has served as one of the most estimable institutions advancing Western Civilization - yet today, in America at least, it is rife with a mystery its advocates and admirers do not usually have in mind when they discuss "the mystery" of the Catholic (or any) church.

News accounts disclosed the scandal 18 months ago. Today, with Catholic bishops meeting recently in annual convention in St. Louis, it continues - with the hierarchy evidently still largely in denial not only as to the extent deviant predatory sex with the young is crushing trust in the priesthood, but also the extent to which it is devastating Catholic belief and encouraging, more broadly, a flight from God.

What follow are headlines and quotations from news coverage, arranged roughly in calendar order, testifying to the scope of the scandal and its cover-up.

- Headline: "Priest Survey: Gay Cliques Exist" and "Some Catholic Clergy Call Seminary 'Subculture' Divisive."

- Quote (datelined Boston): "When he was a top official in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop Thomas Daily, who now heads the Diocese of Brooklyn, promoted a priest (the Rev. Paul Shanley) to lead a suburban parish in 1983, even though he had received numerous complaints that the priest was advocating sex between men and boys. ... The bishop also acknowledged that he did little in response to a string of complaints that Father Shanley was giving speeches outside of Boston that endorsed sex between men and boys and was attending the formative meetings of the North American Man-Boy Love Association."

- Headline: "Abuse Scandal Is Deterring Catholic Donors, Poll Says."

- Headline (Los Angeles): "Bishops Criticize New Abuse Law."

- Quote (Boston): "Among the disclosures in the newly released records (about the Boston archdiocese): At least three women in the late 1980s and early 1990s charged that the Rev. Robert Meffan had sexually abused them 25 years earlier under the guise of spiritual counseling. The priest encouraged them to be 'brides of Christ' and described himself as 'the second coming of Christ,' according to the files. The women said Meffan, now retired, regularly invited them to his bedroom where he encouraged them to 'link spiritual stages with sexual acts,' including the fondling and kissing of genitals. In an interview yesterday, Meffan acknowledged the sexual contact with the girls. 'I was trying to get them to love Christ even more intimately and even more closely,' he said."

- Headline and quote: "Trail of Pain in Church Crisis Leads to Nearly Every Diocese": "The sexual abuse crisis that engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in the last 12 months has now spread to nearly every American diocese and involves more than 1,200 priests. ... These priests are known to have abused more than 43,000 minors over the last six decades. ... Every region was seriously affected, with 206 accused priests in the West, 246 in the South, 335 in the Midwest, and 434 in the Northeast. ... The crisis reached not only big cities like Boston and Los Angeles but smaller ones like Louisville, Ky., with 27 priests accused, and St. Cloud, Minn., with nine."

- Headline (Cleveland): "Dioceses Resist Releasing Names of Accused Priests."

- Headline (Concord, N. H.): "Report Details Sex Abuse by Priests and Inaction by a Diocese."

- Headline: "Los Angeles Archdiocese Tries to Shield Documents."

- Headline (Manchester, N. H.): "Diocese to Pay $6.5 Million to Resolve Abuse Claims." ¶

- Quote: "As multimillion-dollar lawsuits mounted against Roman Catholic dioceses last year, church leaders from Boston to California said they could be forced into bankruptcy. But this week, the Archdiocese of Louisville agreed to settle 243 sex abuse claims for a near-record $25.7 million without a dime of insurance or any discussion of bankruptcy."

- Quote: "The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston released final rules today for protecting children from sexual abuse by priests. ... Many of the rules released today were instated earlier, including the mandatory reporting of accusations to law enforcement agencies."

- Headline: "Phoenix Bishop Arrested in Fatal Hit-and-run Accident."

- Headline: " 'Unraveled' by Sex Abuse Crisis in Diocese, Phoenix Bishop Quits."

- Quote: "After six months on the job, former FBI agent Kathleen McChesney is running into resistance from some of the Roman Catholic bishops who hired her to help clean up the scandal over child sexual abuse by priests. On instructions from the bishops, Ms. McChesney and a review board of 13 lay Catholic leaders have commissioned the first comprehensive, academic study of priests who sexually abuse minors. But some bishops are hesitating to provide information for the study, citing various objections to an extensive questionnaire mailed to them in the spring."

- Headline: "The Lessons of a Year: Catholic Lay Board Finds Limits to Power Over Bishops in Dealing With Sex Abuse."

- Headline and quote: "Head of Priest Abuse Panel Draws Ire With Comments": "A remark comparing some Catholic Church officials to the Mafia by Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, who is leading a national review board (appointed by the bishops last year in Dallas) looking into the priest sexual abuse scandal, has infuriated members of his panel and prompted some to consider asking him to resign."

- Headline and quote: "Refusing to Recant, Keating Resigns as Church Panel Chief": ".The church, (Keating) said in a letter, is a 'home to Christ's people. It is not a criminal enterprise. It does not condone and cover up criminal activity. It does not follow a code of silence. My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology."

- Keating, in a signed New York Times piece last week: "A few opponents of the board have said we went too far, engaging in what one resistant diocesan newspaper termed a 'witch hunt.' Again, I do not agree. This is not about pilfering Saturday night bingo proceeds; it concerns horrific actions by a small cadre of priests who have victimized hundreds - perhaps thousands - of children and adolescents, and defiled the institution they claim to serve. ... Sadly, a few church leaders, including some in large dioceses, chose to resist and obstruct the board. When we asked valid questions, they gave us few or no answers. Where information and cooperation were called for, we received delay or an outright refusal to help. These few leaders turned to their lawyers when they should have looked into their hearts. ... (The) work continues. With God's help, it will succeed in cleansing the church of a vast stain."