Monday, February 21, 2011

Father O'Loghlen Story: Los Angeles Times Offers New Summary

In the preface to what I posted yesterday updating the story of Father Thomas Euteneuer, I noted that I intended to write a subsequent posting bringing readers up to date on the story of Father Martin O'Loghlen.  What I'd like to draw attention to here is a very good piece published yesterday by journalist Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times.  Lopez's article provides a thorough summary of the O'Loghlen story, and also contains some pieces of information new to me, which deserve commentary.

What's noteworthy, in particular, in Lopez's article  is how it overturns several false claims that have circulated among those defending O'Loghlen in recent days--false claims made by Catholics who continue to be intent on characterizing survivors of clerical sexual abuse as enemies of the church telling lies and out to make money by attacking innocent priests.  One such claim has to do with the astonishing choice of the Los Angeles archdiocese to put O'Loghlen on its review board for cases of sexual abuse--after the archdiocese knew of his molestation of a high-school girl, and after O'Loghlen himself had admitted this molestation.

As Lopez notes, when O'Loghlen was placed on the archdiocesan review board, the vicar of clergy for Los Angeles, Msgr. Richard Loomis, wrote him a letter thanking him for agreeing to serve on this board, and noting that he would bring "valuable insights to the work of the Board."

And Lopez's response to that claim?: Valuable insights? (my emphasis added).

When I posted about this topic some days ago, noting that if you want to deal with the fox's predation in the hen house, you don't set the fox to stand guard at the door of the hen house, a reader logged in to chew me out, making the claim that O'Loghlen was appointed to the sexual abuse review board in Los Angeles precisely because he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a teenaged girl, and had then undergone treatment and had shown signs of "redemption."

To use my red-flag scheme of yesterday's posting about the Euteneuer story, there's a huge red flag (red flag #1) in this defensive apologetic response that seeks simultaneously to exonerate O'Loghlen for his responsibility for molesting Julie Malcolm, and the archdiocesan authorities that placed him on a review board.  At the same time that the reader slamming my analysis argues that O'Loghlen's experience with Malcolm makes him exceptionally qualified to serve on a sexual abuse review board (!!!!), he/she also implies that the abuse was a light matter and that Malcolm may have borne her own role in eliciting O'Loghlen's advances.  The reader notes that Malcolm was 16 when O'Loghlen kissed her but 17 when they first had sex.  And this was with a girl, for Pete's sake.  It wasn't one of those NAMBLA-type situations in which a priest goes for a young boy.

Running through this particular defensive apologetic subtext about the O'Loghlen story, which has been making the rounds of some Catholic blog sites, are two interwoven presuppositions that need to be lifted out and critically examined, I think: one is that a priest who has molested a 16-year old girl may have gained valuable experience in doing so, and this experience qualifies him to serve on a diocesan board reviewing sexual abuse cases; and the second is an insinuation that the girl was somehow complicit in her own abuse, and her age made her at least a quasi-consensual agent in her abuse--hence the valuable experience O'Loghlen gained in abusing her!

Something sick lies at the bottom of such analysis.  I hope readers concerned about making headway in addressing the abuse crisis will think about the twisting--about the systemically massaged lies--that feed the sickness that could prompt a diocesan official to write a letter praising a priest who had molested a minor as he placed that priest on a board reviewing other such cases, and, in praising this priest, noting that he had gained "valuable insights" qualifying him to serve on this review board.

Second red flag (red flag #2): also making the rounds among some defensive apologetic Catholics is the claim that, in O'Loghlen and Malcolm's "relationship" in which she was at least a quasi-consensual partner, O'Loghlen tried to reach out to Malcolm and was then rebuffed by his former partner.  In particular, some apologists are claiming that, after all, O'Loghlen did try to call his sexual partner up and express his contrition to her years later, at which point she reacted with litigation.

But here's how Lopez tells that story: 

Three decades later, O'Loghlen began leaving phone messages for his former victim, Julie Malcolm, who had moved to Phoenix. She filed a complaint with the diocese there.

"I am deeply sorry for our becoming involved and readily accept the fact that I was the responsible one in our relationship," O'Loghlen said in a letter to Malcolm in which he called himself a sex addict.

In the creepiest part of the letter, he wrote: "I sincerely hope that there were some moments of joy for you in our relationship."

Relationship? Moments of joy?

Malcolm was outraged at the suggestion and felt abused all over again. She said that the liaisons with O'Loghlen when she was 16 and 17 left her a mess. She felt intimidated by the priest, who was more than twice her age, and she was afraid to speak up, though she said she did report O'Loghlen to a parish priest, to no avail.

"I was a suicidal, crazy little girl when all this was happening," she told me from Phoenix, where she has retired from a nursing career with a stress-related disability after years of psychological trauma.

Malcolm said the first phone message from O'Loghlen, when he tried to contact her after decades, was chilling.

Again, I've taken considerable heat on this blog for pursuing the O'Loghlen story, as a handful of respondents have logged in to imply that those trying to come to terms with what happened in this story are unfairly targeting a priest who, after all, only kissed a teenaged girl (and we know all about teenaged girls and their raging hormones, don't we?).  And he then duly repented and tried to apologize to her for the relationship, and is now being crucified for having done the right thing.

There are two competing narratives at play here, and only one of them, in my view, listens seriously to the experience of the person reporting her abuse or takes into account her own testimony about how she was coerced as a minor and damaged by what happened to her.  One of the two narratives implicitly blames the victim for her abuse, alters the facts about what happened (only a kiss, 16-year old girl acting as seductress, penitent Father calling to ask forgiveness) and, essentially, exonerates an adult priest of responsibility for his actions in violating his pastoral role with an underaged girl.

The second narrative is as sick as the narrative that justifies placing O'Loghlen on the review board of his archdiocese.  And I am proposing that until we begin to come to terms with the particular kinds of sickness at work in these defensive narratives--the institutionalized, systemic twisting of the truth in these abuse cases to exonerate Father and revictimize victims by making them the cause of their own victimization--we aren't going to get very far down the road to a solution to this serious crisis in our church.

We can't be very far down the road at all, can we, when a priest who has admitted molesting a minor is not only placed back in active ministry but placed, for God's sake!, on the board in his diocese that reviews cases of clerical sexual abuse.  And this despite the persistent claims of the U.S. Catholic bishops that no known predators are still in active ministry, and that the problem has been solved and we can all get back to work and stop worrying about this situation.

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