Saturday, February 12, 2011

First Philadelphia, Now Los Angeles: David Clohessy on Rotten Culture of Lies, Secrets, and Silence at Heart of Abuse Crisis

David Clohessy, writing about the indictment of three Philadelphia priests on charges of rape, indecent assault, and other criminal charges, and the arrest of a former Secretary for Clergy for the diocese of Philadelphia for knowingly permitting priests dangerous to children to remain in ministry:

Fundamentally, this is not really or largely about the men – those who committed the horrific crimes - Engelhardt, Brennan, or Avery - or those who concealed the crimes - Bevilacqua, Rigali or Lynn.

It’s is about an ancient, secretive, self serving still-intact church hierarchy, structure and culture, in Philadelphia and across the globe. It’s about a deeply-rooted, still-flourishing, stunningly selfish group of men who head a dangerous monarchy masquerading as a charity.

Fundamentally, this not about specific individuals charged with heinous crimes:  it’s is about an ancient, secretive, self-serving, still intact church hierarchy, structure, and culture, in Philadelphia and across the globe.  Why have David Clohessy's years of experience working with the community of survivors of clerical abuse led him to this conclusion?  And what does he mean by this conclusion?

First, it seems to me important to note that we still need to keep making this point, over and over.  Because far too many Catholics still don't seem to get the point.  And so the educational process about which I blogged yesterday, citing the National Survivor Advocates Coalition, still needs to go on.

Too many Catholics still do not see--still do not want to see--what NSAC and SNAP and David Clohessy and Barbara Blaine and many of others have worked for years now to help us see and understand:

1. The deeply entrenched abuse crisis points back to a deeply entrenched culture within the Catholic church, which gives rise to this crisis.

2. That culture is secretive and self-serving, and runs throughout the Catholic hierarchy.

3. It is deeply rooted, still flourishing, and stunningly selfish.

4. And it depends for its perpetuation on our lack of education--on our stupidity: it depends on our pretending that a dangerous monarchy which refuses to answer to anybody but itself is an altruistic and charitable faith-based organization.

As if to underscore these points from David Clohessy's statement about the situation in Philadelphia, today--the very day after Clohessy released the preceding statement--news breaks that a priest in the Los Angeles archdiocese, Father Martin P. O'Loghlen, has just been removed from ministry, and the Vicar of Clergy for the archdiocese has resigned at the same time.  There are links and parallels between this Los Angeles story, the Philadelphia story, and Clohessy's analysis of the root causes of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church.

To see those links and parallels--to see how this story confirms Clohessy's reading of the Philadelphia story--it's important to zero in on some details of O'Loghlen's story.  At one level, the O'Loghlen story is drearily predictable.  We've heard this priest abuses minors and is exposed story over and over, ad nauseam, for some years now.  To the point that our ears are becoming jaded by these incessant stories.

But note the following in the O'Loghlen story: as Jennifer Medina reports in the New York Times,

The priest, the Rev. Martin P. O’Loghlen, was once a leader in his religious order and was appointed to an archdiocesan sexual abuse advisory board, although officials at both the order and the archdiocese knew at the time about his admission of sexual abuse and addiction. He served on the board, which was meant to review accusations of abuse by priests, for at least two years in the late 1990s, according to church and legal documents.

Father O'Loghlen was appointed to an archdiocesan sexual abuse advisory board in the late 1990s.  Even though both his religious order and archdiocesan officials knew he had sexually abused a teenaged girl, and had admitted this abuse.  And he has been kept in parish ministry up to now.  This is why Monsignor Michael Meyers, the Los Angeles Vicar of Clergy, has resigned.  It is his part of his job to assure that no priest with a history of sexual abuse of minors is in active ministry that will bring the priest into contact with minors.

When Father O'Loghlen was assigned to his present parish in 2009, the provincial of his religious community, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, wrote the Los Angeles archdiocese to say that O'Loghlen (who was himself the provincial of the Congregation up to 2001)  had "never been involved in an incident or exhibited behavior which called into question his fitness or suitability for priestly ministry due to alcohol, substance abuse, sexual misconduct, financial irregularities, or other causes."  Though the Congregation had known since 1996 of O'Loghlen's abuse of Julie Malcolm.

What to make of this story, in light of what has happened in Philadelphia, where yet another Secretary for Clergy has also, according to a grand jury indictment, knowingly kept priests with a history of sexually abusing minors in active ministry?  The first point to note is that--as always happens when these revelations about pastoral malfeasance by Catholic pastoral leaders break--Los Angeles's archdiocesan spokesman Tod Tamberg is trying to assert that some kind of clerical error has taken place: the Vicar for Clergy's office "did not fully consult" all the files when it placed Father O'Loghlen in ministry in 2009.

As I say, this excuse is always forthcoming when these stories break open.  Remember when we found out  last spring that a priest of the archdiocese of Munich, Father Hullerman, who had a proven track record of sexually abusing minors, had been assigned to active ministry while the current pope, then Archbishop Ratzinger, was head of the Munich diocese?  Remember how we were immediately told by church officials and the pope's gallant defenders that chanceries are busy places, and the memo informing Ratzinger of Hullerman's past had most likely simply gotten misplaced on Archbishop Ratzinger's desk?  Or may never have reached his attention in the mass of papers passing over his desk (and see here)?

Important paperwork seems to have a strange way of getting misplaced in Catholic archdiocesan files, doesn't it?  Particularly when vulnerable children are at stake.  And, if attorney Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, who is representing survivors of clerical sexual abuse in Milwaukee, is to be believed, it's not just important files about priests with a history of abuse that get mislaid: it's also huge sums of money in bank accounts.  Anderson has just claimed that, in the years immediately prior to its recent declaration of bankruptcy, the archdiocese of Milwaukee conveniently mislaid $75--money it needed to shield or hide in order to facilitate its claim of financial distress.  The Milwaukee archdiocese's chief financial officer John Marek says he can't say what happened to that big chunk of change, the $75,000,000.

And so that's the first point I'd like to note here: the predictable, self-serving lie of what David Clohessy characterizes as ancient, secretive, self serving, and stunningly selfish monarchy engaged in behavior that endangers others--the predictable lie when behavior endangering others, and minors in particular, is brought to light.  We've seen this pattern too frequently now to conclude anything other than this: the monarchy that rules the Catholic church will lie and will continue to lie when called to accountability for its reckless behavior in endangering minors.

And people with any sense or any scrap of moral integrity will stop making excuses for this now-predictable immoral behavior on the part of Catholic pastoral officials.  As Leon Podles notes today at his Dialogue website, a culture of clerical mendacity runs all through the hierarchical structures of the Catholic church, and Catholic officials appear not to think they are bound by the same moral laws that bind laypersons, when it comes to speaking the truth.

And as Dawn Eden and William Doino note at Busted Halo, the recent case of Father Thomas Euteneuer, who has admitted violating the boundaries of chastity with a woman to whom he was ministering, also raises questions about the culture of clerical lies that seems to be exposed by the Euteneuer case.  When HBO released a documentary about a pro-life anti-abortion center last year entitled "12th & Delaware," Euteneuer stated that the HBO team were "liars and deceivers," because they had claimed they were merely interviewing, not filming, workers at this center.

But when it was discovered that Catholic anti-abortion activist Lila Rose had engaged in precisely the same attempts to entrap clinics providing abortion services--also employing lies as she did so--Euteneuer defended her behavior as an exposé of categorical evil.  And now we discover that even as Euteneuer was defending Lila Rose's use of lies to pursue what she regards as the moral end of combating abortion, and while he was lambasting HBO's use of deception to expose what it regarded as the duplicity of a pro-life agency, Euteneuer himself was posturing as a premier defender of chastity.  While living a double life on the side.

A culture of rotten lies, secrets, and silence: this seems to run through clerical and hierarchical life of the Catholic church.  And it is right at the heart of the system that feeds abuse, and which Clohessy reminds us deserves our ultimate attention--more than do the individual players in the system whose names keep popping up in new media stories.

And there's one more point to which I think the recent stories from Philadelphia and Los Angeles draw our attention, because they confirm Clohessy's analysis: this is the way in which both stories definitively disprove one of the central lies of the hierarchy and its defenders about the abuse crisis.  This is the claim, constantly shopped about now by both church officials and their defenders, that the abuse crisis is a thing of the past.

It's over and done with.  We've resolved it.  It was a manifestation of the swinging sixties, of sexual revolution that had worked its way into seminaries in that loose period when, in particular, gay candidates for the priesthood flooded the seminaries.

And we now have it under control.  The seminary problem has been fixed.  The gays are out, and abuse is on the wane.  There's a zero-tolerance policy in place.  Church officials are on top of the problem, and no priests with a history of abuse are any longer being kept in ministry or assigned to ministry.

And yet Father O'Loghlen was assigned to his current parish in March 2009.  With a letter coming from his religious superior stating that he was fit for ministry and had an unblemished past.  And with documents in his personnel file known to both that religious superior and archdiocesan officials dating back to 1996, revealing that he had admitted abuse of a teenaged girl.

And the grand jury indictments in Philadelphia indicate that something similar has continued to go on in that archdiocese: even after all the controls have supposedly been put into place and we've now solved the problem of clerical abuse, the Secretary for Clergy in that archdiocese has, according to a grand jury indictment, continued placing known child molesters in active ministry.

Something's rotten here.  And the rottenness is systemic.  It is, precisely as David Clohessy concludes, a systemic rottenness peculiar to a dangerous, out of control, ancient monarchy prone to secrecy and self-serving lies, prone to selfishness, to placing its self-preservation above every other value, even the well-being of vulnerable children, as it presents itself as a vehicle for redemption and grace.

Until those Catholics who continue to defend the present system and who shore it up see this--until they recognize that the time has long since passed for them to stop defending the indefensible--this situation is not going to change.  And, as I noted yesterday, if effective change is to take place, Catholics need to educate themselves.  They need to begin to understand the systemic dynamics running underneath the abuse crisis, and to stop permitting themselves to be distracted by the personality-driven analysis, often focused on scapegoating of gay priests, that deliberately tries to divert their attention from the underlying systemic, root causes of the abuse crisis.

I'll append some brief notes to flesh out that last sentence in a moment, in a subsequent posting.

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