Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lies, Secrets, and Silence as Heart of the Abuse Crisis, Continued: The Gay Question

As I just noted at the end of my previous posting about the rotten culture of clerical lies, secrets, and silence that forms the matrix out of which the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church emerges, I want to make some brief comments about the systemic dynamics running underneath that crisis.  In particular, I want to address one facet of these dynamics--the attempt to scapegoat gay priests for the abuse crisis, and in that way to divert attention from the systemic roots of the crisis.  I do not by any means claim that this is the only facet of the systemic dynamics running underneath the crisis that demands attention.  

I do, however, think that this facet continues to deserve attention as we try to educate ourselves about the abuse crisis and the response it demands from us.  It deserves attention because there's still an exceptionally strong popular meme--and it's one actively encouraged by Catholic hierarchical officials and their apologists--that explains the crisis away by laying blame for it at the feet of gay priests, and in this way shields the institution and the systemic causes of the crisis from the further analysis they so desperately demand.

As long as we permit the institution to keep diverting our attention from the real cause of the abuse crisis--which is astonishing abuse of power by a deeply entrenched, self-serving clerical elite--we are doing the work of the institution in protecting itself.  Letting ourselves be diverted by the gay-priest-as-explanation meme only serves the institution's needs, in shielding the real root causes of the abuse crisis from the analysis they need, if we are ever to resolve this crisis.

And so I'm offering these reflections as a continuation of that educational task about which I blogged yesterday.  And because at least one reader logged on yesterday to challenge my attempt to move the discourse beyond the gay-priests-as-explanation argument.  Which suggests to me that many of us continue to need to educate ourselves about this issue, and about what's really at the heart of the abuse crisis.

Here are some points I'd like to offer for reflection:

1. It's not about sexual orientation.  

The abuse crisis is not about the orientation of priests abusing minors.  It's about abuse.  It's about a quite specific kind of abuse that is endemic to Catholicism and deeply rooted in the current Catholic clerical system.  It's about the abuse of power by a clerical elite which regards itself as entitled, beyond the reach of the law--of both secular and moral law.  It's about people involved in a system of power and distribution of power that gives signals to those within the system that their power is unchecked, and other human beings may therefore be used as objects in their games of power.

2. And so sexual orientation is a red-herring issue

To the extent that we allow ourselves to be led down the path of sexual orientation as the explanatory factor in the abuse crisis, to that extent, we are actually playing the game of the Catholic hierarchy as it engages in its cover-up.  Priests have abused both male and female minors.  The story breaking today re: Fr. Martin O'Loghlen in Los Angeles is yet another story about a priest's abuse of a girl.  Among the reasons I continued blogging for several days about the story of Fr. Thomas Eueteneuer, who abused his pastoral role with an adult female, was precisely to challenge the popular, and still very strong, contention that ridding the priesthood of gays and populating it with bona fide he-men will stop the abuse.  It will only alter the kind of pastoral abuse we see happening among Catholic clergy, if, indeed, that abuse has been largely abuse of male minors.  

3. We need to move beyond personality-driven analysis (including a fixation on sexual orientation) to systemic analysis--to analysis of the underlying causes of the abuse crisis.

This was, first and foremost, my point yesterday in nothing the curious fact that precisely the same men who routinely log onto one Catholic blog to throw around judgments about gay and lesbian folks are now logging onto that same blog to call for a suspension of judgment in the case of priests accused of abuse of minors.  Readers who read my posting as an attempt to engage in special pleading for gay priests, or who think the question of the sexual orientation of priests abusing minors is a primary question to pursue, missed its point.

The point is to note that there's a systemic link between a culture (a political and social culture) that wants to attack gays, and a culture that wants to make excuses for the indefensible behavior of the Catholic hierarchy in the abuse crisis.  The same people involved in one crusade are involved in the other.  I'm challenging readers to get beyond the analysis of what kind of priests are abusing what kind of minors to the systemic question of who's excusing whom.  I'm challenging readers to ask why it appears to be the case that the same men who want to attack gay and lesbian persons also want to draw a defensive circle around the Catholic hierarchy.

If, as one popular understanding of the abuse crisis would have it, the Catholic hierarchy is rife with hidden gay men protecting and promoting other hidden gay men, is it not exceptionally curious that powerful anti-gay heterosexual men seem to be precisely the most ardent protectors of that same hierarchy right now, when any media exposé comes along to show us how hierarchical figures have covered up abuse cases?  Though we do not know and will perhaps never know whose deep pockets are providing the huge sums of money Catholic officials have been using for years to pay off and silence those who have experienced abuse, there are strong suggestions that the very same and well-hidden deep pockets that are funding the Catholic church's expensive attack on gay citizens and gay rights are the deep pockets providing the pay-offs for abuse cases.

Which many people want to sum up as cases of gay priests abusing boys . . . . And so, if this explanation is correct, here's the picture it sketches: a coterie of powerful hidden gay hierarchical figures protect and promote gay priests, who in turn are responsible for the abuse crisis, while powerful men with deep pockets outside the church are funding the cover-up that keeps that coterie and those gay priests hidden.  And at the same time funding the diversionary attempt of those same hidden gay hierarchical figures to attack gay and lesbian persons and remove rights from them.

If that picture has any cogency, if it in any way reflects the reality of the situation we're confronting, then the challenge it poses to us is this: it's not a challenge of finding out who is gay and closeted in the Catholic hierarchy.  It's, instead, a challenge of finding out who is using gay issues and gay lives as diversionary tactics to shore up a rotten system of lies, secrets, and silence from which the abuse crisis emanates.

To the extent that we focus on the former personality-driven question, we ignore the far more important systemic question--which has to be addressed, if we expect to get to the heart of the crisis and resolve it.  To the extent that we buy into the homophobia of men we imagine to be gay but who are using homophobia to hide their abuse of power, we are actively assisting the current hierarchical leaders of the Catholic church as they seek to cover up the abuse crisis.  We are helping them lie about themselves as closeted gay men.  We are helping them keep toxic secrets and remain silent when they should be speaking the truth.  We are helping the rotten system of lies, secrets, and silence from which the abuse crisis emanates in the first place.

Think about this for a moment: if, indeed, the abuse crisis is a matter of hidden gay church officials protecting and promoting gay priests--if it's about a gay mafia within the Catholic church's leadership promoting homosexuality--why are there no openly gay bishops?  And why are openly gay priests so scarce that one can count their names on the fingers of a single hand?  Why has any priest who has come out of the closet in several decades now been ruthlessly hounded out of the priesthood, treated as a pariah, deprived of healthcare benefits, found his attempts to obtain other jobs even in non-Catholic institutions blocked by members of the hierarchy?  And why is this hierarchical system supposedly so rife with homosexuality also expending huge sums of money right now to block the rights of gay and lesbian persons anywhere that advances are being made for gay rights?

Something about this picture does not cohere.  It does not hold together.  I'm suggesting it does not hold together because it is a systemically distorted picture designed to draw our attention away from what we really need to see and to focus on: the abuse of power by a self-protective coterie of men who may be either straight or gay (and it really doesn't matter: this is not the heart of the matter), and who will use any and all tools at their disposal to divert attention from the real cause of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church.

Which is a crisis about power.  About the abuse of power.  And about the ruthless systematic cover-up of how power has been abused and continues to be abused within the Catholic clerical system.  And about how the abuse of power runs through the entire clerical system.  So that the only way to address the problem is to change the clerical system itself.  And the assumptions about power and domination on which it rests.

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