Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More on the Father O'Loghlen Story: The Significance of Julie Malcolm's Testimony

When I blogged a day or so ago about the story of Father Martin O'Loghlen in Los Angeles, who was placed in active ministry in a Catholic parish in 2009, though he had admitted to having sexually molested a 16-year old girl, some readers questioned my use of the term "molested" in connection with this story.  In response, I pointed out that Jennifer Medina's report in the New York Times states that Father O'Loghlen had admitted having sexually molested the girl, Julie Malcolm.

The Bishop Accountability website has now uploaded a cache of significant documents about the O'Loghlen story.  One of these is a 24 January 1996 letter of Monsignor Richard Loomis, Vicar of Clergy for Los Angeles, to Rev. Enrique Losada, SS.CC., superior of Father O'Loghlen's religious community.  Loomis's letter states,

[Name blacked out] whose work and home phone numbers are attached, claims that Father molested her while she was a student at Bishop Amat High School, La Puente, California (a secondary school of this Archdiocese).

On 23 Jan. 1996, Father O'Loghlen wrote Julie Malcolm, who had received phone calls from him after she moved to Phoenix and was disturbed by his tracking her down.   The letter is handwritten, and I admit that I have trouble deciphering it at points.

If I am reading it correctly, however, this letter makes the following statement: 

If I had not made a move nothing would ever have happened between us.

Why do I excerpt these two statements from the documents now available at the Bishop Accountability site?  I do so because, as I've noted, a number of readers of my posting several days ago took exception to the term "molestation" to describe what Father O'Loghlen did to Julie Malcolm.

And so I think it's significant to note that this is precisely how Ms. Malcolm regarded what happened.  And I think it's extremely important for those of us concerned about addressing the abuse crisis in the Catholic church to honor what survivors of such abuse tell us, and to listen carefully to their own description of their experiences.

I draw attention to these two references, too, to challenge readers to think more carefully about that powerful, culturally dominant subtext running beneath the Wall Street Journal's headline about this story.  This subtext runs as follows: Poor Father is lonely and repressed.  A seductive teenaged girl comes along and flirts with him.  Father falls.  What else can you expect, when he's lonely and repressed and teenaged girls flirt?  It is unfair to Father to call what happened molestation, when the girl was a teen and most likely led him on.  

We need to stop making excuses for Father.  

And we need to think far more carefully about that powerful, culturally dominant subtext that keeps excusing men who molest girls, with the insinuation that heterosexual (or heterosexual-posturing) men are entitled to have what they want and to use others as they will in power games.  That is the toxic subtext running underneath the WSJ headline.

It's disturbing, but not surprising to find this heterosexism so strongly embedded in the culture of American Catholicism right now.  We have, after all, worked hard to turn ourselves into the world's biggest old boys' club, a club for privileged heterosexual males, for men at their worst (as long as they're heterosexual or pretend to be heterosexual).  We now even have an open-door policy inviting our pals in the Anglican communion fleeing women priests and openly gay clergy to join our boys' club.  

It's especially disturbing to see many Catholics who have begun to understand the games the Catholic hierarchy have been playing to absolve themselves of responsibility for the abuse crisis colluding with the hierarchy in using the heterosexist game to absolve themselves of responsibility for that crisis.  We need to educate ourselves and to think more carefully about our Catholic (culturally determined) heterosexism and the homophobia it enfolds as its corollary.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has another editorial today about the Philadelphia story, where the primary form of abuse enacted by priests in that breaking narrative is equally sickening abuse of male minors.  As this editorial notes, the responsibility for the abuse crisis lies squarely at the feet of the Catholic hierarchy, who have promised accountability and justice, but who have failed to deliver on their promises--as we are learning all over again from both Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

And from Italy comes news that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been indicted on charges of teen prostitution.  He will be tried on a charge of having paid a 17-year old girl for sex, and then having sought to cover this up.

Berlusconi's behavior is increasingly embarrassing to the Vatican, which pulled strings to put him into office because he was a strong "family-values" man upholding traditional Christian moral teachings vs. the previous center-left government, which was soft on gay rights.  We Catholics are paying an increasingly high price, it seems, for our heterosexism, with its strange and indefensible assumptions that heterosexual men are more entitled than anyone else in the world, that what heterosexual men do is ipso facto "natural" and should therefore receive passes we deny to women and gay men. 

Something's very wrong with the picture of the world we've constructed in our bastion of heterosexual male entitlement--or, in the case of many of our clergy, of pretend-heterosexual male entitlement.  Wrong, as in morally awry . . . .

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