Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Questions Continue to Arise, Post-Philadelphia, As New Abuse Stories Break

Several good overviews in recent days of the questions we're left with after Philadelphia, where it has become apparent that a significant number of priests credibly accused of abuse have been left in active ministry, despite assurances of the U.S. bishops that we now have a well-functioning system in place to remove such priests from ministry:

As Laurie Goodstein and Tom Roberts report recently in the New York Times and National Catholic Reporter, the Philadelphia news, and the indictment of that archdiocese's secretary for clergy Msgr. William Lynn on charges of endangering the welfare of children, come as a shock to many U.S. Catholics, since we've been told by the bishops that the abuse situation is a thing of the past, that it's under control.  Among the questions Goodstein and Roberts report American Catholics are now asking (and have to ask), post-Philadelphia:

1. Do the review boards set up by dioceses to review allegations of clerical abuse of minors receive all pertinent information from diocesan clergy files?  Are files scrubbed of some information before they reach reviewers' hands?

2. Since the annual audit completely missed the 37 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese who have apparently continued in ministry despite credible allegations of abuse of minors, is the audit system functioning?  Is there any assurance that auditors have access to all information they need in every diocese to do their job?

3. How are review boards selected, and what independence do they actually have from diocesan control as they do their review work?

4. Are all the standards and norms of the 2002 Dallas charter actually being applied uniformly in dioceses across the nation?

5. And--to me, most ominous of all--how many other situations like Philadelphia are still out there?

In my opinion (and I've linked to a statement of Peter Isely of SNAP suggesting this--see here), Philadelphia is not unique.  On a daily basis, new indicators come out of an abysmal lack of accountability and transparency among the pastoral leaders of American Catholicism, vis-a-vis the abuse crisis.  Two examples from the past day or so:

It was announced yesterday that St. John's Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota has just reached a settlement with nine victims of abuse at its St. John's Prep School in Collegeville.  The abuse situation at St. John's has been in the public eye for some years now.  Several years ago, Patrick Marker, who was abused as a teen at the prep school, created a website to track what has happened at St. John's, and to make it known to the public.  The website, Behind the Pine Curtain, does outstanding work gathering information about St. John's Abbey and the abuse situation at this institution, and making that information available to the public.

Marker served for several years on an external review board at St. John's, and then resigned when, as he indicates, the abbey's abbot withheld information on credibly accused monks from the public and other board members supported this action.  And as he maintains now that a settlement has just been reached with some victims of abuse by members of this monastic community, the problem of a lack of transparency and accountability remains, in his view, even with this settlement:

What they're doing is reacting. They haven't been active in addressing this problem.  Names that they knew back in 2002 were not part of the public release back then. The external review board that they created as part of that 2002 settlement was a farce. And I was very hopeful in 2002 that we would see change and that St. John's would turn the corner. It didn't happen. 

That's one alarming indicator from very recent news which suggests to me that the Philadelphia story is hardly unique--that there continue to be many situations within the American Catholic church in which a refusal of pastoral officials to behave pastorally, to be transparent and accountable re: abuse cases, still hampers the attempts of American Catholics to address the abuse crisis.

And here's another: just yesterday, a poster commenting on this blog, Augusta Wynn, logged in to say that the Corapi story reminded her of the story of another rock-star priest given free rein to roam the globe as he provided spiritual direction to various religious communities, including Mother Teresa's community.  The priest to whom Wynn is referring is Jesuit Fr. Donald McGuire, who, according to Wynn, brought in much money for his community's coffers, and may have had unusual latitude to pursue his ministry (which was dogged for years by persistent credible reports of abuse of teenaged boys) because he was a cash cow for the Jesuits.

And immediately after this blogger alerted me to the story of Donald McGuire, about which I knew nothing, news began to break about a case filed against him yesterday, which claims that the Jesuits long knew of McGuire's abuse of minors, and did little to curb the abuse or protect minors McGuire targeted.  Erik Erickholm reports on this case today in the New York Times, and the Bishop-Accountability site has just uploaded an important cache of documents tracking the Jesuit cover-up (for years) of McGuire's abuse.

The common thread of these two very recent post-Philadelphia stories?  It's still going on.  The cover-up continues.  There is still a shocking lack of accountability among the pastoral leaders of American Catholicism, vis-a-vis abuse of minors.  Clericalism--the belief that priests attain some ontologically superior status through ordination, which sets them above common lay Catholics and gives them power and privilege that flow from the change in their ontological status effected by ordination--remains front and center in all of these breaking stories of abuse.

And it's everywhere.  It's not only in Philadelphia.  It runs throughout the Catholic church in the U.S.

And it's still enabled by far too many American Catholics, some of whom have logged into this blog in recent days to slam open discussion of how clericalism and the adulation of rock-star priests feed the abuse situation and its cover-up, and who have suggested we need to shut up, stop our idiotic yammering, and pray, pay, and keep obeying.  

And so, for me, another of the questions to be added to the list of questions the Philadelphia story raises is this: how have some American Catholics gotten so stupid?  And so morally doltish?  So morally doltish that they'd continue to put the reputations (and cash-flow needs) of venal rock-star priests or bishops and religious superiors ahead of the safety of children (or adults under pastoral care) who are endangered by predatory priests?

Until American Catholics deal with that question, too, I don't think we'll make much headway in addressing the abuse situation in any effective way.

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