Thursday, April 14, 2011

Abuse Suit Filed Against My Diocese of Little Rock: SNAP News Conference

I had the interesting (and very educational) experience yesterday of attending a SNAP news conference in my home city of Little Rock.  Barbara Dorris, SNAP's Outreach Director, has been in town to publicize the filing of a lawsuit against the diocese of Little Rock, and to offer support to the person filing suit.  Details are in this press release at the SNAP site.

Steve and I attended the press conference to stand in solidarity with SNAP and with survivors of clerical sexual abuse.  In this video clip, in which you'll hear the story of the woman filing suit, as well as her attorney and Barbara Dorris, Steve and I are standing in the background.  (I apologize, but this seems to be one of those clips that open automatically when you click on the link.  Should also note I am wearing sunglasses because the day was intensely sunny, and the sun does a number on my light eyes).

Here's what interested me above all at the press conference: immediately, the reporter from the most conservative news channel of all, both at a local and national level, zeroed in on the insinuation that the woman making these claims about a priest's molestation of her in the context of pastoral ministry was involved in a consensual sexual relationship.  And now, for whatever reason, she wants to go for the jugular of the priest with whom she was involved.

As the SNAP statement to which I link above notes, the priest in question, Fr. Charles Kanu, was removed from ministry and this past January, diocesan officials released a statement that he had been engaged in "non-criminal professional misconduct"--which tends very strongly to confirm that the woman filing suit is making valid allegations against this priest.  By my count, in the some five years he served in parish ministry in the diocese of Little Rock, Kanu was in six different parishes in very different parts of the state (very different geographically and culturally, since they were spread between the mountainous areas of the state and its Deep-South lowlands).  

The persistent shifts in assignment in a short period of time are a red flag to me that diocesan officials knew something was going on with Kanu.  This is one of the patterns--multiple, unexplained reassignments in rapid succession when priests are engaged in abusive behavior--that has become evident as groups like SNAP track the abuse crisis.

Despite all of these red flags and indicators that the woman filing suit has a valid case--why, otherwise, did the diocese remove Kanu from ministry?--the reporter from the disreputable arch-conservative media outlet wanted immediately to undermine the credibility of this woman's claims.  And wanted to make her responsible for abuse she incurred as she sought ministry from a priest she apparently trusted.  And, later in the day, when I logged onto the website of our online statewide free paper Arkansas Times to see what had been said about this story at the Times's blog, I found a number of commenters trying to give the same spin to the story--including at least one who has, I seem to recall, identified himself as a faithful Catholic in preceding threads here.

What this showed me all over again is what women who report abuse like this are up against, when they go public.  They are up against powerful interest groups intent on 1) punishing women who call men to accountability in any way and 2) spinning media coverage to draw a veil over the irresponsibility of Catholic officials, when it comes to their handling of cases of sexual abuse by priests.

It's no wonder to me that the woman filing suit has chosen to remain Jane Doe, given the kind of questions some reporters lobbed at her immediately yesterday.  It's also no wonder that, per many indicators, the abuse of females by priests is grossly under-reported.  And it's no wonder that Bill Donohue chose to spend $53,000 on an expensive full-page ad this week in the New York Times, trying to regain control of the abuse narrative on behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops and to spin it as a story about quasi-consensual sexual activity of male adolescents with gay priests.

Donohue (and, I suspect, the bishops) know that this diversionary tactic, with its malicious attempt to remove blame from the bishops by playing to homophobia, and with its astonishing callousness about those abused as minors and towards all women who have experienced clerical abuse, works.  Look at how quickly on many  blogs discussing this issue in the wake of Donohue's ad--this one included--we are willing, all over again, to let ourselves be led by the nose by Mr. Donohue and the bishops.

As we jabber on about what the John Jay study proved, not ever mentioning the most salient fact of all about that "study," which Patrick Wall points out in the piece to which I linked yesterday--namely, that the bishops provided all of the data given to the John Jay researchers.  And had a vested interest in controlling the data, in order to control the dominant narrative about the crisis.

Which, ever since that point, has been a narrative about the problem gay priests have created in the Catholic church by engaging in consensual sex with adolescent males.  When, as SNAP continues to point out, half of its members are women--women whose abuse as girls or as adults resorting to pastoral ministry where priests violate pastoral boundaries is simply made invisible by those spinning the narrative as a story about "consensual" sex between teen males and gay priests.

For my part, I refuse to get into the quagmire of that ephebophilia-gay priest narrative any longer, because it has long since been clear to me that it's a huge red herring, and that lending it any credibility or even discussing its nuances only plays a game the bishops intend for us to keep playing.  While they transfer known abusers from one parish to another, and tell the public that they've cleaned house (though judicial and criminal bodies continue to find priests credibly accused of abuse in ministry).

It says much about the moral corruption of the bishops from which the abuse crisis proceeds, that they'd keep on trying this blame-shifting tactic with all its outrageously cruel subtexts.  But it also says much about us that we American Catholics continue willingly to collude in the game, going so far as to split absurd moral hairs about whether the penetrative rape of a child is morally more heinous than the quasi-consensual (God help us!) seduction of a young boy or the violation of a grown woman's psyche and body by a manipulative pastor taking advantage of his pastoral ministry to abuse a woman.  Behavior for which any of the bona fide helping professions would immediately and unquestioningly censure any of their folks, no questions asked--while we American Catholics still, astonishingly, imagine we can excuse it in our priests . . . .

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