Friday, April 8, 2011

Archbishop Martin Tells the Truth, and Other Philadelphias Continue to Come to Light

I mentioned a day or so ago that I'd blog about Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's recent lecture at Marquette University.  As I noted, Archbishop Martin tells more truth about the Catholic clerical abuse crisis in this public address than any American bishop has dared to do--or will dare to do.

Tom Roberts reports this week in National Catholic Reporter on Martin's keynote address to participants of a conference on the abuse crisis sponsored by Marquette's Law School.  Fr. Jim Martin also has valuable commentary at America's "In All Things" blog.  The website of the Dublin archdiocese has put the entire address online, as does the website of Wisconsin's SNAP group--along with other extremely important commentary from the conference, about which I'll be blogging in a moment.

What's most significant about Archbishop Martin's commentary--the truth that the U.S. Catholic bishops refuse to tell--is its flat admission that the abuse crisis is rooted in the clerical culture of the Catholic church.  And any attempt to address its root causes and heal them requires honest talk about that clerical culture and the dreadful way in which it has been serving the church at this time in its history.

Since 2002, the U.S. bishops have been involved in a shabby, slick p-r campaign designed to create various smokescreens around the root causes of the abuse crisis--the abuse of power by clerics that is built into the Catholic system at present, a system that gives to an elite group within the church astonishing power to abuse in any way possible, with no recourse provided to those who experience clerical abuse.  The p-r campaign has alternately tried to 1) target gay priests, 2) pretend that the combination of a zero-tolerance policy and diocesan review boards has cleaned up the situation, 3) dupe the public by claiming that those trying to get to the heart of the abuse crisis are anti-Catholic, intent on destroying the church, out to make money, and 4) dishonestly evade responsibility for the abuse crisis by claiming abuse is equally bad, if not worse, in other religious bodies and secular institutions.

Martin calls the bluff of such duplicitous, self-serving p-r tactics by stating unambiguously that the abuse begins and ends with the "culture of clericalism" within the Catholic church--a culture that is not only not waning in seminaries and among the newly ordained, specifically in this period in which the American bishops tell us everything has been cleaned up, but is growing.  As Archbishop Martin warns, there are ominous signs--signs that ought to worry any Catholics concerned about their church's future--that an increasing number of seminarians enter seminaries precisely to obtain power.  

To obtain power over others.  To obtain a status that places them on a pedestal to rule others in a system that accords no power to the ruled.  To continue, and deepen, that is to say, the very power dynamic, the inequitable distribution of power, in which the abuse crisis is rooted.

As he notes, the clerical elite of the Catholic church has been so jealous about preserving and extending its unwarranted privilege and its power over lay Catholics that we can now see, given all we know about the abuse crisis up to now, three overriding concerns that have driven the clerical response to the crisis: “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of its [i.e., the church's] assets.”

The one consideration that one would expect to drive any religious institution's response to revelations of abuse of minors by that institution's religious leaders--concern for the welfare of abused children and justice (and healing) for victims--has been largely, shockingly absent from the institutional response to the abuse crisis up to now.  And (here my own comment, not reporting on Martin's commentary) if Philadelphia shows us anything it all, it shows us that this continues to be the case in American Catholicism--in diocese after diocese, where the cover-up continues despite the slick ongoing image-management campaign of the U.S. bishops and their supporters, which tries to convince us that the problems are now all a thing of the past.  And that children are safer in the Catholic church than anywhere else in the world!

And the bad news to confirm this judgment about Philadelphia--the bad news of other Philadelphias everywhere in American Catholicism--just continues to pour forth.  The circus created by Republican in-fighting in New Hampshire in recent days, involving Bishop John McCormack (about which Mark Silk has been providing lively commentary at his Spiritual Politics blog [and here and here]) should not cause us to overlook an ugly step McCormack has taken in the past week, as he tries to play legal hardball tactics with an abuse survivor who has filed suit against various New Hampshire Catholic officials.

As an important press statement about this situation by SNAP notes, this John Doe victim, who has asked to have his identity shielded, who has a history of severe depression and debilitating anxiety, who fears economic reprisal and repercussions for his family if his identity is made public, is being pursued by Bishop McCormack with threats to "out" him as he continues with his legal actions.  To repeat: in the circus sideshow created by a New Hampshire representative's slam of McCormack as a "pimp" for pedophiles--which is entirely another story--this attempt of a bishop to play hardball legal games with a survivor of childhood sexual abuse deserves attention.

As does the developing story of the abuse of native American children in Alaska.  On 19 April, PBS will be airing an important documentary about this particularly heinous kind of abuse--abuse of children in minority communities--by church workers and religious authority figures.  There is a growing body of literature to document noteworthy patterns of clerical abuse of children in minority communities, or in communities of children struggling with physical handicaps. 

One of the most disturbing aspects of the story of Fr. Lawrence Murphy in Milwaukee was his repeated, multi-year abuse of deaf boys, who report that the police did not believe them when they repeatedly tried to blow the whistle on Murphy.  There are equally disturbing reports from Chicago (and elsewhere) of priests with a known history of abuse being "dumped" on African-American parishes, where their abuse continues in these minority communities.  Priests accused of abuse are also sometimes whisked away and sent overseas to developing nations, until talk about their abuse in the U.S. or Europe has died down.

And, as Archbishop Diarmuid Martin notes, none of this is going to stop until faithful Catholics confront the culture of clerical power (read: the culture of clerical abuse of power) around which these stories revolve, and do something about that culture.   And the doing is going to have to begin with admitting that there is a problem, and that the problem begins and ends with clericalism.

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