Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Matters Catholic, Including the Sex Abuse Scandal: Recent Commentary

On matters Catholic, and on the ongoing sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church in particular, several good articles in the last day or so:

At National Catholic Reporter, Maureen Fiedler comments on an interview NCR editor Tom Roberts has done for the "Interfaith Voices" initiative of Interfaith Radio.  Roberts is dealing with the recent John Jay study that seeks to blame the 1960s (and not the bishops) for the abuse crisis.  As Fiedler notes (citing Roberts), the study is questionable prima facie, since its data were all supplied by the very people ostensibly being studied--the bishops, who remain the driving force behind the abuse crisis, and the only solution to it in a church that places all institutional power in their hands, and provides no institutional power at all to the laity.

Fiedler writes:  

As Tom points out, the entire study is severely hampered by the fact that it had only the data supplied by the Catholic bishops and their chancery offices. And then, it had data only from cases that were certifiable as sex abuse, not questionable cases.

And in the Kansas City Star, Mike Hunter and David Clohessy comment on the story of Bishop Robert Finn and Father Shawn Ratigan in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, and how Finn's response to recent revelations of his shocking pastoral malfeasance in this case is likely to produce no productive changes at all in his or any other diocese, when it comes to addressing the abuse crisis.  Hunter and Clohessy predict that Finn will issue yet another insincere, misleading apology, will call in a carefully selected (and almost certainly Catholic) outside reviewer who will produce a report with a few hand-slaps and a few image-management recommendations that won't be implemented, will scapegoat an underling if media attention continues to focus on him (Julie Hess, the whistle-blowing principal who wrote the diocese about Ratigan a year ago is a possible scapegoat because she's a woman, or the diocesan vicar Father Murphy, since he's a subordinate), etc.

And nothing will change.  Because the system is set up to thwart change.  All power is in the hands of the bishops, and there are no penalties at all when they protect abusers, endanger children, and lie to the public after they've been found out.  

Hunter and Clohessy comment on this point: 

What then is the real problem? It’s an inherently unaccountable power structure in the church, an ancient, rigid, secretive, all-male monarchy headed by a bishop who basically answers to no one. Theoretically, of course, bishops answer to the Vatican. But there are some 4,400 bishops across the globe. When was the last time you heard about one of them being disciplined by the Pope? It almost never happens.

There are no “checks and balances” on a bishop’s power. So Finn can make all the pledges he wants regarding child safety. But he could then violate those pledges whenever he particularly likes or needs a troubled priest, or dislikes an accuser or whistle-blower. And he might not suffer any real consequences for such wrongdoing.

Finn’s “changes” likely won’t work because they aren’t “changes” in the real sense of the word. They are public relations maneuvers. They are “tweaks” of a vague, weak, unenforced and unenforcible policy which was also largely created, years ago, by PR folks and defense lawyers for the same reasons and under the same pressure for the same scandal, in an earlier iteration.

And so where can Catholics find any hope for substantial, constructive change?  Hunter and Clohessy think it lies with the criminal justice system:

That’s why we’re desperately hoping police and prosecutors will step up. While our justice system isn’t perfect, it can often unearth the truth in such situations and punish the guilty, thus deterring recklessness, callousness and deceit in the future.

And they're right.  When appeals to pastoral responsibility or moral integrity fail to move ruthless autocrats whose power is unchecked, and who count on doing their dirty work in secret without public scrutiny and with no accountability to the public, all that is left is criminal prosecution.  Endangering innocent children is a crime, and it should be treated as a crime, no matter who is engaged in this behavior.

Finally, a thought-provoking look in NCR at the deeply divided Australian Catholic church by Chris McGillion, who teaches at Charles Stuart University.  McGillion sees "contradictory approaches to being faithful" at the heart of the divisions in the Australian church.  For the top leaders of the church, including Cardinal Pell of Sydney, it's all about "institutional integrity" (obedience, orthodoxy, and conformity).  For large numbers of lay Catholics (and many priests), it's about moral integrity (what the church should be doing for whom and how).

The result of the clash between these two mentalities: the growing disaffection of a huge sector of Australian Catholics, including younger Catholics, in particular.  By 2006, regular Mass attendance was at 14% and falling, with the numbers bolstered primarily by first-generation immigrant Catholics.  Though, as with Benedict's visit to Britain last year, apologists for the John Paul-Benedict model of church have engaged in overblown rhetoric about how the large numbers turning out for expensive papal shows indicate vibrant faith in Australia, the real numbers--the numbers of those continuing to go to church regularly, for instance--indicate precisely the opposite.

And so what's going to happen in yet another national church of the developed sector of the world in which Catholic religious adherence is tanking under the leadership of a pope and bishops in whose hands all authority resides, and who insist, along with their apologists--despite abundant empirical evidence to the contrary--that their "reform of the reform" is working and reviving the church?  McGullion doesn't see much hope.  As he notes, what we're witnessing is the failure of an antiquated model of church that is deliberately stifling the growth of the new, reformed model of Vatican II--as with the recent sacking of Australian bishop William Morris, after he called for dialogue about women's ordination.

And institutions that want to remain alive don't kill what's new and what promises hope.

The graphic shows the highest ranking Australian Catholic cleric at present, Cardinal Pell, modeling the new, vibrant, reform-of-the-reform church.

No comments: