Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cloyne Report Appears, and Commonweal Blog Discussion Develops

Pope Benedict with Bishop John Magee of Cloyne
The much-anticipated Cloyne report, the Irish government's report on its findings in its investigation of sexual abuse cases in the diocese of Cloyne, has now been released, and is gaining much attention.  Since I haven't yet read the report, I won't comment on it at any length now.  I plan to do so in the near future.

Meanwhile, for those seeking information about this report from a wide variety of news sources around the world, I highly recommend Kathy Shaw's Abuse Tracker site at  Kathy populates this site several times daily with new links from around the world about the abuse situation in religious groups--especially the Catholic church.

In the articles I have already read--e.g., Michael Kelly's Catholic News Service story picked up by National Catholic Reporter--two points are already standing out:

1. First, the report provides chilling evidence that the cover-up in Irish dioceses continued into 2009, after Irish church officials had begun to reassure the public that they had everything under control (and as commentators in many places are now asking, if in Cloyne, Philadelphia, Kansas City, then everywhere: is the cover-up simply an ongoing fact of Catholic hierarchical life everywhere?).

2. And second, the Vatican is implicated in the cover-up, since it sent the Irish bishops a signal that their attempt to formulate strict guidelines to cover the handling of abuse cases across diocesan lines did not conform to canon law, thereby kicking the ball back to each individual bishop, who has been permitted to do as he damned well pleased in his own diocese.

And I'll perhaps say more about both of those points, once I've read the report itself and have better informed myself. 

Meanwhile, I do also want to take note of a fascinating interchange about one detail of the Cloyne report, from the Commonweal blog site.  Yesterday, Lisa Fullam published valuable commentary there, noting one detail from the report: she points out that it mentions that Cloyne Bishop John Magee, a man with thick ties to the highest levels of the Vatican for many years, has made inappropriate advances to a seminarian.  

And about these advances, Fullam writes: 

I find the second–the sexual/romantic stuff–to be an egregious abuse of power over an aspirant to the priesthood. But it is also a sad and tragic reflection of Magee’s inner life. Would you describe such a man (to the extent that we can infer the man from his actions) as having a vocation to celibate life, or is he a man with unrequited sexual/romantic longings who is hiding in the clerical closet? A priest I know reaches out sexually (to adult women,) but will never face within himself the deeper question of vocation, responsibility, and the relationship of sexual acts and overtures to a deep unmet need for intimacy. I can’t help but see Magee in the same light. Part of the cost of mandatory celibacy for the Church is the acting out of men who cannot face their normal human desire for intimacy in a mature way. And if Magee is gay, (he may be straight or bisexual in orientation, and just be looking for sex where he thinks he can get it,) this “intimacy closet” is made darker still by the Church’s harsh anti-gay teaching.

To which Commonweal associate editor Matthew Boudway responds: 

I’m not sure I buy the therapeutic premise that if Bishop Magee made a pass at a seminarian, this indicates that he had a “deep unmet need for intimacy,” and that this unmet need and the unrequited longings it begot suggest that the bishop didn’t really have a vocation, but was only using the priesthood as a refuge. Good priests who do not make passes at seminarians (or anyone else) may have unrequited longings, and those with unrequited longings may not lack for intimacy in their lives. No amount of emotional intimacy overrides or compensates for sexual appetites. (Likewise, evidence of an unmet emotional need isn’t a sure sign that a person isn’t getting enough sex.) If Lisa’s point is that no one can be truly happy and celibate, I think she’s mistaken (my speculation versus hers; let some happy celibate rule on the matter). But if her point is that anyone who had a real vocation to celibacy would have such a rich emotional life without sex that he or she would never feel — let alone yield to — temptation, I suspect that most of those who have taken and kept vows of celibacy would disagree with her.

And here's what I find fascinating about that interchange: Lisa Fullam, who's a moral theologian, talks power and the abuse of power.  And Boudway, an editor of this powerful publication of the American Catholic intellectual center, talks bogus psychotherapeutic analysis and celibacy.

Rather than responding to Fullam's critique of how power deforms those in the clerical system--perhaps rather than even hearing that critique--Boudway implicitly defends the system as it now stands, with its requirement of celibacy imposed on all those called to priesthood, and he accuses Fullam of inappropriately psychoanalyzing Magee and other celibate priests.

Fullam and Boudway are talking past each other, and Boudway, in particular, isn't even hearing the very important point Fullam is making, which is not so much to attack the celibate priesthood in the broadside fashion Boudway's defensive response envisages, but to tease out the abuse of power that is at the very heart of the abuse crisis.

Fullam notes (as I've done a number of times on this blog) that priests who are sexually active with either men or women are often caught up in abusive relationships in which the power equation between them and those with whom they are involved is radially unequal.  Because they are shielded by their clerical power, because they are enmeshed in a system that grants them amazing power and privilege, in these relationships in which they act out sexually, Fullam states, a priest "will never face within himself the deeper question of vocation, responsibility, and the relationship of sexual acts and overtures to a deep unmet need for intimacy."  And she adds, "Part of the cost of mandatory celibacy for the Church is the acting out of men who cannot face their normal human desire for intimacy in a mature way."

The clerical system itself, with the unmerited power and privilege over everyone else in the church it grants to the ordained, makes it exceptionally difficult for a priest involved sexually with another adult to have mature, mutual, reciprocal, non-exploitative adult relationship with another adult.  That's the point I hear Fullam making, and it seems to me a crucial point to make in the discussion of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church.

And I find it astonishing that Boudway simply misses that point (or perhaps doesn't want to hear it).  And I wonder what that portends for this leading journal of the American Catholic intellectual center, in its editorial policy about issues of human sexuality, when we cannot adequately discuss those issues without adverting to questions of power, privilege, and entitlement.  When we cannot adequately discuss these issues without adverting to questions about our own power, privilege, and entitlement, that is to say . . . .

No comments: