Monday, June 25, 2012

The Lynn Conviction in Philadelphia: A Selection of Commentary

Following the conviction of Msgr. William Lynn in Philadelphia last week for child endangerment, quite a bit of thoughtful commentary has been appearing at blog sites and in news publications.  Here's a selection of statements that, as Jerry Slevin did in his outstanding piece here a few days ago, look at the implications of this conviction for the Catholic church as a whole, and especially for its leaders:

At Religion Dispatches, Anthea Butler notes the ironic juxtaposition of the Lynn verdict with the kick-off of the U.S. Catholic bishops' latest shock-and-awe event, the "fortnight for freedom."  As Butler points out, freedom may now have become a rather pricey commodity for the bishops themselves, when that term implies freedom for me (to protect child molesters) but not for thee (to have access to contraception in your healthcare plans or to the right of civil marriage if you're a same-sex couple).

With freedom and rights come obligations, and the message the bishops have just gotten from the criminal justice system is that their "right" to do as they please with child molesters may be curbed by obligations to children and society as a whole--obligations the justice system is prepared to enforce.

Butler writes,

Freedom may become a pricey commodity for leaders of the church who continue to operate with impunity, ignoring their own norms for sexual abuse. It is time for those Bishops who allowed these evils to continue to pay the price for their sins. If they want to fight the government, fine. Now with the conviction of Lynn, the government has served them notice that the law is not afraid to hold them accountable.

In another powerful statement in the same vein, Kristine Ward of the National Survivor Advocates Coalition (NSAC) also notes the cruel irony of the coincidence of the Lynn verdict with the kick-off of the "fortnight for freedom"--an irony that weighs with specially cruelty on the shoulders of abuse survivors and their families.  Ward raises critical questions about the claim of the U.S. Catholic bishops to be riding white horses in their "religious freedom" war against the Obama administration, given their track record with priests abusing minors:

The Bishops’ campaign of a Fortnight for Freedom carries, we believe an irony akin to the torturer’s rack for survivors of sexual abuse and their families, and the families of those who committed suicide. 
What the Bishops are trying to drive home is that they are riding white horses for a fundamental right in the United States: freedom to practice religion without interference. 
But this fundamental and primal right of being able to enjoy the comfort and connection of religious and spiritual belief, passed down and cherished in family and community life, sanctifying life stages in and through it, and the desire to hand it on with reverence to the next generation is exactly what perpetrator priests and cover-up hierarchy and abusing religious sisters and cover-up leaders of their congregations violently stole and steal from innocent children – even into adulthood – by rape and sodomy and cover-up. 
We believe this should not go unsaid in a 14 day hoopla and counter hoopla of prayer, rallies, petition and fireworks of the verbal kind.

At his Catholic America blog at Washington Post, Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo similarly focuses on the bishops' "religious freedom" campaign and their attempt to burnish their image through that campaign--after he notes that the Lynn conviction totally invalidates the attempt of Catholic officials to use the Nuremburg defense in future criminal trials about child endangerment: 

To a reasonable observer, this case demonstrates that the courts will not afford clergymen a version of the Nazi’s Nuremburg defense that they “were only following orders.”  . . .  
The big loser from the timing of Msgr. Lynn’s conviction may be the bishops’ just-launched Fortnight for Freedom. It would be a disaster for the bishops’ authority if the public comes to view this campaign as a smoke-screen to avoid punishing evildoers in the clerical pedophilia. Beware of the fireworks when this campaign closes: it might not be what the bishops expected.

In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael D. Schaffer sees the Lynn verdict as a "pivotal moment" in the abuse crisis.  He cites Fr. Tom Reese of Georgetown, who notes that the Lynn verdict puts every top Catholic official in the nation on notice: 

It's a pivotal moment in the worst crisis the Catholic church in the United States has ever faced. 
"Everybody working for a bishop is put on notice that they can go to jail if they don't do the right thing, even if they're doing what the bishop was telling them," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center. 
"This is sending a very strong message to every priest personnel director, bishop's secretary, and chancellor in the country that it won't be a legitimate excuse to say, 'The bishop told me to do it,' " said Reese, formerly editor of the Jesuit magazine America and author of books on the Vatican and the American hierarchy.

The important survivors-advocay group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has a similar take on the Lynn verdict: SNAP notes that the verdict is a "shot across the bow" by the criminal justice system to Catholic leaders indicating that endangering the welfare of children will no longer be tolerated:

This day—and the relief, vindication and healing it gives clergy sex abuse victims—is long overdue. The guilty verdict sends a strong and clear message that shielding and enabling predator priests is a heinous crime that threatens families, communities and children, and must be punished as such. It is also the criminal justice system's "shot across the bow," sending a clear signal to all institutions: “Protect kids, oust predators or go to jail.”

And a footnote: as the media report on the conviction of Jerry Sandusky, I'm not forgetting (though the media appear to have forgotten) that both Sandusky and Joe Paterno have close ties to the Knights of Columbus.  To the Catholic men's group that is providing significant funding for the U.S. Catholic bishops' freedom-for-me-but-not-for-thee campaign.  

In Catholic circles and in many other institutions, the cover-up of child sexual abuse has everything to do with male-bonded fraternities in which the ultimate value is protecting one's brothers and the male-dominated institution in which brothers prevail.  We will not get to the roots of the abuse crisis until we deal with that fact, and with the cultural and religious attitudes that provide unparalleled "rights" and "freedoms" to ("heterosexual") men that are provided to no one else in the world--and certainly not to women or children.

And p.p.s.: not all the Opus Dei-cum-Fox news spin (which is to say, the bought-and-paid-for spin of the super-rich 1% who are now the handlers of Catholic officials) in the world is going to revive the dead corpse of Catholic leaders' self-corrupted image now.

Better, I think, to focus on living the gospel imperative in real life and not trying to spiff up a tarnished image.  Those who live by image die by image.

Better, too, to listen to someone other than the lawyers and corporate executives who constitute and defend the 1%.

Perhaps listening to Jesus for a change might be warranted.  Then there'd be no image problem, no need to do spin doctoring and image management, no need to rely on the sleazy services of sleazy bought-and-paid-for right-wing media agents.

Try Jesus.

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