Monday, February 4, 2013

Peter Isely on Systemic Roots of Catholic Clerical Sexual Abuse of Minors

Peter Isely of SNAP Wisconsin talks recently with Allison Hope Weiner on her "Media Mayhem" program at LIPtv. Isely explains to her that the roots of the abuse problem in the Catholic church lie within the Catholic system itself. They have to do with how clerical power is understood and allocated:

The question is, you know, with this issue, is there something about the system of the church? And I believe there is, that actually in a way manufactures or creates a certain kind of sex offender. And that's a much more disturbing question that needs to be asked, as opposed to, "Well,  this problem is everywhere in society, so we got it, too." But I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming that there's something about the church, the way it relates to sexuality, the way that it understands power, the way that it distributes power, the way that it looks at the priesthood and so forth, that creates a criminal class of clergy. 
It criminalizes the organization, too, by the way. What Cardinal Mahony was doing by covering up these crime and not going to the police--you've criminalized the entire church and you're bringing in everybody that belonged to the church into this criminal conspiracy. And those are really the deeper questions that have to be examined and looked at. I don't think that's been done. I think there's a huge reluctance on the part of too many Catholics to do that. Those that have concluded that there's a problem have left. And, you know, unfortunately, those who end up and criticize and ask questions are no longer there in the churches asking the questions and standing up. They've had it, they've left.

And in response, Weiner asks Isely to talk more about what he means when he says that the problem in the Catholic church is systemic, since, as she notes, many people claim that the problem of sexual abuse of minors is everywhere in society and hardly confined to the Catholic church. Isely replies,

There's something essentially perverse, there's an element that's essentially perverse, about the Catholic belief and practice in law about the priesthood. If you go back to that question that I mentioned earlier, that you can be a child sex offender and a priest, but you can't be a woman and a priest, and a married man and a priest, that is the perverse construction that I've told you right there. I mean, there's something fundamentally wrong with that.   
Even when you look at the rule of celibacy, whether you agree with it or not, celibacy is a rule that is meant to be broken. So when you look at these files--because it's going to be broken--a lot of these priests went to high school seminaries, then they went to college seminary, then they became ordained. They've been never out of this system. And to consider that a man is going to spend his entire life and never have any kind of sexual activity or contact with another human being is really asking the impossible. And it's asking for trouble, is what you're asking for.  
And when you look at these documents, what's so fascinating to me is these bishops, man, how they, you know they know it's going to be broken, celibacy is, and it's broken in various ways, right? Sometimes it's with, I mean, look at the number of clergy, which is something we haven't really talked about, that are using their office of the priesthood or a clergyperson and having sexual relationships with members of their parish, with people that come to them initially for confession and counseling, Again, if they were any other profession, I'm a psychotherapist, you look at social workers and psychologists, you have sexual contact with a patient, you lose your license.  In Wisconsin, it's a felony crime.   
And so, as long as there is this belief or this understanding that there is something that's conferred on you at ordination, which places you--and they use this language in Catholic teaching and theology--that there is an ontological change when you become a priest, there is a change in your being, in other words.  So you are elevated, and you become a different type, a higher type, of human being, so that you then are directly connected to God. 
And in the Catholic church, if you are to attain salvation or eternal life, eternal happiness, supposedly, you have to do it through the church, and you have to do it through a priest. You cannot get to the sacraments, eucharist, forgiveness of your sins, all that's required according to the Catholic church for salvation, and you cannot do this without a priest. A priest has to be the intermediary to do these things. This puts the priest in a very, I think, perversely oriented position when it comes to power. And those questions have to be looked at, but we're talking now about the heart of the problem, to me, because what the church wants to do, I think, what the hierarchy wants to do, is somehow get rid of these offenders or offenses somehow, somehow make that go away, but not change the system that created it. 

I think Peter Isely is very sagacious in his analysis. He's right on every score. He's right about the peculiar systemic roots of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church, and how that abuse is rooted in a system of abuse in which the church confers on clerics unchecked, unmerited power that permits them to imagine themselves little lords and to lord it over an entirely disempowered laity.

He's also right about the stolidity of far too many lay Catholics who refuse to admit the problem or entertain helpful analysis of its roots. And he's right, above all, about the adamant determination of the church's hierarchy to maintain the historically developed, entirely mutable clerical system, with its grossly unjust distribution of power, at all costs while calling for cosmetic changes to address the intractable abuse crisis--no matter how much the whole church suffers as a result.

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