Saturday, February 18, 2017

Michael Boyle on Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis: How It Happened, What Can Be Done — "Dysfunctional and Sick Culture Playing Out One Strand of Its Sickness and Dysfunctionality"

I'd like to recommend to you Michael Boyle's four-part series on how the sexual abuse crisis happened in the Catholic church, and what's to be done about it. As Michael says in the first installment in this series at his Sound of Sheer Silence blog, he was motivated to write these postings in response to the release of the Australian Royal Commission's report about clerical sexual abuse, which shows one in five members of some Catholic religious communities including the Marist Brothers and Christian Brothers allegedly involved in child sexual abuse.

Michael's postings (#2 and #3 are here and here) build to the following conclusion in his final posting of the series:

Summing up what was included in the last three posts, I would say that the Roman Catholic clerical sex abuse crisis was caused by: 
1. a completely closed and insular clerical culture 
2. which prioritized its own autonomy from judgment by non-clerical institutions, and 
3. which developed a culture of "don't ask, don't tell" with regard to sexual indiscretions 
4. formed in light of its own internal struggles around the fact that a majority of its members were closeted gay men, and 
5. which was also struggling with shrinking numbers, and thus 
6. was incentivized doing whatever possible to keep priests in the fold and on duty 
7. while lacking robust tools to recognize the true harm and danger of the sexual abuse of children.

I find Michael's description of the "don't ask, don't tell" culture within the Catholic priesthood that incentivized covering up the sexual crimes of fellow priests sharp and valuable. His third posting in the series focuses specifically on this "don't ask, don't tell" culture and how it has fed into the abuse cover-up. Here's its conclusion:

You could not have designed a more favorable environment for child sex abusers to operate if you tried.  An abuser knew that his brother priests and superiors would not look too hard into what was going on in the rectory, and he also knew that if his conduct came to light, the basic response would be to lump him in with all the other priests who were having affairs with consenting adults of whichever gender, and find some "solution" that would allow him to stay around--and thus continue to act out.  Which is precisely what happened. 
The sex abuse cover-up in the Roman Catholic priesthood was not, in the main, about wicked people doing self-consciously wicked things.  It was about people doing the things that their culture and worldview told them were the right things to do, when in fact those things were actually wicked.  All of the things that people are justifiably outraged over--the insularity, the closing ranks to protect their own, the secrecy, the lack of particular concern for the victims--are all products of a culture that mandated those responses to the situation in front of them.  As I said in the last post, it was a dysfunctional and sick culture playing out one strand of its sickness and dysfunctionality.

And, of course, that conclusion brings to mind Hannah Arendt's famous thesis about the banality of evil, about how easy it is for any and all of us to be enmeshed in evil, when the face evil shows to us is not the leering demonic visage we see in the television representation of evil, but a face not too different from all the other faces around us — including the one we see in the mirror each morning.

When Arendt published her reflections on the banality of evil, one school of criticism knocked her for, as these critics believed, downplaying the radical nature of evil, disguising it, glossing over it, covering it over. But as she insisted in response to her critics — and I'm persuaded by her response — this is what is particularly horrifying about evil (and this is how evil seduced an entire nation, a "civilized" and "Christian" one, in the Nazi period): it looks so much like ourselves, like something "normal," that we often do not recognize what it's about until it's too late.

Until the bodies have piled up, or the numbers of children raped have been tallied up . . . .

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