The Epitaph and The Pit

Young Fogey has written Almost our epitaph here: the true cost of the Catholic abuse scandal.

By way of digression, he has also been writing about speech in More Anglophilia, from the past? The mid-Atlantic accent and My accent. I would say tongue-in-cheek that it is an American version of my Speech and Pronunciation – British “received pronunciation”. That is another subject from what I really want to comment about today.

John’s article centres on the sex abuse scandal and the Archdiocese of Boston in particular. This discussion seems to be sparked off by the closure and sale of Holy Trinity Church in Boston, something of a nineteenth-century monstrosity in my view, but an iconic building. I often wonder if its fate should resemble that of Hitler’s house at Berchtesgarten, turned into a restaurant or demolished like the homes of executed serial killers. Maybe such angry thinking is unjustified, and I need to take a more detached attitude, namely – it’s not my problem.

What caused the extent of priests engaging in pedophilia and sexual abuse of other vulnerable persons? It is too easy to blame it on celibacy as an institutional requirement. That is until we discover the extent of the same kind of rot in the BBC, the British Government and, more recently, in local town councils in northern England. I am not even sure that this has anything to do with with post-war liberalism and the 1960’s and the “liberation” of sex. I am no expert, but I suspect it has something to do with authority and power over large numbers of people.

I also notice it happening in non English-speaking countries, and the perpetrators belonging to unaccountable elites. I may be over-simplifying, but there seem to be three purposes or motivations for sexual activity – procreation and physical pleasure. The third consideration would be power and domination. A victor conquers a country or a town, and the first thing they do is rape the women among other atrocities. The Americans (and, yes, the British) were no better in Normandy and Paris in 1944 than the Russians in East Germany, or the Nazis as they marched into Poland in 1939. To the victors go the spoils of war. Raping a person means destroying that person for the sake of total domination. This is a characteristic of the alpha male and the psychopath who has no moral conscience or empathy for others. The sheer evil of it knocks most decent folk backwards, especially when such beasts become priests and hide behind a façade of pastoral care and compassion.

Do sexual abuse and rape occur in smaller societies like Indian tribes and modern communities of less than about a hundred people? Perhaps readers could comment with information and intuitions in their possession. Of course, the same things do happen in authoritarian cults, whether in “recognised” churches like the Legionaries of Christ or some of the more “autonomous” communities.

We have to be able to question authority and empower ourselves through knowledge. One news site I find interesting is Signs of the Times News, even if some of their postings are wildly conspiracy theorist, anti-Semitic (or justifiably critical of Zionism – what people do and not what they are) or lacking in common sense. I have been studying intentional communities and some of the reasons behind them. It seems to be a discipline within the generic category of sociology or anthropology. We humans are hard-wired for a way of life, even if we are to an extent adaptable to other ways of life like the State, the city and the isolated family. Another idea comes in, provoked by our disillusionment with authority and the “real” world, The Pit as some call it, that of Sociocracy as a means of running a small community. It seems to be a cogent alternative to complete anarchy which tends to leave the community to the mercy of the most powerful alpha male of psychopathic tendencies. In the absence of law, it is the terror of tyranny – as in the first years of the French Republic!

I would like to explore some of those communities and discern whether there is a new medium for human life and maybe an application of Gospel principles of love, forgiveness and toleration. Could sacramental Catholicism find in this a medium for regeneration as in the early medieval tribes of Europe? But, go into a modern eco-village with traditional missionary methods, and the person responsible for such silliness would be told to leave the premises in short order! These communities, which I thought had died with the Hippies, are thriving and firing imaginations.

I couldn’t imagine men getting away with raping children in such a situation!

For further reading and perhaps a discussion in the com-box, I suggest:

It might seem shocking to most of us used to city living and the consumer society (a world in which Christianity dies), or even in the country but still dependent on employment and money in a world that doesn’t know us and which we don’t know as human beings. The human cost and adaption skills for someone thinking of going that way would be tremendous. Monasteries only go part of the way, and they depend on total authority / obedience and the surrender of personality. With my “Goliard” way, and with experience of community and outdoor life, it is all extremely thought-provoking.

Affaire à suivre…

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14 Responses to The Epitaph and The Pit

  1. raitchi2 says:

    While I think the power dynamics have something to do with sex abuse, IMO the real issue is the total dependence on the institution by good men, those who hear rumors, have suspicions and stand by. In the RCC in the USA typically a priest is isolated for 4-6 years on an bucolic seminary whether in the States or in some distant land. After that he’s placed in parishes, moved every 6 or so years around a diocese (here in the States dioceses can be as large as a State) and lives in ‘company’ housing (the rectory). Because RCC clergy have little geographic stability, it’s harder to make friends who are not priests whether in their parishes or outside of them. For this man to speak out or bring accusations against someone in the system could risk their entire career, livelihood, living situation, and religious status.

    When we look at the secular whistle blowers, who are they? They are people marginally connected with the problem group. They often time have their own self-sufficiency outside of that group and an outside emotional support network (friends, family).

    To solve the abusive clergy issue in the RCC, the Church needs several reforms. First is seminary. Honestly priesting in the parish is not doctorate level work. These men could get by with a 2 year masters degree. The seminary system needs to be based on a commuter model that doesn’t let their future preists live in some medieval/baroque cosplay world.

    Second the RCC needs to allow married clergy simply for the interruption marriage has to institutionalization. Before feathers get ruffled, I want to make my thoughts on celibacy very clear: it is a higher state of calling than marriage, it does not cause men to become pedophiles. The purpose of allowing married clergy would be to give more men an island of emotional support isolated from the institution, so that these men would be more likely to be whistle blowers without the risk of losing every close contact (i.e. priest friends). Some might claim that the married deacons serve this role already, but I don’t think so. There’s a definate sense that the deacons in the US at least are only half clergy. Having married priests who either run parishes as pastors or are assistant pastors would certainly help break the institutionalization amongst the clergy.

    • I think you have some good points here. The RC Church in the USA, the UK and many other countries is profoundly corrupt in the institutions where men have real power and can keep men subject to threats on pain of their finding themselves in the street. I make a careful distinction between the big anonymous institution and the little communities and parishes where good and selfless priests serve their people and holiness in found in the most unlikely places.

      I am quite radical in my thinking in that no ecclesiastical unit (parish, diocese, etc.) should number more than 150 souls in a defined geographical territory (or a defined community of people who actually live in proximity so that they know each other), so that the priest and people know each other and real pastoral ministry is possible. I agree with you about the reform of priestly training, but it should be within the community, not based on modern city life. Clericalism should be abolished and the priesthood seen as a service to the people and in terms of a spiritual intermediary between the non-ordained and God via the liturgy.

      Celibacy should be a choice, as marriage. Both single and married priests should live in their communities and be close to the people in work, participation in all aspects of the community – practical, spiritual and intellectual. The nuclear family should be in relationship with the community rather than being an end in itself, which I fear is the reason for the failure of many marriages. Much as I like the cassock, I think its use in current conditions of life is questionable and a discrediting factor because of its associations with totalitarian politics. We need to do away with clericalism and give the priesthood a greater and rejuvenated meaning and value.

      • raitchi2 says:

        I also like your idea of small communities. I often find I’m nearly alone in my parish (a mere 3,000). The greatest spiritual growth I had was when I was in a small group of altar servers (~6) in university for a monk (also attending university). The size of this group allowed us to really encougage, know and work with each other in ways we had not experienced in parishes.

        What are your thoughts on a volunteer (i.e. non-salaried) clergy? There’s no reason why the priest must always be a full time salaried postion. I would personally like to see the office and duties of priests decoupled from the idea of full time salardied ministry. Perhaps something like the Ethiopians where many man are married priests in the parish and take turns running services, visiting the poor etc but there is still someone who is in charge of keeping the parish solvent. The men otherwise work secular jobs and deal with finances as any one else.

  2. “The Americans (and, yes, the British) were no better in Normandy and Paris in 1944 than the Russians in East Germany…”
    No better? Really?

  3. caedmon says:

    I think that the top-down organisational structure of the RC church, with no-one in any way accountable to those lower down the chain, is the real reason why denial and cover-up continued so long and the problem of sexual abuse by members of the clergy became so much worse than in other churches.

  4. Joseph says:

    I won’t hazard a guess as to what created the sex abuse crisis in the Roman Church – far beyond my capabilities.

    I will only say that, architectural problems aside, Holy Trinity was a crucial place in my formation

    I’ve written about the closing elsewhere on my blog – you’d have to search – a long day and I don’t feel like getting the links together. The whole situation was grossly unjust and there was no real effective means to protest it.

    Holy Trinity gave me a glimpse into a Catholicism that no longer exists and, frankly, seems to have no place in the North Eastern United States – which is sort of why I got to the place of feeling exiled from my religion – I suppose that is another story.

  5. If I might be permitted to write here, I would suggest that the problem with the Roman Catholic Church and child sexual abuse by RC priests can be found in the numbers, and what those numbers mean.

    In the Jay Report (a good precis of which can be found in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_sex_abuse_cases), those numbers indicate that 4% (that’s right, four percent) of European and U.S. priests have been found guilty of sexual abuse with minors. Furthermore, the percentages of victims in this cohort are 81% male, between the ages of 11 and 16.

    In comparison with the general population, studies indicate that nine-tenths of pedophiles are male, that less than five percent of the male population are potential or actual pedophiles, but that 80 percent of the population of male pedophiles in the general population are heterosexual: that is, 80 percent of the victims in the general population are female. A good beginning for research in this subject can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedophilia

    But the disproportionate number of male victims of pedophilia among RC priests indicates, at least to me, a disproportionate number of sexually active male homosexuals in the RC priesthood. I recall reading one study, conducted during the 1970s, which indicated that at that time, the percentage of pedophiles in the general gay population was one in ten, or ten percent. I cannot, alas, now find that study.

    However, if the findings of that study are in fact accurate, it would mean that approximately 40% of European and North American RC priests are actively gay. This would tend to support the findings of Goodbye, Good Men and the recent article in Vanity Fair, which both put the percentage of gay priests at 30-50 percent.

    Considering the fact that if there is that percentage of gay priests in the RC Church, they would be closeted, and would be taking special measures to cover up any inconvenient scandals. Thus, it is more than likely that coverups of child sexual abuse by RC priests will continue.

    A corollary to the above is that four out of ten RC priests are unfaithful to their vows. I suspect that that would have some impact upon their ability or their willingness to teach the Faith.

    • I think you should also compare the statistics of Roman Catholic priests with, not only the clergy of other churches, but also with public figures with charismatic personalities, lots of money, entertainment and TV stars, the BBC, the British Government, public school housemasters, lay people working for churches.

      • Dear Fr. Chadwick,

        With all due respect, I believe that the derelictions of the clergy of the RC are on another level than public figures, the very rich, entertainers of various sorts, including politicians, etc. “Too long have we suffered the scorn of those who are at ease; the contempt of the proud.” Psalm 123:4.

        Sorry, but we silly sheep have long known that those who shear us are a sorry lot. We had expected somewhat better from those who were alleged to be our spiritual shepherds.

      • I’m not exonerating the clergy who are guilty of these heinous crimes. I merely state the opinion that it is not necessarily related to priestly life. Yes, the degree of moral guilt is higher in a priest who offends in this way – but the underlying causes between a pervert priest and a pervert TV star could be similar.

    • Dear Fr. Chadwick,

      As a matter of fact, I have done cursory studies of the available evidence, which quite frankly, ain’t much. That is largely limited to evangelical clergy and Orthodox. For evangelicals and married Orthodox priests, the pattern of abuse tends to follow that of the norm: male on female. For Orthodox bishops and monastics, or in other words, celebates, they tend to abuse boys, when they abuse at all (which appears to be far less often than among RC clergy). Go figure.

      As for the others of whom you speak (TV stars, BBC execs, government, etc.) they are the elites, and studies of this sort would appear to be for the rest of us; not for them.

      Do please understand that I am not coming from the perspective of those who, for example, host the website http://www.godhatesfags.com. For myself, I value the witness of both Fr. Lev Gillet and Fr. Seraphim Rose, who as far as I can tell both left and repented from active gay lives, and went on to become devout and blessed priests and monks. I dare say that even our friend Patricius, who writes from liturgiae-causa.blogspot.com, would make a good priest. Whatever his inclinations, I do not doubt his sincerity, nor his chastity. Would that I felt the same about four out of ten allegedly Roman priests.

  6. I have not come across any properly researched material indicating mass rape on the western front in WW2. Without doubt there were isolated incidents of this vile crime. On the Eastern front there is abundant evidence of mass rape on an almost unbelievable scale. Readers here who may doubt this have an abundance of research and documentary evidence available. For a start perhaps try the book
    ‘Berlin The Downfall 1945’ by Antony Beaver first published in 2002.

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