May 22, 2009

Catholic Responses to Irish Child Abuse Conspiracy

Confronted by mounting evidence of the scope of their crimes, a conspiracy to protect the perpetrators from prosecution, and a growing public outcry (at least I sure as hell hope it continues to grow), some Church officials are issuing apologies while others are simply continuing to ignore the issue. In this post, I will examine some of the statements which have been issued so far by Church officials, former Church officials, and assorted Catholics speaking out.

We're Sorry

I'd like to start with the apologies. After all, many people will commend the Church for issuing them at all. Cardinal Sean Brady, described as the leader of Ireland's Catholics was quoted as saying the following:

I am profoundly sorry and deeply ashamed that children suffered in such awful ways in these institutions. Children deserved better and especially from those caring for them in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Sisters of Mercy, one of the homes for girls where the systemic pattern of atrocities were documented, stated that they:
Accept that many who spent their childhoods in our orphanages or industrial schools were hurt and damaged while in our care. There is a great sadness in all of our hearts at this time and our deepest desire is to continue the healing process for all involved.
Several victims have refused to accept these apologies, and I can't say I'm surprised. It wasn't just that the abuse occurred or that it was chronic and widespread. One must also remember that the Church successfully conspired to prevent prosecutions of the perpetrators and worked out a deal with the Irish government to limit the amount of compensation they would have to pay to victims and their families. In light of this long-term conspiracy, these apologies seem hollow.

We Didn't Know Child Abuse Was A Crime

As hollow as the apologies might seem in light of the horrific material contained in the report, I suppose they are somewhat better than the response from retired U.S. Catholic Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland:
We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature.
This accused rapist says that he had no idea that sexually assaulting children would have long-term consequences on them. He says that he:
Accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it’.
Wow! I'm not sure what else to say about this.

Ignore It or Throw Faith at the Problem

And then there is what I expect will be the most common response of all - simply ignore the issue. This is from Fr. Roger J. Landry and was written in 2002 in response to the Boston abuse scandal:
We can focus on those who betrayed the Lord, those who abused rather than loved those whom they were called to serve, or we can focus, like the early Church did, on the others, on those who have remained faithful, those priests who are still offering their lives to serve Christ and to serve you out of love. The media almost never focuses on the good "eleven," the ones whom Jesus has chosen who remain faithful, who live lives of quiet holiness. But we, the Church, must keep the terrible scandal that we've witnessed in its true and full perspective.
This reminds me of the "bad apples" claim used by Bush administration officials to explain away detainee abuse after the photos from Abu Ghraib first surfaced. I do have to give Landry credit for one thing though. He does an absolutely outstanding job of unintentionally summarizing one of the things that makes faith so dangerous:
No matter how sinful a priest is, provided that he has the intention to do what the Church does — at Mass, for example, to change bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, or in confession, no matter how sinful he is personally, to forgive the penitent's sins — Christ himself acts through that minister in the sacraments.
Read those words again and let them sink in. See the problem? Yeah, it is a big one. I wouldn't have thought to include Landry's response to the Boston scandal here except that a self-described "faithful Catholic" presented it as an answer to the Irish scandal. That she regards it as an answer is disturbing.

Atheists Are Evil!

The only thing that could be better than ignoring the issue or attempting to obscure it with faith and Christianspeak would be ignoring the issue while demonizing everyone's favorite target...the atheists.

This appears to be precisely what outgoing Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, decided to do.
He said, rather controversially perhaps, that a lack of faith is 'the greatest of evils.' He blamed atheism for war and destruction, and implied it was a greater evil even than sin itself.
Hmmm, I didn't realize we were the ones raping children and concealing it. I didn't realize we were the ones making sure that those who committed these despicable acts would never be held criminally responsible for them.

What would I like to see in the aftermath of the news out of Ireland? I'd like to see the fall of the Catholic Church, but I'm not particularly optimistic that I will live to see that. However, there is something that I would accept as a consolation prize. I would like to reach the point where any discussion of Catholicism inevitably mentions widespread child abuse, systemic efforts to avoid prosecution and protect the perpetrators so that they may continue to prey on children, and the dangers of faith. Yeah, I think I'd take that.

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