On July 1, 2013, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Jerome E. Listecki released almost 6000 documents related to his Archdiocese’s handling of the sex abuse cases. Because of the current sex abuse scandal, the Catholic Church has an opportunity to teach and to lead on the topic of abuse. It could examine the behaviors of the offender priests and the reactions of their superiors and shine a light on the patterns of grooming, betrayal, deceit and shame. It could tell the story of how abusers cover their crimes and convince others to be complicit in those crimes through rationalizing, justifying and blame shifting. Instead, the Catholic Church had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the court system and even still, they are making excuses for their failure to protect the most innocent.
Before the release of those documents, Archbishop Listecki made a statement on his blog about the nature of those documents and the handling of the cases of child sex abuse in the archdiocese. He explains decades of sweeping abuse under the rug, basically, by saying that they didn’t know better, but now they know better so they will do better:
“But, we know that bad things happened to innocent children and youth. The arc of understanding sexual abuse of a minor progressed from being seen as a moral failing and sin that needed personal resolve and spiritual direction; to a psychological deficiency that required therapy and could be cured; to issues of addiction requiring more extensive therapy and restrictions on ministry; to recognition of the long-term effects of abuse and the need to hold the perpetrator accountable for this criminal activity.”
Instead of leading, they profess that they were only following whichever ” arc of understanding sexual abuse of a minor” happened to be in vogue at the time. It’s reminiscent of the “I was only doing what everyone else was doing” excuse. His statement fails to address the betrayal and disillusionment that the victims –and all Catholics– are left feeling in the wake of this scandal. At the moment when we most need spiritual leadership and solace, the clergy failed us again. We are still left feeling scandalized.
♪♫For The Bible Tell Me So♫♪
I would say that it’s ironic that a religion based on the teachings of Jesus couldn’t just look it up in “the manual” , to know better:
5 And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. 6 But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
Except it’s not ironic –it’s classic. It’s a classic pattern of an abuser, to say that “bad things happened” or “mistakes were made” in the third person. There is no ownership, no responsibility.
Archbishop Listecki goes on to say:
“I do not offer this as an excuse, but rather, as examples of the complexity of the topic and the context in which decisions were made. In dealing with reports, I am convinced those who served in positions of authority may have been ill-equipped to deal with the topic and relied upon the advice of medical professionals who provided therapy to perpetrators.”
Apparently they were misled by the medical professionals, so it’s not their fault. As long as they can find another authority to blame, they can say they were only following orders. In this case, it was the therapists’ orders.
While it’s always a good idea to get recommendations from authorities, such as medical professionals who have more knowledge and experience, in the end we will have to own our behavior. In the end we are responsible for our actions. To say that we blindly followed an authority does not absolve responsibility.
As Archbishop Listecki says, it is a complex topic, there is no denying that. Pedophiles, like these offender priests or like Jerry Sandusky, are psychopaths. They prey on the innocent by wearing the cloak of goodness and authority, they take without caring, they slime others into covering for them and they never take responsibility. The crisis that the Church and its members are now enduring is very similar to what one experiences when one survives a psychopathic attack or any type of abusive relationship. It should be a teaching moment, a time for learning about abusers and boundaries so that we can benefit from the painful experience and feel empowered.
The Catholic Church is, itself, a powerful authority. Supposedly it’s THE authority on good and evil. It has the power, the authority and the opportunity to turn this scandal into a huge stepping stone in humanity’s moral growth by teaching about the complex topic of hidden abuse. Instead, the topic has become a huge stumbling block over which they keep falling but they don’t seem to see. Their attempt to hide the shameful behavior, then to deny it and now to deny responsibility keeps them doing the same shameful thing over and over, but never learning from it. It’s the typical pattern of the abuser.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil
Priests are supposed to be the emissaries of Christ but in my experience I was not able to get any priest to discuss the subject of evil or abusive people. I went to three different churches, asking for help in understanding the evil I had encountered. The first priest told me there was no evil, the second priest jumped up from his desk and ran out the door in fear, and the third priest simply gave me a business card for a therapist. Then they wonder why people are abandoning the Church.
Jesus said that scandals must come. This is because as long as there is innocence in the world, deceivers will seek to prey on that innocence. But it won’t be just the innocent who are scandalized, anyone who willfully turns the blind eye of denial on the predator will be slimed as well. Woe to those by whom the scandal comes.
1. Matthew 18:5-7. Douay-Rheims Catholic Bible, Gospel According to Saint Matthew Chapter 18. 04 July 2013 <http://www.drbo.org/chapter/47018.htm>.