• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Catholic Church Sex Abuse

August 2018

A witticism, one born of Christopher Hitchens’ inimitable tongue, rushes immediately to my mind as I read the news of this latest sex-abuse scandal involving the Catholic Church. By a clever, albeit lurid swapping of the last two words of the following phrase, our generation’s greatest polemicist changed as the Church of Rome’s motto “no child left behind” to “no child’s behind left”. And while I’m not of the opinion that religion poisons absolutely everything (as so vehemently and forcefully was he) it’s at a moment like this I find myself susceptible to being convinced and taken under Hitchens’ wing. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps religion truly does poison everything.

Call me an apostate, convict me of conversion—these insults I’d shrug off. Stone me for my treason, or burn me for my unbelief and I wouldn’t mind this literal application of Mosaic law. In light of what’s happened to these once innocent youths and now traumatized adults, it’s into Hitchens’ anti-theistic arms I run. Away from this saintly cesspool of depravity, of mendacity, of cover-ups, of intimidation, and of moral turpitude I flee in haste.

Contamination, abomination—call it what you will. That the Church continues to countenance such unpardonable behavior is beyond my grasp. It’s very nearly beyond all words. Child rape as a pastime for these “fathers” of the Catholic Church, these exemplars of our dwindling God-fearing society, these sanctimonious shepherds of our communal flocks seems to be a sexually deviant disease from which they can’t escape. It (the lascivious exploitation of children, that is) appears to be something of an institutionalized ailment of which they can’t be cured. It looks as though it were a systemic infection from whose viral toxicity they’re incapable of being released. Perhaps the Church and its untaxed employees are immune to improvement. Perhaps they’re already septic from head to heel. It’s hard not to look at it and see, root to branch, this institution is deeply sick.

Given the Church’s longevity—entering, as it is, its second millennium here on Earth—one would think that it had enjoyed ample time to purge itself of this and any other ancient problem. More than that, one would think that such a Greek, if not an altogether pagan problem such as pedophilia would’ve long since fallen out of good Christian taste. Yet, as if an homage to the Greeks and their infatuation with boys, nymphs, and child love, Church fathers continue the practice with unmitigated zeal. With bewildering frequency, the most vulnerable young congregants—still green and unquestioningly devout in their impressed faith—continue to be defiled by them over and again. And those who do the defiling are seldom if ever met with any form of corporeal punishment. While children continue to be attacked under the watchful eye of a benevolent God by incestuous men upon whom they’re told to look as “fathers”, the men doing the molesting enjoy a nearly guiltless life for as long as they live. It’s one of the perks of living behind the shield of canonical rather than civil law.

The Catholic Church thus appears slow, if not entirely obstinate to change its course and end this practice of pre-pubescent intercourse. And while one might expect a bit of rigidity to be shown by a conservative institution such as she, the Church appears rather complacent in its sin.

No clearer has this been the case than in the early aftermath of the revelation by a grand jury that hundreds of Pennsylvania clergymen were found to have maliciously preyed (and not prayed, mind you, though I do hope you’ll excuse the pun) on thousands of children. This priestly predation, the same all-too common clerical type by which we sadly identify the modern Church, spanned the course of many years. For decades, these church leaders engaged in “anal and oral rape of at least fifteen boys” of whom some were as young as seven. Too tame? Another priest was found to have raped a young girl of sixteen, impregnated her, and arranged for her abortion. Wanting not to leave anything up to God nor fate, and wanting even less (as an abstemious man sworn to celibacy) to call a child his own, this priest personally oversaw the abortion. Thus, in the midst of gestation, his misbegotten child was shorn of life. The priest, however, was garlanded new life; he was later promoted up the ranks of the Church.

Still not cringing in your seat? Yet another intermediary between man and God took the opportunity to make our stomachs churn. Whilst visiting a seven-year-old girl in the hospital where she’d undergone a routine tonsillectomy, an elderly clergyman raped the helpless girl in the light of day in between examinations and rounds. Right there in her pediatric hospital bed, between whose sheets she laid recuperating and homesick away from school and friends, she was ravished before she’d reached her first decade of life.

Are you not yet nauseated? Does your sensitivity to all things morally heinous know any bounds? Unlike these vile and tumescent priests outlined above, we’ve not yet hit our peak. If not the worst, than certainly the most perverted of all the aforementioned fathers is this last priest. Confusing excrement for sacrament, this final Church father was getting his kicks by collecting “samples” of the “urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood” of five young girls—the lot of whom were sisters. Neither wafer nor wine, this combination of urine, pubic hair, and menstrual remnant surely wasn’t what Tertullian had in mind when he sought after his mysterious tertium quid, or, “third thing”. To that fourth-century Church father, I venture neither of the two bodily fluids nor the genital’s hair would’ve qualified in his mind as this enigmatic third thing.

We can agree that child rape in the Catholic Church is more honored in the breach than the observance, but still it goes on. Worse than that, it continues to be brushed under the rug and treated as an insignificant fact part and parcel with the faith. Seemingly, it matters little under whose papacy these criminals—or, as we’re assured, these rehabilitated church fathers—satisfy their indecent erotic thirsts.

Pope Francis, to whom the words “liberal” and “progressive” have been cautiously ascribed, is another such impotent bishop. Under his refreshingly liberal tenure, the Church has witnessed something of a re-branding, if not a wholesale second-coming. Even still, old habits die hard, and the papacy has grown accustomed to protecting its own. Thus, Pope Francis’ church has issued no comment on this latest grand jury expose. A time to be silent and a time to speak, so says Ecclesiastes, but the Pope’s silence on this occasion is telling; it comes just after the Vatican expelled from its city-limits (at the urging of a secular rather than a clerical court) a top man in the house that Peter built. Cardinal George Pell, a seventy-seven-year-old church elder and prolific author, stands accused in his native Australia of having committed countless crimes of “historical” sexual abuse against minors. From the Sistine Chapel back to the penitentiary of Canberra he goes, much like a fallen angel. The Church mourns his loss while and justice rejoices.

Elsewhere, beyond that ecclesiastical heartbeat that is Rome, other Church leaders have responded more vocally. Many are writing or speaking today with a deep sympathy for the victims and their plight. That’s the very least that we can demand of them and, apparently, the very most that they’re willing to do. In the same breath, after announcing their pity for the victims, these preachers are emphasizing just how long a passage of time it’s been from those indecorous bygone days until now. The defense, if I understand it correctly, is that these acts occurred so long ago that—when viewed in the context of today—they matter to them much less. We’re different now, they say. That Church of old reflects not us in this “modern” day of progress and improvement. A more appalling line of reasoning couldn’t be conceived and we should give it no merit.

For an institution whose waning relevance still tries to persuade us that an illiterate Jewish carpenter (at the beginning of the third decade of his life, in an overwhelmingly backward and sunbaked hamlet in the Near East) died for our sins thousands of years ago, it seems an odd defense to say we shouldn’t care so much about the past. Especially not when (unlike the story of that alleged and bearded messiah) there’s so much proof of what happened but a few decades ago and so little from the annals of over two millennia. The crimes are not expunged, legally nor spiritually, just because years have passed.

And while we might hope that she’d since taken to some form of self-flagellation or self-correction and amelioration of her timeless sins, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead of repenting, the Church is doubling down. Bishop David A. Zubik claimed that in the subsequent decades after these assaults, “there was no cover-up going on” and that the Church was “transparent” about everything that had transpired. Bishop Alfred A. Schlert used as his defense that last bastion of the passage of time. “Most of the incidents”, he feebly claimed, “date back decades”. As if to offer a consolation, he continued on to say that “the offending priests are no longer in active ministry, are laicized, or are deceased”. Taking another approach, though no stronger than the last, Bishop Edward C. Malesic argued that “it (the grand jury’s report) does not paint an accurate picture of the church in which we pray and find comfort today”.

But it does paint a picture with excruciating nuance and hue of exactly what the Church has been. In what sort of playhouse mirrors are these fathers looking at themselves? Through what type of stained and clouded glass windows are these bishops viewing their house? By what type of priestly prestidigitation are they maneuvering themselves so as not to be found complicit in these heinous acts and non-stop crimes? God only knows. And for that, and for the inevitable eternal punishment that surely awaits them and those whose crimes they’ve concealed, we can be thankful.

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