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Friday, April 09, 2010

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

More Vatican Deflection as the Abuse Cases Pile Up

Well this just gets more and more sickening. After a Holy Week of insulting Jews and sex abuse survivors and blaming the media for doing its job, the Vatican is upping the ante on its relentless self-pity.

The Vatican heatedly defended Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday, claiming accusations that he helped cover up the actions of pedophile priests are part of an anti-Catholic "hate" campaign targeting the pope for his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Vatican Radio broadcast comments by two senior cardinals explaining "the motive for these attacks" on the pope and the Vatican newspaper chipped in with spirited comments from another top cardinal.

"The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different" agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, said on the radio.

No. I'm pretty sure that criticism of both his Holiness and the church has to do with the avalanche of new reports of sexually abusive priests who were not properly dealt with. And am I the only one who sees some irony in claiming to be pro-family in the wake of a child abuse scandal?

Meanwhile the charges are piling up. Over Easter weekend we learned that the Vatican dragged its heels on defrocking 2 priests who were described by their own bishop as "satanic."

The abuse cases of two priests in Arizona have cast further doubt on the Catholic church's insistence that Pope Benedict XVI played no role in shielding pedophiles before he became pope.

Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood.

In another Tucson case, that of Msgr. Robert Trupia, the bishop wrote to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005. Bishop Manuel Moreno called Trupia "a major risk factor to the children, adolescents and adults that he many have contact with." There is no indication in the case files that Ratzinger responded.

The article notes that this case languished, in part, because the Vatican was revising its procedures, which resulted in the controversial 2001 letter from then Cardinal Ratzinger. Many interpreted this letter as calling for secrecy as the Vatican adjudicated these cases. Even after the changes implemented by Ratzinger, the process seemed unconscionably slow.

More alarming, the most recent case to come to light started in 2005, well after the new streamlined procedure was in place, and it has yet to be prosecuted.

A Catholic priest who fled Minnesota for India after being accused by two teenage girls of rape continues to serve as a priest in a Catholic school system five years after his case was brought to the attention of the Vatican, according to documents and testimony in a lawsuit against the Church.

The accused cleric, the Rev. Joseph Jeyapual, oversees the hiring of teachers for 40 Catholic schools in the diocese of Ootacamund, India, according to documents in the case.

. . .

In the first letter, Bishop Balke warned that to ignore the case "would be a shameful act of betrayal towards the women and girls in India to whom Fr. Jeyapaul could at present pose a risk."

In a response six months later, on behalf of Cardinal Levada, a deputy made no mention of disciplinary action against the accused priest but said he would "be monitored so that he does not constitute a risk to minors and does not create a scandal among the faithful."


The Vatican spokesman told the Associated Press the priest had been punished by being sent to a monastery for a year to pray.

So prayer and contemplation are punishment? For a priest?!! Isn't that what they do?

As with so many of these cases, Rev. Jeyapaul became a football, just punted from one diocese to another, and protected from law enforcement. In this case, he  returned to his native India, where the Bishop refused to follow a Vatican directive and defrock him. So let me get this straight: Only the Vatican can order a priest be defrocked, which has held up some of these cases for years, but a bishop can just refuse? Who's running this show? And how does this protect children? Meanwhile a second priest who was actually convicted and served time for molesting a 12 year old girl, remains in the priesthood in another Indian diocese.

If the Vatican can't see that cases such as these open the Catholic Church to fair criticism, there is something seriously wrong. It's always bad policy for leaders to refuse to take responsibility for failings in their institutions and blame everybody else. Where does the buck stop if not with the Pope?

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Tale of Two Churches

I have to wonder if the Times isn't editorializing with the placement of images in this article. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has made headlines for apologizing profusely for the failings of the church in the handling of abuse cases. He seems to genuinely believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Juxtapose that with signals from the Vatican, including the most recent embarrassing display of self-pity from the Pope's preacher, and you get what is graphically depicted above; the emotional contrition of an archbishop and a pope with his back to the world.

Archbishop Zollitsch said that the Church had committed serious mistakes and done too little to help the victims of priestly abuse. “The caring responsibility towards the victims was insufficient in the past because of our own disappointment at the painful failure of the perpetrators, and out of a falsely understood concern for the standing of the church," he said.

It was as close as the Church in Germany has come to admitting that it covered up crimes committed by priests

That, he said, was the "painful reality that we have to face up to". The Archbishop's words were notably blunter than those used by the Pope the previous day. 

This is a real step in the right direction as are signals from numerous dioceses.

More than 20 out of 27 dioceses had agreed to integrate the prayers into the service. The formula — openly acknowledging the victimhood of the children molested by priests — had been worked out by Stephan Ackermann, Bishop of Trier, the Church's expert on abuse. Last week he introduced a hotline for victims and found that 20 of the callers claimed to have been abused in his own diocese.

Far less encouraging are statements from Pope Benedict's personal preacher. The Vatican is struggling to distance itself from the homily in the wake of a firestorm of outrage.

At a solemn Good Friday service, Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher likened the tide of allegations that the pontiff has covered up sex abuse cases to the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism." But within hours, facing a storm of criticism at the comparison, the Vatican felt it necessary to distance the pope from the preacher's remarks.

Both Jewish and victims' groups responded that it was inappropriate to compare the discomfort being experienced by the church leadership in the sex abuse scandal to the violence that culminated in the Holocaust. The Vatican has been on the defensive in recent days, saying the church has been singled out and collectively stereotyped for the problem of pedophilia, which it says is a society-wide issue.

Invoking any comparison with anti-Semitism was particularly sensitive on Good Friday, itself a delicate day in a decades-long effort by Jews and Catholics to overcome a legacy of mistrust. There was a long-held Catholic belief that Jews were collectively responsible for executing Christ, and a landmark achievement of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s was a declaration stating the Jews should not be blamed for the crucifixion.

Thoroughly offending two groups of actual victims on Good Friday... I think that may be a new personal best for the Vatican.

I am somewhat encouraged to read that Pope Benedict has given the nod to the German church's approach.

The Pope listened "with keen interest, great sadness, and deep emotion" as the German prelate related the steps that are being taken to respond to the revelations of abuse. "The Holy Father was very satisfied with our decisions," Archbishop Zollitsch told reporters after the meeting.

The German hierarchy has announced that it will report all claims of abuse to law-enforcement officials, unless the victims ask for privacy. The German bishops have commissioned an independent investigation of the more than 100 claims that have already been made, and vowed to cooperate with any government inquiries. "We want to uncover the truth," Archbishop Zollitsch said.

The bishops have applauded the German government's decision to convene a national roundtable on the abuse issue, which will bring together religious leaders, teachers, and abuse victims. Pope Benedict has also indicated his support for the roundtable initiative.

If Holy Week services so far, though, are any indication, the Vatican and much of the Catholic Church still don't get it. There is nothing more offensive than whining about how victimized you are because you're being criticized, when there are people whose lives have been damaged, and destroyed in some cases, by mistakes you made. It displays a narcissistic indifference to the suffering of others. Not the message I'd think the church would want to send as it celebrates Christ's martyrdom.

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Bill Donohue on the "Homesexual Crisis" in the Catholic Church

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League has refined missing the point to an art form. Why anyone ever hands him a microphone is a mystery to me, but Larry King gave this bloviating gasbag plenty of opportunity to thoroughly offend Tuesday evening. And being Larry King, challenged him on none of it. His justification? The problem isn't pedophilia, it's homosexuality. Not a new argument for the Catholic Church, but Donohue can always be counted on to take obnoxious wrong-headedness to soaring new heights.

His most unintentionally funny line?

"You've got to get your facts straight. I'm sorry. If I'm the only one that's going to deal with facts tonight then that'll be it."

An amusing statement from one so wrong on fact... and grammar, but I'll let that go.

He outlined his argument in a recent missive:

The Times continues to editorialize about the 'pedophilia crisis,' when all along it's been a homosexual crisis. Eighty percent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent. While homosexuality does not cause predatory behavior, and most gay priests are not molesters, most of the molesters have been gay.

Where to begin... For starters, and assuming his stats are accurate, what about the twenty percent who are female? Do they not matter?

Next: Homosexuality doesn't cause predatory behavior, but the problem is still homosexuality, not the predatory behavior... Huh?

But let's get to the meat of his argument: The majority of the boys were "post-pubescent." No, they weren't. Postpubescence is when puberty is over and in boys, since we apparently only care about boys, that can be as late as 17, even 18. Donohue would have you believe that postpubescence begins at "12, 13 years of age." But that's when puberty is just starting in the average boy. So, at best, we could say a majority of the male victims were pubescent.

Post-pubescent means beyond puberty. In other words you're an adolescent and that's what homosexuals do and most of them -- the molesters -- have been homosexuals in the Catholic Church.

No, Mr. Donohue, adolescence refers to the social and behavioral issues that concur with puberty.

In fairness, Donohue is right about one thing. Pedophilia refers to sexual attraction to prepubescent children. An adult attraction to pubescent children is ephebophilia. Sexual interest in older adolescents is not considered a mental disorder, like pedophilia. Acting on it, however, is very often illegal. The age of consent varies around the world and in the US ranges from 16 to 18. (In Wisconsin, for instance, where as many as 200 deaf children were exploited by Rev. Lawrence Murphy and ignored by then Cardinal Ratzinger, it's 18.) It's called statutory rape. It's a crime. And if you can't count on members of the clergy to be law abiding, who can you trust?

If the sexual advances are unwanted, as they clearly were according to the many abuse survivors who've come forward, there's nothing "statutory" about it. It's rape. It's sexual assault. And few could argue that there isn't a significant power disparity between a priest, aged, on average, over 30, and a 14 or 15 year old kid. These were authority figures in their churches, schools, and communities. But Mr. Donohue would have us chalk all this up to an indiscretion to which homosexuality can, but does not necessarily, make one prone.

Mr. Donohue would like to misdirect us by focusing on what the scandal isn't. What about what it is? The physical and sexual abuse of minors. No amount of obfuscation or homophobia changes that fact. But Donohue is an old hand at parsing these crimes to dust and blaming the victims.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Modo Speaks for Me

As I said to a friend just yesterday, if I don't seem angry about the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, it's only because when I'm angry and disgusted, my tendency is to be flip. In that I must doff my hat to the queen of flippantry Maureen Dowd. Yesterday's column is right on target.

It doesn’t seem right that the Catholic Church is spending Holy Week practicing the unholy art of spin.

Complete with crown-of-thorns imagery, the church has started an Easter public relations blitz defending a pope who went along with the perverse culture of protecting molesters and the church’s reputation rather than abused — and sometimes disabled and disadvantaged — children.

The church gave up its credibility for Lent. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are now becoming Cover-Up Thursday and Blame-Others Friday.

. . .

If church fund-raising and contributions dry up, Benedict’s P.R. handlers may yet have to stage a photo-op where he steps out of the priest’s side of the confessional and enters the side where the rest of his fallible flock goes.

Or maybe 30-second spots defending the pope with Benedict’s voice intoning at the end: “I am infallible, and I approve this message.”

The whole thing is a must read.

As I said on Sunday, what makes the church's tack particularly galling is that in resorting to this Nixonian assault on media critics, it insults members of its own flock and revictimizes the victims of horrific abuse. The Survivors Network explains:

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Wesley Crusher's Dark Night of the Soul

I just watched, for the umpteenth time, Star Trek Next Generation's "Journey's End." Despite some rather sappy, idealized attempts to depict Native American culture, it's a good episode. One of the things that strikes me, not for the first time, is its depiction of Wesley Crusher's spiritual growing pains. From the Wiki:

Meanwhile, Wesley has returned from Starfleet Academy for a vacation. He's out-of-character though, snappish and depressed and he appears even slightly ill, which really worries Dr. Crusher. He is rude to La Forge in the engine room. Dr. Crusher tries to talk to her son, but initially gets nowhere.

On the planet, Wesley comes in contact with Lakanta, an Indian holy man of sorts. He guides Wesley on a journey of self-discovery, in which he talks to his long-dead father, who tells Wesley that he is destined to go down a path different from his own.

It has me contemplating the stress associated with spiritual growth; probably because I was trying to explain this very issue to a client earlier today. One of the more painful lessons I've learned is that spiritual growth is not comfortable. This is something lightworkers have had to deal with for some years now, although the worst of what I call "lightworker syndrome" seems to be abating. Many "ascension symptom" lists have been presented by psychics and channelers over the years. For my money, the best and most comprehensive is Karen Bishop's, a version of which appears on the first page of her new site. Here are a handful of her observations:

* Have you felt in recent years and months, that you were stretching far beyond what you had the capacity to endure?

* Have you had many emotional ups and downs, strange physical aches and pains, many losses in the form of friends, jobs, family, finances, and much of anything else?

. . .

* Have you had anxiety, panic, or what feels like depression?

* Do you at times have strange and disturbing nightmares that are not normal for you?

. . .

* Are your emotions out of control from time to time (sudden weeping and sadness, or are you just plain over-emotional)? Do you ever feel lost and alone?

* Do you at times feel that there is nowhere left to go that remotely fits you anymore?

These emotional and physical disruptions are certainly not confined to those of us experiencing the lightworker phenomenon that started in the late nineties/early aughts. Similar experiences and worse have been recorded for millenia among spiritual seekers. From the "Dark Night of the Soul" of St. John of the Cross to the "divine madness" of Greek philosophers, it has long been known that spiritual breakthrough is not painless. Much of this has been well documented by Stan Grof in his books Spiritual Emergency and The Stormy Search for Self. It can involve the brutal ripping apart of the ego, to make way for the workings of spirit. This can make the spiritual seeker very, very cranky.

This is where I have been forced to part ways with the "love and light" yumminess of so much of the "new age" movement and why I shun The Secret. These movements present a very unrealistic presentation of spiritual growth. Worse, there is a lot of shaming of "negative" emotions and expressions, that can cause many spiritual seekers to go into denial and avoidance patterns. It can force us to be completely inauthentic.

I've always considered Star Trek: The Next Generation to be representative of the "new age" zeitgeist of the 80s and 90s. Though the mauve and seafoam green of the sets seems dated now, the show is like a little time capsule of what was for me a very heady time. But I was struck anew at how much I could relate to Wesley Crusher's agitation in this episode. A spiritual calling can make us really bitchy... Well, it can make me really bitchy. And while we sometimes need to apologize for inappropriate outbursts and behavior, it does not do for us to be told that those outbursts are somehow counter-spiritual. Quite the contrary. As with young Wesley, the irritability and agitation that can make us really unpleasant to be around can be indicative of a deeper spiritual calling and transformation process, and sometimes it just has to run its course.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pope's Homily Finds its Mark

While I was sickened by the self-serving rhetoric used by his Holiness on Palm Sunday, his remarks seem to have hit home with Archbishop Timothy Dolan. It's the Pope who's the victim to pitied and protected. In fact, he's now a martyr to the cause of harboring pedophiles... just like Jesus!

In remarks following Palm Sunday Mass, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York urged Catholics “to express our love and solidarity” for Pope Benedict, who, given the recent media onslaught over sex abuse allegations, is “now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.”

. . .

“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI,” Archbishop Dolan stressed. “The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made – documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors – could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.”

A glance at Matt Taibbi's blog this morning reminds me that this isn't Archbishop Dolan's first attempt at such tortured apologia.

One expects professional slimeballs like the public relations department of Goldman Sachs to pull out the “Well, we weren’t the only thieves!” argument when accused of financial malfeasance. But I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read through Dolan’s retort and it dawned on me that he was actually going to use the “We weren’t the only child molesters!” excuse. Dolan must have very roomy man-robes, because it seems to me you’d need a set of balls like two moons of Jupiter to say such a thing in public and expect it to fly. But this is exactly what Dolan does; he bases his entire defense of the Church on the idea that others are equally culpable.

. . .

The most revolting part of this response is the last bit about how “no one knew… back then” the depth of the scourge of abuse, or the fact that child molesters cannot be allowed near children ever again once caught. Dolan is trying to get us to focus on the 1962 case, but the truth is that as recently as this last decade, the Church’s doctrinal office elected to proceed with church trials for less than 10% of the 3000 cases of abuse reported to them between the years of 2000 and 2010.

And just a few days after this blog entry of Dolan’s, the Times would come out with another story indicating that the current Pope, then a Cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger, seems to have quashed an effort to bring a serial child abuser named Lawrence Murphy to a church trial. The inaction of Ratzinger’s office resulted in Murphy being allowed to die “in the dignity of the priesthood,” which was his wish as expressed in a letter to then-Cardinal Ratzinger in January 1998.

So while schools, parole officers, judges, lawyers and therapists may have been deficient in their understanding of child abuse back in 1962 (although I’m sorry — it could have been 1562, if someone molested my child and was allowed back in the priesthood, I’d be reaching for an axe), the Catholic church is alone among all of them in continuing to not get it since then. Despite massive public scandal over the course of what now is decades, they continue to deflect and shield child molesters as a matter of institutional routine.

From Archbishop Dalton's blog:

What causes us Catholics to bristle is not only the latest revelations of sickening sexual abuse by priests, and blindness on the part of some who wrongly reassigned them — such stories, unending though they appear to be, are fair enough, — but also that the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone.

That, of course, is malarkey.

Okay. It's malarkey. It's also a straw man, because no one has ever said it. I would defy Archbishop Dolan to find a single example anywhere of anyone claiming that sex abuse is the exclusive province of the Catholic Church. But it does fit the narrative of Catholic Church as unfairly persecuted victim very well.

What Archbishop Dolan and the Pontiff are bristling at is the media storm, which continues to gather momentum. There is a unique scrutiny of the Catholic Church, largely due to the scope of the problem, the church's role as a moral arbiter, but increasingly to its remarkable tone-deafness. The more the church deflects criticism, erects straw men, and blames others for its woes, the worse it will get. Pope Benedict signaled on Palm Sunday that he and his church are resorting to a siege mentality. Unless and until he shows more willingness to listen to critics, genuine contrition, and interest in meaningful reform, the siege will continue.

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