Mar 25, 2010

Is Sex Abuse a Christian Value?

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I've been watching, with growing horror, the unfolding drama in the Catholic Church. The ongoing scandal over child abuse by clergy and attempts to conceal these crimes has again erupted dramatically into daily headlines. The furor now threatens to engulf even the Pope who has been personally implicated. This issue has plagued the church for years now. But the whole mess seems to be reaching a kind of critical mass.

While the Catholic Church is not alone in harboring abusers, the sheer numbers are disproportionate. New York Times contributor Peter Schneider is not the first to suggest that the church's celibacy rules provide cover to sexual deviants.

I would go further and suggest that an institution that lays claim to the moral high ground is inclined to bury its improprieties which causes them to fester. Many organized religions have been guilty of extending their benevolence more to offenders than to their victims in an attempt to hide their toxic secrets and maintain their positions of social leadership. Stealing attention from the Catholic Church's problems, allegations recently came to light of similar incidents within the Boy Scouts of America under the patronage of the Church of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons). The Catholic and Mormon churches are two of the most vociferous arbiters of morality. Both invested heavily in promoting the passage of Proposition 8 which rescinded the law allowing gay marriage in California. Both are sponsors of Boy Scouts of America and have campaigned against allowing gays and atheists to participate. The Mormons threatened to pull their memberships if the Scouts changed their rules, which would have devastated the bottom line for the organization.

When it comes to sexual abuse in their own midst, these moral authorities have been strangely silent. Mormon Bishop Gordon McKewn withheld the identities of 17 boys, who Scoutmaster Timur Dykes admitted molesting, from police investigators. The "morally straight" Boy Scouts now stand accused of secreting away at least 1000 such "perversion files."

The crimes are horrible, but it's the cover-ups that impugn the integrity of entire institutions and effectively make their leaders co-conspirators. Had allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children and adolescents been immediately reported to the authorities, many of these serial predators could have been stopped. Instead they have been enabled by hierarchies more interested in protecting their reputations than children.

Cardinal Sean Brady could have put a stop to Rev. Brendan Smyth as early as 1975. Instead, Smyth went on raping children for nearly 20 more years.  

[Cardinal Sean] Brady, as a priest and Vatican-trained canon lawyer in 1975, said he interviewed two children about the abuse they suffered at the hands of the Rev. Brendan Smyth. He said both children were required to sign oaths promising not to tell anyone outside the church of their allegations.

. . .

Brady said it was the responsibility of his diocesan bishop, as well as the leader of Smyth's separate Catholic order of priests, to tell police. But he said the church didn't do this because of "a culture of silence about this, a culture of secrecy."

"Yes, I knew that these were crimes," Brady said. "But I did not feel that it was my responsibility to denounce the actions of Brendan Smyth to the police. Now I know with hindsight that I should have done more, but I thought at the time I was doing what I was required to do."

Smyth abused at least 90 children in Ireland, Britain and in U.S. parishes in Rhode Island and North Dakota from 1948 to 1993.

Brady was not alone in sheltering an abuser. Skeletons are clattering out of church closets all over Europe, including the German archdiocese where a pedophile priest was transferred and protected under the leadership of Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger. What he knew and when he knew it remains unclear, but it also appears that the Pontiff was one of the architects of the wall of secrecy that Brady and others maintained.  Ratzinger has operated under a cloud from the time he became Pope Benedict  XVI. A letter he wrote to bishops in 2001 was widely interpreted as a call for secrecy. Probably because it claimed the church had jurisdiction, that all cases of suspected abuse be reported to then Cardinal Ratzinger's office, and that such claims were "subject to the pontifical secret."

Church officials have argued that nothing in the letter precluded bishops from reporting incidents to police but it would seem that was not how many of those bishops read it.

Germany's justice minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, has cited the document as evidence that the Vatican created a "wall of silence" around abuse cases that prevented prosecution. Irish bishops have said the document had been "widely misunderstood" by the bishops themselves to mean they shouldn't go to police. And lawyers for abuse victims in the United States have cited the document in arguing that the Catholic Church tried to obstruct justice.

. . .

The letter doesn't tell bishops to also report the crimes to police.

But the Rev. John Coughlin, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School, said it didn't need to. A general principle of moral theology to which every bishop should adhere is that church officials are obliged to follow civil laws where they live, he said.

Yet Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore in Northern Ireland, told a news conference this week that Irish bishops "widely misinterpreted" the directive and couldn't get a clear reading from Rome on how to proceed.

But in at least one instance, a case of a sexually abusive priest was reported to then Cardinal Ratzinger  and was ignored.

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

. . .

In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee’s archbishop at the time. After eight months, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican’s secretary of state, instructed the Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy’s dismissal.

But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations.

“I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood,” Father Murphy wrote near the end of his life to Cardinal Ratzinger. “I ask your kind assistance in this matter.” The files contain no response from Cardinal Ratzinger.

A recent letter from Pope Benedict to the Irish church has utterly failed to dampen the flames that threaten to consume the papacy.

No one really imagined that Benedict XVI’s pastoral letter to the Irish church, released Saturday would begin to reconcile the people of Ireland to the church that abused 15,000 children over decades. It did not.

. . .

Benedict’s letter was harsh. It called for discipline and self-reflection. But it did not take personal, or even Papal, responsibility for the scandal now mushrooming across the Atlantic. Nor did it make real recommendations about how to earn back the trust of the church in the West.

Those most effected by this abuse of trust, the survivors, expressed bitter disappointment in the letter.

Ireland's main group of clerical-abuse victims, One in Four, said it was deeply disappointed by the letter because it failed to lay blame with the Vatican for what it called a "deliberate policy of the Catholic Church at the highest levels to protect sex offenders, thereby endangering children."

"If the church cannot acknowledge this fundamental truth, it is still in denial," the group said.

The major problem with the Pope's letter is that in it he puts the responsibility on everyone but himself. While he rightly takes the Irish church to task for secrecy and being overly concerned with its reputation, he takes no responsibility for confusion created by his 2001 letter, let alone for his own inaction on cases that fell directly under his purview. He blames the secularization of society and Catholics for worldliness and a lack of piety. With an irony he clearly misses he even blames "a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures." It is an exercise in blame throwing or what Jung called shadow projection. In fairness, he has no choice but to delegate the blame because of the doctrine of Papal infallibility.  As Andrew Sullivan said recently, he can't admit the enormity of the errors because he would have to resign.

In the opinion of many of his critics, he has also not gone nearly far enough in assigning responsibility to other church officials. He has called for no resignations for those who participated in a cover-up he concedes was misguided. As for the bishops, they are also engaged in shadow projection.

Conservative Catholic bishops go further, saying that the sexual abuse committed by their priests is a general social problem, traceable not to the church but to the sexualization of society, to the zeitgeist, to the sins of the 1968 generation. The truth, they suggest, was that the evil had struck in all sectors of society. Others have warned of the dangers of a witch hunt, and some have even highlighted a new form of political correctness.

There are a few obvious flaws with this analysis. At least one of the church's prolific serial abusers, started committing these crimes well before the flower children corrupted us all so horribly. Brendan Smyth, referenced above, has admitted to crimes going back to 1948. Numerous accounts show a very long history of these abuses. As these charges continue to mount, it will get harder and harder for the church to blame society for its crimes.

Rome's chief exorcist made headlines recently when he projected blame onto the devil himself. Satan is running amok in the Vatican.

Sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church are proof that that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican", according to the Holy See's chief exorcist.

Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, who has been the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years and says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession, said that the consequences of satanic infiltration included power struggles at the Vatican as well as "cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon".

He added: "When one speaks of 'the smoke of Satan' [a phrase coined by Pope Paul VI in 1972] in the holy rooms, it is all true – including these latest stories of violence and paedophilia."

From a Jungian perspective this could well be a case of shadow possession. This is when the disowned shadow erupts and overtakes the conscious mind. It could reasonably be argued that the Catholic Church has succumbed to a collective madness. It is definitely operating in a bubble and has lost all perspective. The pastoral letter and other signals from the Vatican all indicate that they think the answer to this crisis is more piety. Reinforcing the veneer of moral superiority will do nothing to disguise the rot that has now been graphically exposed.

For all its "secularity" and "sexualization," the modern world is far less tolerant of sexual assault. There is nothing new about sexual abuse, nor about it occurring in environments of apparent moral rectitude. As Louise DeSalvo explains in Virginia Woolf:  The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work, Victorian England was rife with incest. As we have rebelled against such repression and embraced a freer sexual expressiveness, we have begun to openly address the theft of our sexual energy that occurs in sexual abuse and rape. Religious authorities seem more interested in turning back the clock on these advances and maintaining the sexual repression that invites sexual oppression and abuse.

I think it's very difficult for anyone who sets themselves up to be above reproach, let alone "infallible." It's a ridiculously high bar and forces exactly the kind of shadow repression that is doomed to erupt in scandal. It creates a very schismized world view. Such a black and white conception of the world literally invites evil... or even, say, demonic possession.

The Motherpeace Tarot recognizes this dark nature of moral authority in its description of the major arcana card, the Hierophant. In most decks the Hierophant is a positive card, but not in Motherpeace. It represents the repression of a more vibrant spirituality (and sexuality) and the rigidity of organized, patriarchal religion.

At its root, the word "hierophant" means bringer to light of sacred things. In the traditional Tarot, the Hierophant represents a priest or Pope, the paternal religious authority.... Representing a hierarchical view of religion, the Hierophant stands on a pedestal, raised up from the earth, above the common person. In the Motherpeace image, he has taken over the robes and skirt of the High Priestess, along with her breasts which symbolize her sacred power, but he has forsaken her "Sophia" or wisdom.... The authority of the Hierophant is based, in large part, on repression of women and the natural instincts that women symbolize.

That Hierophant archetype isn't too hot on children either. They're impulse driven and chaotic. "Spare the rod, spoil the child." Much of the abuse of children that has been revealed in the Catholic Church has been corporal punishment; some of it outright torture.

I am of the belief that these hierarchies are crumbling. The Catholic Church, in particular, will have to restructure into something both more humane and more achievable or continue to destroy itself in one revelation of hypocrisy after another.

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