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A History of Pain
January 22, 2014 6:14 PM   Subscribe

As part of a settlement between the Archdiocese of Chicago and the victims of 30 pedophile priests, a cache of 6000 documents has been made public, detailing the Catholic Church's efforts over many years to cover up sexual abuse and protect accused priests.
posted by reenum (56 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
At first pass, the timelines for individual child-molesting priests seem to be the place to go first for the horrific details of both the abuse and the cover-ups.
posted by mediareport at 7:27 PM on January 22


And this is just Chicago. My god. Can you imagine if a LGTB group had this kind of scandal in its recent history? Let alone *multiple* scandals like this? Would anyone be inviting that group onto TV shows to hear what it had to say about today's issues, or giving it any moral authority at all on anything?

Hell, no.
posted by mediareport at 7:36 PM on January 22 [18 favorites]


Clicked on the timeline, saw the first confirmed date of molestation as 40 years ago, backclicked.

Clicked on a random document in the FPP, saw a message from the Archbishop's office trying to minimize damages, dated fifteen years ago, backclicked.

I can't dig in, I'm sorry.

I know a couple guys who can't stand Priests=Pedos jokes. They were altar servers, and the 'oh so you were raped ha ha ha' shit comes up, as gross as it is. Which, they weren't and so all they're doing is accusing someone of raping children because of their profession. But if they were raped, that's how they approach it? The story has been told so many times it's become trivial and it's far too easy to lose empathy for the victims.

And I probably know someone. Law of averages, knowing a lot of Catholics in Chicago from various parishes. I'll probably never know who, but it's so widespread and it happened for so long.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:51 PM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Priest abuse victims coping with pain: 'Horrible that they kept all this a secret'
posted by homunculus at 8:18 PM on January 22


The enormity of the cover-ups I sort of vaguely perceive, but it's mind-blowing looking at the actual documents.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:20 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


Astounding. Was I one of the few people, even as a child when this news came out, who said to himself, "Duh. Is this really a surprise to anyone?" Couldn't have been happier at that age to be an atheist in a world full of absurdity.

It took Ollie five years to make a film about 9/11, when thousands of people died. But tens of thousands of people have been abused by priests and such for decades, hey maybe hundreds of years. More than likely over a thousand years. No big film has been made. In light of the fact that a broad swath of this country's population does not think for itself, why hasn't a big budget epic Hollywood film been made about this issue, in order to steer public opinion and open peoples eyes? Maybe Marty could direct it; he's always had a preoccupation with Catholicism. It would be realistic but too reliant on voiceovers. If Quentin made it, there'd be too much fantasy killing and ridiculous cinematic flair. I suppose Coppola could make it; he nailed hypocrisy in the famous baptism scene at the end of The Godfather. Wes Anderson is entirely out of the question. Spielberg might have a shot but it would be too sentimental. I nominate Todd Solondz, because even depressing movies about despicable characters still need to be entertaining (see Happiness).
posted by ReeMonster at 8:20 PM on January 22


UN Grills Vatican Clerics On Sex Abuse: In front of a panel in Geneva, The Vatican promised it was cracking down on sex abuse allegations inside the church—even as it quietly denied an extradition request for a priest accused of being a longtime predator.
posted by homunculus at 8:23 PM on January 22


Every time I read something about how great the new Pope is, I think, "Wow, they actually succeeding in just changing the subject. I hope they don't get away with it."

And then I feel vaguely bad about it, like I'm being mean or cynical or something. These people are engaged in a war of public perception. And because they've been winning for a long time, we have to listen to stuff like the Bachelor guy saying they shouldn't have a gay Bachelor, because it'd be bad for kids, you know how it is, gay people and KIDS.

Our whole society is weighted down with these god damn lies, and it just makes me see red. I have a hard time thinking why the whole institution shouldn't be nuked from orbit, that being the only way to be sure.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:09 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]


It's disconcerting, reading the documents, the degree to which this is considered to be an issue to be taken care of "within the family". The discussion centers so much around a priest's legitimacy within the church, whether or not he'll lose his job, etc. But...uh...sorry, child rape isn't an HR issue. It's a crime under US law.
posted by threeants at 9:24 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Those scumbags didn't care about the families in their communities, they only cared about covering their asses.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:38 PM on January 22


Our society and its institutions:
SIN                    VIRTUE
 Consent                Rape
 Sharing                Hoarding
 Opportunity            "Fuck you, got mine"
 Oversight              Deregulation
 Sex                    Violence
 Empathy                Othering
 Helping                Bootstraps

posted by maxwelton at 11:21 PM on January 22 [12 favorites]


Can you imagine if a LGTB group had this kind of scandal in its recent history?

They do. How can you exclude gay priests from this community? That the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse victims have been young boys and the fact there are no female priests would seem to strongly preclude any other conclusion.

I was raised as a Catholic, I went to a Catholic high school. I've been around devout Catholics all my life. It's not like this has been some sort of secret.

And that is the infuriating thing. In hushed tones and behind closed doors Catholics have been talking about this for decades all the while tolerating the way that the Church has avoided confronting it.

You can blame the archdiocese, the Vatican or the Pope, but the rank and file in the pews is every bit as culpable in the cover up and avoidance.

I do however hold the current Pope responsible for cleaning up this mess. He can talk about the poor and be as humble as he likes, but until he opens the archives and comes clean and assists in criminal prosecutions of individual priests and his own organisation he'll be just another fraud like the rest of them.
posted by three blind mice at 12:52 AM on January 23


"No big film has been made"

Well, Oliver Stone makes features, and documentaries, and there is a very good documentary on this subject

Mea Maxima Culpa

The cover up is not worse than the crime, but as big or bigger of a crime itself. And I suppose we're playing with dangerous matters, but seeing these male on male crimes as LGTB is iffy, given pedophilia is considered almost a sexual orientation of its own. The repressed, and yes, often gay, sexuality of Catholic priests contributes to the atmosphere of cover-up, however, that's not the same as saying the crimes of abuse are LGBT crimes.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:11 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


We have a commission of enquiry - into clergy abuse happening in Australia, there was palpable relief (maybe disbelief) writ large on Cardinal George Pell's face when the enquiry's terms of reference were announced to not just include the Catholic Church.

But the sheer massive sickening bulk of allegations are against Catholic male clergy - and Pell has been the most evasive, slippery, dogmatic, victim-blaming turd ever there was.

I doubt all the terror organisations in the world could count as many victims as the modern Catholic church. Here's some reading.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 1:22 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


It's disconcerting, reading the documents, the degree to which this is considered to be an issue to be taken care of "within the family".

I think it is v. important to keep in mind when analysing the Catholic Church that it is one of the few remaining Ancients, literally. If an institution can be said to have a worldview, the Church's is not completely trapped in an incomprehensible & often barbaric past but certainly immigrated from that foreign country late in life.

I don't get the sense throughout too much of history that people generally more than mildly disapproved of diddling as long as you had right & proper authority/possession for the child in question, which is part of it, but not the most relevant thing.

They act, somewhat more in the last century than now, above the law. Correct. The Pope in Rome serves one master. Now from the beginning the Church has operated in parallel and rendered unto Caesar, but any student of history will know the interplay with the secular power has taken many different forms & shades. Right now, Caesar requests separation, and the Church renders a respectful distance, even putting in place the American bishops who were acting like a bunch of fucking Protestants over the gay marriage stuff. But when Chinese Caesar doesn't recognize separation, and says you can be Catholic so long as you're Catholic to some gov't Bishop, the Church goes underground.

So control over the clergy was a big thing back in the day before anyone thought Church and State shouldn't mingle. Bishops all followed the Pope in Rome (most of the time), but who made them Bishop in the first place, the Pope in Rome or the Prince? That was a bone of some contention, as any Crusader Kings player will know.

Another big one was justice for the clergy, who used to be above the secular law in a more practical way. Punishing the wrongdoings, even the temporal crimes, of the clergy was a privilege reserved to the Church herself, probably for more years than "liberal democracy" has been a thing.

Seen in this light, it's a jurisdictional issue - are we pissed off at Canada for dealing with Canadian pedos internally rather than reporting them to the US? - and an issue of poor internal investigations & policies &c. Of course, the Church did officially give up the jurisdiction a little while back, but old habits die hard.

Also keep in mind what's at stake here - being an abuse victim doesn't send you to Hell. Being a diddler doesn't even send you Hell, if you make sincere penance. But scandal & damage for the Church - more people go to Hell if the Church becomes less effective. Forever ! Much worse suffering than any mere diddling, no joke. I hear a lot of Protestants don't believe in Hell anymore, and some of them have even started admitting it, but Catholics definitely have Hell.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 1:27 AM on January 23 [10 favorites]


A lot of talk on this subject seems to me to be along the lines of "oh why doesn't the church do something about all the child rape?" What I'd like to know is, where are the law enforcers and prosecutors and supreme courts and jail sentences? I'll admit I don't keep the Catholic Pedophile Priests blogs in my RSS feed or anything, but I don't believe I have ever heard about a member of the clergy going to jail for interfering with a minor. What's going on?
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:32 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


three blind mice: "They do. How can you exclude gay priests from this community? That the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse victims have been young boys and the fact there are no female priests would seem to strongly preclude any other conclusion."
You've mentioned in other threads how Catholic you no longer are, and I get that you're just trolling us like you usually do, but I'm going to reply to this in earnest anyway. Because, this is a perspective that at fist brush seems sickeningly disgusting, and it very much is that, but it is also an important one that is a lot deeper and worth unpacking than it might first appear, with a lot of non-intuitive value in the baggage it comes with.

None of the labels that we apply to sexuality actually exist in nature, none of them, the map is not the territory. The map that Catholic theology draws of human sexuality is painted in such a way as to highlight a great chasm between either sex that exists within mutually generous love found within lifelong commitment that could only produce loved children or abstinence - and anything else. There are also huge masses of fluffy theological theory holding that map static, but there are really great reasons why these kinds of maps were drawn in the first place by Paul of Tarsus - even if they are hard for us to see today like fish straining to see water because we swim in their success. As we build new maps for a new secular society we still desperately need the old sense of shame for the perpetrators of destructive rapey sex that Paul brought to the western world with his polemics against it, if only to stave off a perspective on sex that is much older and far more terrible. Our age of disposable partners, excuses for violent men, shame for exploited women, and ubiquitous sexual assault is still only really different in a matter of degrees from the incomprehensible and ubiquitous destruction that was sex in the classical era.

With a modern perspective unclouded by homophobia we can easily see how the shapes of the genitals of the people involved are among the most trivial and meaningless aspects of sex, particularly when other things are so dramatically more important. The sex and gender configurations of the children that priests abuse is entirely immaterial to the reasons they do it or the wrong that they cause. Whether pedophiles prey on girls or boys is irrelevant next to the salient fact that they prey on children, thus any map that works to hide that huge distinction is unacceptably distorted. Clearing away static dead theology is not really something Catholicism does very often, but the fluffy academic theory unrooted in the bible that holds the Church in the belief that Paul was really all that concerned with tab A or slot B, much less the producing of children that Catholicism obsesses over, needs to happen. It creates this worldview that is so distorted that it can map priests who rape boys with healthy happy consensually partnered adults rather than the other rapists Paul condemns so vigorously. It is a theological problem that both prevents the Catholic hierarchy from seeing its own bullshit as it really is and become incredibly dangerous for vulnerable gay men.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:04 AM on January 23 [22 favorites]


What's going on?
The statute of limitations is up in many cases. Some pedophile priests actually have gone to prison.

Don't read those links to feel better about the situation, though. From the last one, about a West Texas priest who was convicted in December of molesting a boy:
The Amarillo Diocese hired Salazar in 1991 directly from a New Mexico treatment program for pedophile priests, assigning him to the Tulia church. In 1987, Salazar pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to molesting two altar boys.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:08 AM on January 23


"A lot of talk on this subject seems to me to be along the lines of "oh why doesn't the church do something about all the child rape?" What I'd like to know is, where are the law enforcers and prosecutors and supreme courts and jail sentences? I'll admit I don't keep the Catholic Pedophile Priests blogs in my RSS feed or anything, but I don't believe I have ever heard about a member of the clergy going to jail for interfering with a minor. What's going on?"
If you'd like to get a sense of what happens in these cases in a way not aggressively filtered through the media, here is a well annotated and very well curated database of publicly accused priests in the United States. A lot of them do go to jail, a lot of them died before allegations came to light, a lot of them are still around but the statute of limitations has run out, a lot of them are clearly guilty according to the 'balance of evidence' necessary for a civil suit but clearly enough to be beyond the 'reasonable doubt' necessary for a criminal conviction, but some of them are indeed still in a nebulous space where allegations have been made but the courts have not gotten involved.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:13 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


What I'd like to know is, where are the law enforcers and prosecutors and supreme courts and jail sentences?

Well, there is a Parliamentary Commission in Victoria and a national Royal Commission, and if you peruse the Broken Rights site you will see an increasing number of prosecutions.

Of course Cardinal Pell is our PM's spiritual advisor - who assures us that Pell is a decent man.

I also really recommend David Marr's Quarterly Essay - The Prince.

I come from a family steeped in Catholic tradition. My old aunt, a nun tells me, and i suspect she's right, that a lot of abuse within the church is due to a power vacuum - there are no, and never have been women in positions of power. She says that it's no good ordaining women priests, they should start with women cardinals and arch bishops.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 5:18 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


You can blame the archdiocese, the Vatican or the Pope, but the rank and file in the pews is every bit as culpable in the cover up and avoidance.

This.

I went out with a girl a few years back and every time I would say anything even remotely critical of the Catholic Church, she would threaten to break up with me. I remember a particularly unpleasant Thanksgiving dinner. She was saying that my religion was overly warlike. I simply said, "What about the Crusades?" She left the table and then I had to try and talk her down off the ledge while she threatened to break up with me then and there because of what I said.

There are a lot of people whose world view is entirely wrapped up in their religion, and it is a big, unspoken reason why priest pedophilia was allowed to be swept under the rug for so long. The Church will do whatever it takes to stay in power; I would expect nothing less of them. But the rank and file need to be willing to look the other way as well. There was a comment upthread that many Catholics knew of the priest abuse for decades. Well, why didn't any of them speak up when the abuse first began happening? These people wanted to preserve their world, and implicitly chose to sacrifice the innocence of children to do so.
posted by reenum at 5:40 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Can you imagine if a LGTB group had this kind of scandal in its recent history?

They do. How can you exclude gay priests from this community? That the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse victims have been young boys and the fact there are no female priests would seem to strongly preclude any other conclusion.


Since when is the Catholic Church considered an LGBT group?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:44 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


It is worth noting that some of these documents may, in fact, be mislabeled. Looking at "Reasons for removal..other than abuse of minors", it seems more like that these reasons are, though obliquely, about abuse of minors. Essentially, they're priests "violating their parole." The priests were confined to withdraw from the world/report all their movements as a result of the "allegations", and failed to do so, so removed.

It's really hard to explain how much the Church does not really believe in crimes that are beyond forgiveness. It's not just pedophilia - it's also murder, rape, etc. The Catholic Church believes that no crime, no matter how terrible, is beyond repentance (yes even crimes that you are excommunicated for, excommunications can be reversed). It's a matter that is thought good by some and terrible by others.

I'm still going through the files, but some more - the incident of Norbert Maday is included under "Knowledge of Abusive Priests", but the priest is clearly writing from jail, and asking for the help of the clergy to have his sentence reduced. It's not "knowledge of continuing abuses." Same with the incident of Curran - it's the Archbishop telling him it's time for him to stop being a priest because of this, not "you're still doing this, and it's cool." The incidence of Holihan also seems like they are actually taking care for children -
"to work with Father Holihan in determining a strict monitoring protocol which will allow the Archdiocese to make sure that Father Holihan is not in any way in contact with children. For the good of society, Father Holihan should not be allowed activities which are not supervised carefully...

Father Holihan's life should be marked by prayer and penance, in sincere contrition for the harm that he has caused the children he has abused, and the Church which he has wounded by his sinning. He is directed to spend at least one hour per day in prayer for the victims of abuse, particularly those whom he has harmed.
posted by corb at 6:57 AM on January 23


[We do not call people trolls. We also do not do the gay = pedophile thing here as if it's the first time it's come up. Don't. MeTa or the contact form are your option.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:09 AM on January 23 [7 favorites]


"There was a comment upthread that many Catholics knew of the priest abuse for decades. Well, why didn't any of them speak up when the abuse first began happening? These people wanted to preserve their world, and implicitly chose to sacrifice the innocence of children to do so."
You've got to remember that it wasn't that long ago that media was entirely uninterested in covering child abuse that didn't involve a perpetrator who was clearly other-able as an incomprehensible monster through naked racism, classism, or xenophobia. No one was interested in hearing about child abuse in churches any more than they were interested in hearing about the rampant abuse in families, schools, scouting or sports. Do you remember how just 20 years ago Sinéad O'Connor was so universally condemned by everyone after the whole SNL thing? In a lot of ways we are still only hearing about it now through the medium of half-resurrected but fundamentally really ugly anti-clericalism from generations ago, providing the structure to see Catholics as somehow "them" and not "us," but there is so much worse coming.

The moment a charismatic head pastor at a Mega-church, one of the big ones that can't be dismissed, gets caught in the media with an honest to God child rather than a young-ish methed up male prostitute, or a luggage carrying gentleman, or their hands in the till as is still the limit of what is acceptable to discuss, it will start the pitched battle that will end the culture wars, one way or another. When everyone sort of collectively realized how much of a thing child abuse by respected community leaders was in the early 90s, mainline protestant denominations rapidly responded at the forefront of what pretty quickly evolved as institutional best standards for prevention in line with the forefront of secular organizations. They are demonstrably incredibly effective, here are the Episcopalian's model policies as an example, and Catholic dioceses followed suit in the early 2000s, but not all denominations have adopted them and most non-denominational churches never did.

As the Catholics continue to get their shit together, and they are finally getting their shit together, it will probably start with the Southern-Baptist convention, which has all of the same simmering problems as the Catholic Church and then some. Hell, the way the denomination is structured they couldn't even create a database for credibly accused pastors to just keep track of them even if they wanted to, and that assumes they want to, much less prevent local churches from hiring them or even inform churches before they do. It will likely be a story like this one, or this one, or this one, that gets picked up just right on a slow news day and starts the cascade, but the erupting media circus will then expand to the other smaller evangelical tradition denominations with even worse problems. From there it spread to those of the pseudo-denominational mega-churches with multiple campuses that never got their shit together, and from there to the smaller churches. There is more than enough horror to go around that, the moment it gets started, every local news station will have something awful to cover in addition to the huge systemic stuff being covered nationally. Everyone will be guided down the charismatic rabbit hole past the 'child abuse is the work of Satan so there is nothing we can do about it' fuckers, to the 'rumors of child abuse are the lies of Satan and I will hear none of it' fuckers, to the 'lets pray together for the forgiveness of the rapist and do nothing else' fuckers, all the way down to the 'young marriage is the will of God' fuckers.

Fox News will have to turn into the pro-child-rape channel for the benefit of its viewers, and it will hopefully be seen to fall all over itself doing so. Then even if the problem magically gets fixed immediately, which it won't be, there will still be two entire generations of abused children to come forward over the course of the next generation. When the cascade starts it will not go away, and it will change everything, one way or another.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:13 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


They do. How can you exclude gay priests from this community? That the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse victims have been young boys and the fact there are no female priests would seem to strongly preclude any other conclusion.

Well there's the fact that most pedophiles identify as straight, for one. Priests-who-happen-to-be-gay are part of the LGBT community, but I'm pretty certain I can speak for the majority of the community (except the fucking lunatics who support NAMBLA, euuuuuuuurrrrrrrgh) when I say: pedophiles are not part of our community.

As for movies, The Boys of St Vincent was a TV-movie that was frighteningly powerful. I still can't see Henry Czerny in anything without seeing him playing that child-abusing priest.

I spent a lot of time in a mental hospital this past summer. I think I can safely say this without breaching anyone's expectation of privacy: one of my fellow patients was a frequent flyer. Guy in his fifties. He'd been one of the actual boys at St Vincent's. His life has been an utter ruin of substance abuse and self mutilation ever since.

I give no fucks about the Catholic Church's position on redemption. That's God's business, not theirs. Render unto Caesar? That means every single one of these documents should be in the possession of relevant local police jurisdictions, the priests in question should be relocated to those jurisdictions at the Church's expense to make arrest easier.

Francis needs to speak ex cathedra and say: "This shameful period in the life of the Church is now over. All documents relating to clerical abuse of children have been provided to the relevant authorities, and all priests named in such documents are being returned to the relevant jurisdictions to face arrest and trial. The Church is making available $Xbillion in a reparations fund for any victims of abuse who choose to sue. Every priest who is convicted at trial will be summarily excommunicated. Every priest who cannot be convicted due to statutes of limitations will be summarily excommunicated. Every priest who participated in these cover ups will be excommunicated, up to and including Cardinals and the former Pope. It is the duty of everyone in the Church to report abuse, and henceforth any priest who engages in abuse, covers up abuse, or simply doesn't say anything will be summarily excommunicated and remanded to temporal authorities for judgement."

Nothing less could possibly make up for the massive scale of these horrific abuses. The Church needs to clean house from top to bottom. Mayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyybe as an out any priests not in actual jail could be permitted to retire to a life of permanent seclusion from the world, which ends up with a similar result.

But jail first. For everyone involved.

"to work with Father Holihan in determining a strict monitoring protocol which will allow the Archdiocese to make sure that Father Holihan is not in any way in contact with children. For the good of society, Father Holihan should not be allowed activities which are not supervised carefully...

Father Holihan's life should be marked by prayer and penance, in sincere contrition for the harm that he has caused the children he has abused, and the Church which he has wounded by his sinning. He is directed to spend at least one hour per day in prayer for the victims of abuse, particularly those whom he has harmed.


Is not taking care of children. Here's what they should have said:

"For the good of society, Father Holihan has been excommunicated from the church and remanded to authorities for arrest and trial." End of story.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:25 AM on January 23 [11 favorites]


It's really hard to explain how much the Church does not really believe in crimes that are beyond forgiveness.

Though I don't agree with this theology, I understand it. However, I'm fascinated by the conflation of "forgiven by god" with "not responsible to the justice system" -- I thought we got rid of the separation of ecclesiastical courts ages ago.

the rank and file in the pews is every bit as culpable in the cover up and avoidance.

I just saw Philomena -- recommend, Judi Dench is fantastic -- and when looking up reviews afterwards was shocked at all the "but this is such an anti-Catholic film!" responses, complaining that the mere mention of the Magdalen laundries and forced removal of children from unmarried women was anti-Catholic.
posted by jeather at 7:34 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


However, I'm fascinated by the conflation of "forgiven by god" with "not responsible to the justice system" -- I thought we got rid of the separation of ecclesiastical courts ages ago.

Short answer is: "We did, but the Church isn't happy about it." The middle answer is: "We sort of did, but the law treads very carefully in exercising that separation." And the longer answer is that this is where that ancientness and long term vision of the Church comes in, along with how people themselves feel about the Church, particularly the police and law courts, who are an institution of long standing themselves.

So what is the purpose of sending someone through the court system/to jail? Is it for the benefit of the victims? Is it for the benefit of society? Is it for the notion of vengeance? Is it because jail will be a deterrent to future crime? Is it because no one should be above the law? Is it because jail allows for rehabilitation of criminals? The Catholic Church has an interest in some of these points. What is for the benefit of the victims? What is for the benefit of society? What is for the benefit of God/higher morality? What would act to rehabilitate criminals or prevent them from further trespass? The notions of vengeance, or of the supremacy of secular law, are irrelevant - only the former questions apply.

I disagree with the Catholic Church's position on the proper treatment of pedophiles only because I personally am not as good a Catholic as the church. I am vengeful and bloodthirsty. There is something in me, a ravening beast which is appeased by the misery of those who have caused misery to others. I would be content to let pedophiles rot in jail for the remainder of their natural lives - if not more.

But the Catholic Church - if we are assuming good faith, which it is reasonable to do at least at the start - could very well be thinking of the victims. I disagree, but they could well be asking - how does it help the victims to put the priests on trial? The names of the victims will come out. Their chances at a "normal life" with no one knowing what happened will be affected. Because the life of the parish is expected to be the whole of the social life, everyone will know. Because some people are evil and vile human beings who don't understand power dynamics, some would blame the children.

Does jail rehabilitate, or does it harden criminals? These are questions fiercely debated in every prison thread. Once someone feels that they are beyond redemption, there's very little control on their actions. They have, in the view of some, nothing to live for and thus nothing to strive for. They don't belong to anyone. There is no check - but a priesthood can demand someone engage in a specific behavior for the rest of their life and have a good chance at them doing it. The possibility of rehabilitation exists - at least in their mind. And thus, society is more protected.

Again, I think they're wrong - but that doesn't mean they're evil for thinking as they do.
posted by corb at 8:06 AM on January 23


But the Catholic Church - if we are assuming good faith, which it is reasonable to do at least at the start - could very well be thinking of the victims. I disagree, but they could well be asking - how does it help the victims to put the priests on trial?

I don't see a single reason to think that the Catholic Church is acting in good faith towards the victims and I'm not sure why you've brought it up here since you don't even agree with this point yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on January 23 [11 favorites]


You know what definitely doesn't rehabilitate? Covering up the crimes and sending the priests elsewhere to prey on new victims. What about their chances at a "normal life?"
posted by tonycpsu at 8:15 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Does jail rehabilitate, or does it harden criminals?
Yeah, you know, that's a fascinating discussion, and one that we should continue to have. But you can have it without allowing some institutions to be above the law, and it doesn't explain situations in which the church knew that priests had a history of abuse and put them in positions where they would have opportunities to abuse again. This is not just about the church obstructing justice, although it is very much about that. It is also about the church providing authority and opportunity to known abusers. And I don't see how anyone can excuse or hand-wave away that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:15 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


So what is the purpose of sending someone through the court system/to jail? Is it for the benefit of the victims? Is it for the benefit of society? Is it for the notion of vengeance? Is it because jail will be a deterrent to future crime? Is it because no one should be above the law?

That's an interesting but somewhat tangential question. The question is why the Catholic Church think that they should not be subject to the law where they live (I sometimes think that tax breaks for religious institutions push this), and why other groups help them out with this, not whether jail is a good idea in the abstract.

But the Catholic Church - if we are assuming good faith, which it is reasonable to do at least at the start

Sure, maybe once. But it's no longer fair to assume this because it kept happening again and again and they just hid it, scared people away from the justice system, enabled priests to continue to abuse, etc.

I disagree, but they could well be asking - how does it help the victims to put the priests on trial? The names of the victims will come out. Their chances at a "normal life" with no one knowing what happened will be affected.

I certainly agree that the victims' wishes should be taken into account. But the church didn't do that.

Because some people are evil and vile human beings who don't understand power dynamics, some would blame the children.

Many of them high up in the hierarchy.

Again, I think they're wrong - but that doesn't mean they're evil for thinking as they do.

As a general rule, I don't believe that what they think matters as much as what they do.
posted by jeather at 8:27 AM on January 23


But the Catholic Church - if we are assuming good faith, which it is reasonable to do at least at the start - could very well be thinking of the victims.

There is no point in even pretending to assume good faith when the Church has deliberately covered up abuse, and hopped priests from parish to parish to parish when talk became too much, incidentally giving them whole new pools of potential victims.

The Church's overriding thoughts about this are: how do we protect the Church?

Trials and jail aren't just for the current victims. They are also to help prevent future victims from even happening.

Does jail rehabilitate, or does it harden criminals?

Irrelevant. Pedophiles by and large can't be rehabilitated; they can pay their debt to society and then need to be kept away from children. Also, pedophiles can't be released into the general prison population, which is mostly where this 'hardening criminals' thing happens. Even convicts have pecking orders, and 'diddling children' is so far below the bottom rung of that ladder you can't see it.

That's an interesting but somewhat tangential question. The question is why the Catholic Church think that they should not be subject to the law where they live

This exactly. Render unto Caesar and all that. Every member of the Church is subject to temporal laws, period, and until they can explain why they're not there is no point in even questioning whether they were thinking of the children. (Protip: they weren't, ever, thinking of the children.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:32 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I don't think the Catholic church did what I would consider right by victims, but I don't think there's necessarily any reason to assume that they were knowingly and intentionally doing wrong by them. I haven't read all the documents yet - it's possible I'll get there. But it seems like they were attempting to balance all of their competing needs.

Someone can have good intentions and still be doing the wrong thing.

It is also about the church providing authority and opportunity to known abusers. And I don't see how anyone can excuse or hand-wave away that.

So the very notion of long sentences for pedophilia (and really, other crimes overall) is actually of fairly recent invention. In previous eras, if someone had suffered a short-term sentence, gotten out of jail, and reoffended, who is responsible for that crime? It seems like people want to hold the Catholic Church accountable for things that they don't hold other institutions responsible for. We let and have let a lot of pedophiles and rapists out on parole from jail on shorter terms of review than some of the Church's isolation moves.

Every member of the Church is subject to temporal laws, period, and until they can explain why they're not there is no point in even questioning whether they were thinking of the children.

But that in and of itself is relatively new. Pleading the benefit of clergy lasted right up until the mid 1800s in America. And even now, priests are treated differently than non priests by the law. When was the last time you saw a priest hauled up as an accomplice because he refused to violate the seal of the confessional?
posted by corb at 8:39 AM on January 23


I don't see a single reason to think that the Catholic Church is acting in good faith towards the victims and I'm not sure why you've brought it up here since you don't even agree with this point yourself.

I'm pretty sure the why is something site policies discourage mentioning anywhere other than metatalk.

Thread-topically, it's a fractally horrible thing all around, but I keep coming back to: this is just a subset of the crimes in one city, for just the last few decades. Expand the scope, and words fail.
posted by Drastic at 8:39 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


But it seems like they were attempting to balance all of their competing needs.
See, I have a teensy problem with balancing the needs of child rapists or those who covered them up.
posted by fullerine at 8:42 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


[I'm going to now very specifically say in mod voice that we need people to not get involved in long devil's advocate type arguments in this already-difficult-enough thread. People are more than welcome to go to MetaTalk if this is not acceptable to them and they are also welcome to talk about their own concerns and not borrow trouble for whatever purpose.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:45 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Upthread, Reemonster said "no big film has been made" about the pattern of sexual abuse and coverup in the Catholic church. The documentary Deliver Us From Evil didn't hit it big, but it's an amazingly powerful film.
posted by Jacob Knitig at 8:54 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


but I don't think there's necessarily any reason to assume that they were knowingly and intentionally doing wrong by them

There is plenty of reason to assume that. Exhibit 1: the Church not only covered up abuse, it then moved the abusers to other parishes, where they just continued the abuse. And then another parish. And another.

That is knowingly and intentionally doing wrong by the children initially abused, and by all the others abused as priests were moved around. It is so commonly known that the Church did this that Robin Williams was making jokes about it over a decade ago.

That is the deliberate harm here, and that is one of the more egregious things the Church needs to answer for.

Pleading the benefit of clergy lasted right up until the mid 1800s in America.

Okay. But we're in the 21st century now, not the 19th, and priests are in fact subject to temporal authority without privilege. Arguing that they once weren't is an argument whose relevancy I don't understand.

When was the last time you saw a priest hauled up as an accomplice because he refused to violate the seal of the confessional?

It is my understanding that priest-penitent privilege is enshrined in law virtually everywhere. Same as lawyer-client, doctor-patient. Am I incorrect on this? Assuming I'm not, that's an irrelevant point in an irrelevant argument anyway.

Even if I am wrong, there is a difference between not prosecuting a priest as an accomplice for refusing to break the seal, and covering up the actions of a priest thereby ensuring they do not receive justice for raping children.

I mean that's the thing that needs to be remembered in these discussions, always. The bottom lines are this:

1) Priests were raping children
2) The Church knew about this
3) The Church covered it up and moved priests around, letting them continue to rape children
4) Whatever motivations the Church had in doing so are irrelevant to the prosecution of justice

Point #1 is the most important thing to remember. Why or how the Church covered it up is completely irrelevant to any discussion about their culpability. The motives of the Church simply do not matter, partly because their motives are entirely transparent ("we mustn't allow the Church to be harmed"; there is literally no other credible explanation for their motives), but mostly because this involves people raping children. There is no excuse ever for not bringing perpetrators of child abuse to justice. Period. There is no excuse ever for actively covering up child abuse. Period.

In many arguments, a devil's advocate position is useful. It pushes you to reconsider your stance, to ensure that your motives are correct. When it comes to children being raped, the only reason to ever ask about motives is to prevent it from happening in the future.

Like I said, the Church needs to clean house from top to bottom. Everyone involved in abusing children or covering up their abuse needs to be defrocked, excommunicated, and thrown to the police. I'm pretty sure that would end up decimating large chunks of the Church itself, which can only be a good thing, as anyone new coming in will already know that there is no way this behaviour will be tolerated in the future.

Francis can make this all happen with a single edict (or whatever the appropriate word is? A Bull?), though I suspect if he did he would die suddenly and mysteriously shortly thereafter. One reform/modern-minded Pope has already died suddenly and mysteriously. Which is, in and of itself, a chilling thought and a really big clue as to the true motives of the Church bureaucracy.

Ratzinger's resignation, and the rumours whispered about it, also probably figure heavily in the overall subject of Church-sanctioned abuse.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:07 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


And even now, priests are treated differently than non priests by the law. When was the last time you saw a priest hauled up as an accomplice because he refused to violate the seal of the confessional?

Could this be any less relevant? One's lawyer is also treated differently under the law and discussions between a lawyer and client are privileged, but that doesn't mean a lawyer who rapes his client couldn't or shouldn't go to jail.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:07 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I am amused that the devil's advocate position is the one defending the Church. It is apropos.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:11 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


"Seen in this light, it's a jurisdictional issue..."

That's an interesting distinction, but I'd go a bit further. The church deals with sin differently than civil society deals with crime. So, it's not just two jurisdictions; it's two systems. And it seems the church has been mostly managing these crimes as sins.
posted by klarck at 10:23 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the Catholic church, and though I have seperated myself from the institution, with the exception of concessions made to family members that I love; attendance of the occasional mass with my Grandmother, mother funerals of loved ones etc. I have fundamental issues with the way that the church operates in terms of women and LGBTQ people. My mother, though she has the very same issues has chosen to fight from within, writing letters to her local paper embarrassing the bishops by calling them a "cabal of old white men," for instance. She supports and communicates with the most forward thinking Catholics within the clerical ranks (primarily nuns). Sister Simone Campbell is a great inspiration to her. She recently related a story to me about a meet which took place in the 1980's when she was attending a Catholic College in Great Falls Montana. She recounts a young poised and fashionable nun, Sister Fran Ferder, talking about moving forward from Vatican two with eloquence. A student stood and asked a straightforward question: "When will women be priests?" The woman walked toward the microphone as a loud clatter rose above all voices, as Bishop Elden Curtiss stood so abruptly that his chair toppled to the floor. Much to my mother's surprise, he loudly announced that the meeting was over and instructed everyone to leave. Elden Francis Curtis would later be accused of two counts of covering up sexual abuse within his diocese. It is people like this bishop that allowed abusers to remain within the ranks of the church and multiply damage, his closed-minded, fearful, cloistered attitude was what I took from this anecdote. Later Bishop George Thomas would unseal all documentation and make a public apology to victims in Montana. I found an article written by the aforementioned Nun Professor Fran Ferder about the psychology of abusers. It can be seen here: http://ncronline.org/news/accountability/vaticans-assessment-lcwr-about-fear-not-doctrine.
posted by citywolfe at 1:50 PM on January 23


I don't think you will get summary excommunication, though it's not implausible, and I don't even think that is the symbolism or penalty you want.

Excommunication is for exceptional offenses, kind of like Crimes against the Church or Contempt of God. You can have it imposed by trial, but here are the reasons for automatic excommunication from the wiki summary of canon law:
  1. an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic;
  2. a person who throws away the consecrated Eucharistic species or takes and retains them for a sacrilegious purpose;
  3. a person who uses physical force against the Pope;
  4. a priest who uses confession as a pretext to solicit the penitent to break the commandment against adultery;
  5. a bishop who ordains someone a bishop without a papal mandate, and the person who receives the ordination from him;
  6. a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal of confession;
  7. a person who procures a completed abortion;
  8. accomplices without whose assistance a violation of a law prescribing latae sententiae excommunication would not have been committed.
Much is omitted - murders, rape, torture, genocide, even when committed by clergy. Number 1 doesn't mean merely wrong, it means insisting on the heresy in the face of correction by proper authority. So the only one that's not pretty directly "don't fuck with the Church," is abortion, I gather because the decision to obtain an abortion is viewed more as a choice to reject Church teachings parishioners are made heavily aware of, rather than like an instance of falling to the temptation to sin and lie/steal/murder/sex. I think you can make priestly kiddy diddling fit in with these 8 as such active disobedience, but contextually the implication is not that child molestation is being punished, but that disobeying the hierarchy and bringing scandal on the Church is being punished.

Excommunication is also not banishment. The Catholic Church never ever kicks anyone out, and I think they'd actually argue that it is impossible for them to kick someone out. Laypersons are cut off from receiving the sacraments, and clergy are cut off from their spiritual and governance duties, but the intent is to shock them into returning to the fold. You really, really, aren't going to get the Catholic Church to kick someone out, I don't think. For the Church to kick someone out, remove their possibility of confession and redemption, that's a very literal "go to Hell," like "we are not going to do what we can to save you from an infinity of torture, depression, and anguish," and it would be downright inhumanly sadistic from a worldview believing in Hell. I feel like there's a thing going on - like when you analyze Scientologists I think it's appropriate to go in as if Scientology doesn't really believe any of that bullshit. I think a lot of times when you look at American Protestants it's the same bullshit, especially with your prosperity Gospel, megachurches, book deals, the politicking, that whole sort of thing. Catholicism, though, Catholicism believes in its shit. It's kinda like the difference between analyzing a politician and a scientist - they might both be wrong, but one is much less likely to sell you a bag of goods on purpose.

For the automatic excommunications incurred for abortion or apostasy that are overwhelmingly the only reasons likely to obtain for a layperson, the Church doesn't even generally enforce it, leaving it on their conscience if they receive a Communion they shouldn't. Activism counts for abortion, so I think most Democrat Catholic politicians and a ton of laypeople are actually excommunicated, but usually no one mentions it. I'm latently excommunicated, nothing to do with the Church in ages, disbelieve/oppose many teachings, say my religion's "none," but I kinda also won't say "I'm not a Catholic," in that I'm confident the Church would receive me and fulfill its obligations towards me as a baptized Catholic even if I've absconded for decades. That's rather powerful, I think - I pay tons of taxes and haven't done any felonies in years, but I have much less confidence in the U.S. gov't.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:56 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Excommunication is for exceptional offenses, kind of like Crimes against the Church or Contempt of God.

Or raping children.

I refuse to believe in a world where institutionalized child rape is not an exceptional offence against society, and against God if you believe in that sort of thing.

Francis can create new automatic reasons for excommunication simply by decreeing it so and speaking ex cathedra.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:45 PM on January 23


A whole lot of people owe Sinéad O'Connor an apology. What most people don't remember is that the reason she was tore up a picture of the pope was to protest the (at that time barely even rumored in the mainstream press) sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:35 PM on January 23 [7 favorites]


"I refuse to believe in a world where institutionalized child rape is not an exceptional offence against society, and against God if you believe in that sort of thing."

What save alive nothing that breatheth is saying is absolutely right. Despite popular perception, excommunication doesn't mean 'the most bad punishment', it is something very specific that isn't really what you're looking for, which doesn't really exist within Catholicism anyway. It isn't really a punishment at all exactly, but a recognition that someone isn't Catholic anymore, that what you believe is not the same. The relationship of the church to excommunicants is also not supposed to end, just change. Doing bad shit, no matter how bad, doesn't keep you from being Catholic, if anything it does the opposite - the church is not meant to be a museum of saints but a hospital for sinners. While there is biblical precedent for kicking people out for horrendous shit, like exploiting your dead father's wife (maybe euphemistically the dude's mother) for sex in exchange for the economic support you would naturally owe even as a step-son, Paul then goes on to get angry about alcoholism, visiting prostitutes, reviling and other classical Catholic past times - and it doesn't really work with the rest of Catholic theology. It could be theologically justified with a lot of stretching, like how the abortion rules were made but more, but it would really mean what you would be hoping it'd mean.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:37 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


it is something very specific that isn't really what you're looking for

I know what excommunication is, and along with being permanently defrocked (or whatever the technical term is), it is exactly what I want: I want these loathsome men denied whatever comfort they feel from receiving the sacraments. They can derive whatever comfort they wish from their own prayer, but to be in communion with the Church anymore? No. I want them to lose that comfort, I want them to face, for real, massive consequences for what they have done. And I should think for any Catholic, let alone an actual priest, losing the sacraments would be an enormous and profound consequence.

Again. This is something that Francis can do with a simple edict. And he should. If the Church is is ever to make up for the decades (centuries? millennia?) of abuse, it has to draw a bright white line and say "If you cross this, you will no longer receive the sacraments. You may repent as much as you like, but the sacraments are forever denied to you because what you did is a sin against God and Man."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:10 AM on January 24


it has to draw a bright white line and say "If you cross this, you will no longer receive the sacraments. You may repent as much as you like, but the sacraments are forever denied to you because what you did is a sin against God and Man."

I think the difficulty is in conveying how much it's completely impossible to lose all of the sacraments if you are a baptized Catholic. The church does not do what you want it to, and not only does it not do this, it would have to turn into an entirely new church, believing entirely new things, to do something like this. I know this has kind of fallen out of favor, but the Catholic Church was built on the fact that Jesus died for your sins and to give the possibility of redemption even to the most hardened sinner. He paid the ultimate price, the blood price, for that possibility.

Whatever we may feel about pedophiles - and honestly, I agree that to be a pedophile is one of the worst things you could possibly be, rating it worse than murder and getting right up there with genocide - to say that God cannot have the possibility of forgiving a pedophile is, in Catholic teachings, straight up blasphemy. It is to say that even the death of Jesus is not sufficient to wash away the sin of a true penitent, because you, a mere mortal, deem this sin particularly egregious.

So to be up front about this, I'm a remarried Catholic whose annulment has not gone through. I am not permitted to receive Communion. I have to sit at the back of the church and kind of hang my head and look shifty-eyed whenever everyone else gets called up. But I am still a part of the church, my attendance is still welcome and desired, they will still advise me and counsel me and try to help me get closer, I can still participate in the church fairs and other events, and if I call them when I'm about to die, they will still come and give me Last Rites. (yes, I know I'm supposed to say Anointing the Sick, but we all know what that really is) In fact, I have no idea what I could possibly do to prevent my parish priest from refusing to come to a call like that. You always have the possibility of repentance.
posted by corb at 8:04 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


it would have to turn into an entirely new church, believing entirely new things

I'll settle for the Church Of No Longer Raping Children And Covering It Up for now, thanks.

to say that God cannot have the possibility of forgiving a pedophile is, in Catholic teachings, straight up blasphemy

See the thing is you should respond to what I've actually written. I never said that God cannot have the possibility of forgiving a pedophile. What I did say is that these horrific men should never receive communion again.

It is to say that even the death of Jesus is not sufficient to wash away the sin of a true penitent

You don't need to receive communion to be penitent.

I'm a remarried Catholic whose annulment has not gone through. I am not permitted to receive Communion.

Yet child-raping priests should be permitted to receive communion? Because that is what you are saying. And if your religion decrees that divorce is worse than raping children, you might wish to re-examine some of your life choices.

But I am still a part of the church, my attendance is still welcome and desired, they will still advise me and counsel me and try to help me get closer, I can still participate in the church fairs and other events, and if I call them when I'm about to die, they will still come and give me Last Rites.

I never said priests couldn't do those things. So, again, what I actually write please. Ideally, these men should be removed from society, whether through jail, monastery, or both. But I'll settle for them not being permitted to receive communion anymore, because that will reveal to them the profound nature of the crimes they have committed.

They can be penitent in their hearts. Apparently God knows these things so He can make the decision if they've been penitent enough.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:19 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


See, I understand how this is a situation that causes a lot of emotional responses - justifiably, because it is a really, really awful sin/crime - but the problem of non-Catholics trying to proscribe Catholic penalties, is that there's a lot of lack of understanding of what these penalties actually entail or what they actually mean.

Excommunication is a medicinal penalty, not a punitive penalty. It is not a punishment for the wrong done - it is a "What the fuck do you think you're doing" check designed to push you into coming back to the bosom of the church. Excommunication not only can be lifted, it is designed to be lifted. It is the strongest sanction possible to get you to repent and change your ways.

But there is no sin strong enough that it creates an Excommunication that cannot be lifted, whether during life or after death.

And if your religion decrees that divorce is worse than raping children, you might wish to re-examine some of your life choices.

Again, this is an understanding that comes from a lack of understanding of how communion and penitence works. I can't take communion because I am not penitent for having sex with my husband - which is considered adultery until my annulment goes through. At the time it does, or at the time my ex-husband dies, I can confess and receive communion again. Nothing is forever.

The thing - the really shitty thing - is that even child molesters, who I agree are the lowest of the low - may genuinely feel shitty about their really shitty actions. They may really repent giving in to their vile, vile urges. And so you cannot design a situation where they are beyond ever receiving communion again, because any who are genuinely penitent would be eligible to have the excommunication lifted by Rome.

A more reasonable solution would be to declare that any priests found to be guilty of child molestation would be publicly excommunicated - they would still have the ability to return to the church after acts of penitence, but it would still be known that they had incurred the severest censure for their actions and that a high scrutiny was necessary for their repentance.
posted by corb at 10:03 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


I'd prefer non-Catholic penalties to be honest.
Forgiveness is up to their God and the victims.
posted by fullerine at 10:19 AM on January 24


I've just realised you're addressing the people calling for excommunication.
Apologies for the derail.
posted by fullerine at 10:21 AM on January 24


corb, it seems to me like you're doing the devil's advocate thing that jessamyn has told you explicitly is off limits here. So I'm disengaging.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:46 AM on January 25


You may not like what it means, but that was a perfectly decent explanation of Catholic theology in this context.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:30 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]


[Comment deleted. Let's drop the making-it-personal thing, and also take Meta issues to Metatalk if necessary. ]
posted by taz at 7:04 AM on January 25


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