Sex Abuse

A holy kind of anger

Anyone who has turned on talk radio, scanned the headlines or visited Capitol Hill lately knows that millions of Americans are angry. Democrats are mad at Republicans who are mad about President Barack Obama's health-care plans. Democrats are mad at other Democrats who are raising questions about hot-button issues in the legislation, especially questions about tax dollars and abortions. Republicans are mad about lots of other things and they have YouTube videos to prove it.

Right now, America's political elites are getting angry about the fact that so many people are angry. It's almost a Zen thing.

All of this anger is supposed to be a bad thing, a sign that the nation is coming unglued. But that may or may not be true, depending on what these angry citizens are mad about and what they choose to do with their anger, noted Leon J. Podles, a Catholic conservative known for his slashing critiques of the church hierarchy's weak responses to decades of clergy sexual abuse of children.

"If the politics of anger can't lead to constructive actions, then all that anger is meaningless and, ultimately, doesn't do anyone any good," stressed Podles. "Still, I would argue that anger is more positive than apathy, especially when citizens are angry about issues that are worth being angry about.

"Anger is certainly better than people sitting back on their sofas and saying, 'Ho hum, millions of unborn babies are dying.' It's better than people saying, 'Ho hum, people are dying because they don't have health care, but so what?' These are issues that should make rational people get angry."

Writing in the ecumenical journal Touchstone, Podles argued that it's especially important for Christians and other religious believers to understand that anger is not always a sin or an emotion that must be avoided. In fact, that there are circumstances in which it is a sin not to feel anger. The ultimate question, he said, is whether anger leads to rational, constructive, virtuous actions.

Who would argue, for example, that it was wrong for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., to feel righteous anger about the impact of racism and economic injustice on the lives of millions of black Americans? Who would argue that it was wrong for Nelson Mandela to draw strength from the anger he felt during his 27 years in prison under South Africa's apartheid regime?

It's crucial in both of these cases, stressed Podles, that these men did not allow their anger to turn into hatred of their oppressors. Instead, it led to courageous and strategic acts to accomplish worthy goals.

"Anger must be more than mere emotion," he stressed. "Anger must also be proportionate to the evil that provokes that anger. Take road rage, for example. That kind of anger is completely irrational and it accomplishes nothing."

Then there are cases in which powerful people fail to feel anger about issues that are directly under their control, issues that their actions could affect in direct and positive ways. In his book "Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church," Podles attempts to understand why so many bishops failed to be outraged by the sins committed by some of their priests and, thus, failed to channel that anger into actions to stop the crimes.

"If the bishops had not coddled these priests, if they had not hidden them and then put them back into parishes full of children and parents who were kept in the dark, they could have prevented evil acts against thousands of victims," he said. "There were bishops who could have acted and they should have acted. But they didn't act. … For some reason they never got angry and, as a result, they never acted to protect the laity, especially the children."

There are times that call for unity, diplomacy, conciliation and peacemaking in the church and in public life, said Podles. But there are also times when leaders must feel outraged about corruption and injustice. There are times when anger must be allowed to fuel actions that defend virtue.

"There are evils in this world that we can do something about and we should get angry about them," he said. "In any battle, it's hard to act in an effective manner without a kind of appropriate anger that energizes your actions. Without that anger, innocent people will suffer and evil will win the day."

B16 challenges his bishops

The headlines and dramatic photos rush by during a papal visit, framing the sound bites that journalists uncover in stacks of Vatican speech texts.

So Pope Benedict XVI visited the White House and proclaimed "God bless America!" Then he noted that, in this culture of radical individualism, "Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility."

The former theology professor, speaking to Catholic college leaders, enthusiastically embraced academic freedom. Then he stressed that traditional doctrine -- as "upheld by the Church's Magisterium" -- should shape all aspects of a truly Catholic "institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom."

The former prisoner of war, speaking at the United Nations, hailed the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then he dared to claim that the document's defense of universal truths is built on "the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations."

The pope spoke to a wide variety of audiences during this visit and he emphasized words of praise and encouragement, not judgment. After all, Benedict could speak to gatherings of U.S. politicians and global diplomats, but he knew that he had no real authority over them. Also, as strange as it sounds, the pope's control over what happens on Catholic campuses is limited, at best.

Thus, the message that mattered the most came when Benedict faced the 350 American bishops in the crypt under the soaring Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. In theory, the bishops answer directly to the pope when it comes time to explain what happens at their altars and in the pews.

The sound bite that dominated the news afterwards focused on the sexual abuse of children and teens by Catholic clergy, with the pope agreeing with Chicago Cardinal Francis George's verdict that the scandal was "sometimes very badly handled" by the church hierarchy.

"Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior," said Benedict. "Rightly, you attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims. It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged. ...

"Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people. While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work ... it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm."

A leader of a support group for victims pressed on. The pope's statement that the scandal was "somewhat mishandled" is inaccurate, because "this is a current crisis, not a past one," said Barbara Doris of St. Louis, speaking for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The phrase obscures the unassailable fact that hundreds of bishops willfully and repeatedly deceive parishioners, stonewall police and leave children at risk."

But there was more to this speech than one big quotation. While the pope's address challenged the bishops to keep wrestling with the sexual-abuse scandal, he also put these evil acts in a wider framework -- an era of revolt against the church's moral teachings. And who is in charge of defending these doctrines, while finding ways to strengthen marriages and families?

That would be the church's bishops, said Benedict. Thus, he urged them to address the sin of abuse within the "wider context of sexual mores," thus setting an example for society as a whole. This crisis, he said, calls "for a determined, collective response," a response led by the bishops.

"Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships," he said. "They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. ... What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today?

"We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike."

Layers of Catholic denial

Every day the headlines and cartoons seem to get worse.

Every night stand-up comics crank out more nasty one-liners.

So it's sad, but not shocking, that a Catholic priest told the Boston Globe about a partygoer who dressed up as a pedophile priest at Halloween.

It's open season. Even though priests know they shouldn't take it personally, it's hard not to, said Father Donald Cozzens, a veteran Catholic educator who led a graduate seminary in Ohio.

"It's hard to imagine how this can end any time soon," he said. "It's incomprehensible to me that some people continue to believe that we have to be careful about talking about this crisis. There are people who are still afraid that honesty will do more damage than silence."

Back in 2000, Cozzens published a book called "The Changing Face of the Priesthood" that openly discussed trends -- such as the thriving gay subculture in some seminaries -- that reached mainstream news reports during 2002. Now he has written a sequel entitled "Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church."

Once again, it is tempting to focus on the sexual details in this ongoing scandal, which actually began in mid-1980s. But Cozzens said recent headlines must be read in a larger context.

News reports are "unmasking a systemic or structural crisis that threatens the lines of power that have gone unchallenged for centuries," he said. "This in itself is enough to make some prelates and clergy afraid, very afraid. Another is the Catholic anger rising from conservatives, moderates and progressives alike against the duplicitous arrogance of some prominent archbishops and other church authorities."

Underneath the fear and anger are deep concerns about changing times and statistics.

For example, one or two generations ago middle-class or poor Catholic parents were proud when one of their sons and daughters decided to become a priest or a nun. Today's suburban Catholic reality is radically different. The numbers just don't add up.

"We have known for some time now that the birth rate for Catholic families in the U.S. is less than two children (1.85), the same rate for families in general," he noted. "It is likely, then, that many Catholic parents will have but one daughter. Parental support, let alone encouragement, for a daughter considering the religious life is likely to be weak."

And the same is true for Catholic sons. As the former vicar for clergy in Cleveland, Cozzens knows all of the statistics about the falling number of American priests and the rising number of Catholics in their pews. He also knows that some dioceses are faring better than others and that, at the global level, vocations may actually be up.

Nevertheless, 6 percent of U.S. priests are 35 years old or younger. The age of the average priest is creeping closer to 60 and Cozzens believes the number of priests 90 years of age and older may soon be larger than the number under 35.

Anyone who studies modern Catholics must face other stark realities, said Cozzens. The number of single-parent Catholic homes is rising, with the rest of the culture, and approximately "half of the young men and women making vocational ... decisions are doing so in an environment that has been marked by separation, divorce or death."

Meanwhile, worship patterns are changing. A generation ago, 70 percent of U.S. Catholics attended mass each week. Today, about a third do so.

Is there a link between the size and shape of suburban Catholic families and the drop in the number of candidates for holy orders? Can these trends be reversed?

This leads Cozzens to other tough questions: Will the clergy sexual abuse crisis start a "domino effect" that combines with other trends to cause sweeping changes in the church? If so, what should those changes be? Perhaps married priests?

Two years ago, a Vatican archbishop told Cozzens that his work was raising eyebrows. Vatican insiders were convinced he was attacking mandatory celibacy.

"We cannot avoid that issue," said Cozzens. "Truth is, we already have a married priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, just not in the west. We may need to draw on the traditions of the Eastern Rite Catholics and the Orthodox, as well.

"But most of all, we can't be afraid to talk about what is actually going on."

For God's sake, let's tell the truth

Archbishop John Foley was speaking to an audience of Catholic communications officers and editors, so he made sure that he didn't bury his most important statement.

The first principle of dealing with the news media, he told a Vatican conference in 2001, was simple: "Never, never, never tell a lie." Then the president of the Pontifical Office for Social Communications offered more advice that would prove to be prophetic.

"Truth will always come out," he said. "Failure to tell the truth is a scandal, a betrayal of trust and a destroyer of credibility. ... So sacred is the responsibility to tell the truth that one must be ready to accept dismissal for refusal to tell a lie."

Principles of openness and honesty were tested as never before during 2002 as another wave of scandal hit the Catholic Church. In the end, members of the Religion Newswriters Association selected the clergy sexual abuse scandal as the year's most important news event. Four of the poll's top five stories were linked to the scandal and Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston was named newsmaker of the year.

The RNA occasionally offers a dubious prize -- its "Into the Darkness Award" -- to the group that has done the most to hide information from the media and the public. This year, it was awarded to the American Catholic hierarchy.

"The institutional church is slowly learning that evasion and stonewalling and spin are not in its best interests," said Father Donald Cozzens, author of "Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church."

"After all that has happened during this year, isn't it obvious that telling the truth is the best way to serve our people? It's the best way to protect our children. It's the best way to restore trust and regain our role as moral leaders. At some point we simply have to say, 'For God's sake, let's tell the truth.' "

Here are the top 10 stories in the RNA poll:

(1) For the third time in two decades, clergy sexual abuse shakes Catholicism. At the heart of this scandal are new revelations that many bishops have moved priests alleged to have abused minors from parish to parish without warning legal authorities and the faithful. Some bishops apparently have approved secret settlements to avoid disclosure.

(2) Cardinal Law resigns after rising protests by clergy and laity over his handling of abusive priests. Reports increase that the Boston archdiocese is considering bankruptcy, as the number of lawsuits climbs over 400. Sexual scandals claim several other bishops, including the liberal Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland.

(3) Controversy erupts as some evangelical s openly criticize Islamic doctrine, often quoting the testimonies of Muslims who have converted to Christianity. The Bush White House tries to keep its distance, as Franklin Graham says Islam is an "evil and wicked religion" and Southern Baptist leader Jerry Vines calls Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile."

(4) U.S. Catholic bishops listen to the stories of abuse victims and then pass a "one strike and you're out policy" against any priest who has abused a child. Five months later, the policy approved in Dallas is changed -- on orders from the Vatican -- to include church tribunals to hear the cases of priests who proclaim their innocence.

(5) The growing clergy sexual abuse scandal fuels the creation of new networks of Catholic laity, including the Voice of the Faithful, which draws 5,000 to a convention in Boston. The Vatican faces waves of protests from outraged Catholic conservatives as well as liberals. Support groups for victims surge with each new round of media coverage.

(6) In yet another church-state cliffhanger, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of programs that use government-funded vouchers to allow children to attend religious schools.

(7) A Circuit Court of Appeals judge in San Francisco causes a firestorm by ruling unconstitutional the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The judge soon stays his own ruling to allow for an appeal.

(8) The National Council of Churches and other bodies on the religious left express their opposition to a U.S. invasion of Iraq. American Catholic bishops and a coalition of progressive evangelicals express similar concerns, asking if "just war theory" allows a preemptive strike.

(9) Palestinian gunmen take refuge in the Catholic and Orthodox sanctuaries of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, leading to a 39-day siege by Israeli forces. Suicide bombers and military actions continue throughout Israel and the West Bank.

(10) Scholars announce the discovery of a stone burial box bearing the words "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Is this a 2,000-year-old archaeological breakthrough or a hoax?

A priest keeps his collar

Father Mark Pearson can see trouble coming as he walks the sidewalks of Boston.

He can see some faces harden after people make eye contact and then see his clerical collar. Some look away in disgust. A few men deliberately switch to a collision course. Pearson said one or two angry pedestrians have spat on him.

"If someone is upset, they may find a way to bump into you or give you a shove," he said. "Then they say sometime like, 'Oh excuse me, FATHER. Hey, did you molest anybody today, FATHER.' ...

"I try to just say something simple like, 'God bless you anyway, my friend.' "

Pearson is not a Roman Catholic priest, but other Bostonians don't know that. He is a veteran Anglican renewal leader who is now a canon theologian in a global body called the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, he still wears clerical clothing as he goes about his life and work. He also encourages other clergy in his church -- many of whom are former evangelical or Pentecostal pastors -- to do the same.

This latest round of Catholic sex-abuse scandals have caused Pearson to reflect on what it means to be visually labeled as a priest.

The tensions in his hometown are unbelievable, he said. Ordinarily, Boston is the kind of place where police may call for priests to help break up fights. Now the mighty Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is considering filing for bankruptcy due to its mounting legal woes. And in the pews, devout Catholics are experiencing shock and grief. Others have crossed over into fury.

Pearson tries to remember this when hit with an icy stare or a sharp elbow.

"Some people are jerks," he said. "Right now they're being a jerk about this. Next week they'll be a jerk about something else. But you never know when you are dealing with someone who is truly in spiritual pain, someone who has experienced abuse or who has a loved one who was abused."

Innocent priests are in pain, too. They feel like they have targets pinned on their black jackets. Some priests -- in Boston and elsewhere -- have reportedly stopped wearing their distinctive clerical garb much of the time.

Pearson is convinced this is a tragic loss, both for the priests and the communities they serve. A clerical collar is more than a symbol, he said. It is a sign that God is present in the gritty and numbing realities of daily life.

"There are still many people who need to see someone is available and 'on duty' for them," wrote Pearson, in a Charismatic Episcopal Church newsletter. "While the general mood ... has changed, there are still people who come up to me for a word of comfort or for prayer.

"I'll risk the abuse of some in order to be available to people in need."

The Protestant pastor Pearson knew as a child always blended into a crowd, with his standardized "brown suit, white shirt and brown tie with blue blobs on it." This pastor was dressed for work, but only the members of his flock knew who he was.

Wearing a clerical collar is different, for better and for worse.

Some people are offended and some are encouraged. But everyone knows a priest is in their midst, said Pearson. It is sad that some Catholic priests are even considering leaving their clerical clothing at home. They are hiding from the needy.

A few months ago, Pearson said he visited a "very Italian Catholic parish" in Boston's north end. In the foyer, a troubled man rushed up and asked when was the next time for confessions. Pearson looked around and did not see a priest in the empty sanctuary. So he borrowed a confession booth.

Afterwards, the parish priest approached -- wearing a simple blue sports shirt -- and thanked Pearson for hearing the man's confession.

"That troubled soul didn't know to approach this other priest, because he couldn't see that he was a priest," said Pearson. "But I was wearing a uniform that said, 'I am a priest. Approach me. That is what I am here for. Approach me.' That is what wearing that clerical collar is all about."

Degrading the Catholic bishops

Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings rarely cover religious rites, but they would certainly show up if Rome decided to use Pope Benedict XIV's "Degradatio ab ordine pontificali."

This 1862 rite for the "Degradation of a bishop" is not for the liturgically faint of heart. In it, a bishop who had committed disgraceful acts was stripped of the symbols of his office -- mitre, crosier and ring. The prelate leading the rite would say: "Rightly do we pull off thy ring, the sign of fidelity, since thou has made bold to rape God's own bride, the Church."

Try to imagine that on Nightline.

When reclaiming the book of the Gospels, the prelate would exclaim: "Give us back the Gospel! Since thou has spurned the grace of God and made thyself unworthy of the office of preaching, we rightly deprive you of this office."

Finally, someone would take a knife or "a shard of glass" and lightly scrape the thumbs, fingers and forehead of the disgraced bishop, or someone standing in for him. The goal was to remove to "the extent of our powers" the anointing of his holy office.

"It's like playing a film of an ordination rite, only backwards," noted a conservative Jesuit scholar who, in an act of ecclesiastical self-preservation, always uses a nom de plume. He published his translation of this obscure text in Catholic World Report's anonymous "Diogenes" column.

"To use our modern jargon, this rite would have been a 'teaching moment.' The point would have been to act out what it means to be a bishop and what it means for a bishop to fall."

No one would dare use such a rite today. These days, bishops slip away quietly. Some hold press conferences, which offer a more modern approach to shame.

So far, a dozen Catholic bishops -- in America and around the world -- have resigned during the current wave of sexual-abuse scandals. Bishops have resigned for health reasons, legal reasons, psychological reasons and, sometimes, to move to a less public form of ministry. What is missing is any sense that these resignations have spiritual significance.

What Catholics need right now is a strong dose of liturgical catharsis, according to this Jesuit "Diogenes."

"There are souls at stake. There are spiritual consequences to what is going on," the priest said. "What many faithful Catholics have been saying is that too many bishops have failed to keep the promises that they made to God and to his church. It's not a just matter of making bad management decisions. It's a matter of defending the faith."

The bishops are the key. During their Dallas media blitz they approved a "zero tolerance" policy for priests and deacons guilty of sexual abuse of minors. This was a crucial step, since about 2 percent of U.S. priests have been accused of sexual misconduct. But a stunning Dallas Morning News investigation has shown that 60 percent or more of U.S. bishops have been accused of failing to stop sexual abuse or covering up past crimes. On this, the new "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" is silent.

The bishops also avoided debate to clarify how this charter will affect the overwhelming number of cases -- some say it's as high as 96 percent -- that involve the homosexual abuse of adolescent males. An attempt to discuss the impact of doctrinal dissent in seminaries was greeted with silence. Both of these explosive issues had been emphasized in an April document signed by U.S. cardinals after they met with Pope John Paul II.

The bishops approved a "zero tolerance" policy that will have an immediate impact on their priests. The question is whether a "zero tolerance" policy will be created for bishops.

This appears unlikely. If there are going to be any rites for the "Degradation of a bishop," they will almost certainly have to be held in secular courts.

"Would it be a 'zero tolerance' offense if a bishop lied to a judge or a grand jury? Yes, I think it would be," said Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. "Yes, I think we could see some bishops in jail."

It's the doctrine, stupid

Rome would not issue a bishop a red hat and send him to New York City unless he had demonstrated at least some ability to stay cool in a media firestorm.

So reporters in Rome must have been baffled last week when Cardinal Edward Egan uttered this twisted response when asked about his views on gays in the priesthood.

"I would like to say this," the cardinal told the New York Times. "The most important thing is to clean up the truth. And the truth is that I have never said anything."

Yes, most U.S. bishops are saying as little as possible right now, especially about the issue that dares not speak its name. One reason the cardinal of New York was so flustered was that the dean of his own cathedral, the Rev. Msgr. Eugene Clark, had just preached a sermon that echoed in newsrooms as well as in pews. Clark said the Catholic hierarchy has been sinfully silent on homosexuality, in part because it feared being accused of fanning the flames of prejudice.

"When it was said that homosexuality was fixed at birth (which is not true), and therein required civil rights protection, many bishops and others hesitated to criticize homosexual demands for moral acceptance," said his printed text. "Some priests drifted into homosexual circles, then into homosexual license and then into man-boy relationships. ...

"The failure of church authorities to approach the subject as a problem gave these delinquent priests a freedom they should not have had."

A few parishioners stormed out of St. Patrick's Cathedral, while others applauded.

What was lost in the furor was that this sermon was not primarily about homosexuality. Clark didn't just attack homosexuality. He attacked the whole sexual revolution, with a special emphasis on its impact in Catholic higher education -- especially in seminaries.

But this crisis is not just about sex. It's about doctrine. Specifically, Clark said the current scandals are rooted in a fad in moral theology called "Proportionalism." The Vatican condemned this theory in the 1980s, yet it remains popular, he said.

"Simply, it said that while abortion, fornication, adultery, divorce, remarriage and contraception all remained sins, they could be permitted" if someone had a serious enough reason -- a "proportionate reason" for committing the acts, he said. "It severely damaged moral sexual life among vast numbers of college students and young married Catholics. While most priests and seminarians saw the obvious flaws in Proportionalism, it is now clear that some did not."

Some priests, said Clark, decided that their emotional and psychological needs were so great that they had just cause to break their vows and seek sexual release. After all, weren't the experts -- Catholic and secular -- saying that celibacy was an out-of-date concept, one that might even be unhealthy?

"A priest who believed this," said Clark, "could see it as a proportionate reason to put aside sexual abstinence."

This would lead many priests - gay or straight - to remain silent about church teachings on sex and marriage. This would lead some priests to argue that "celibacy" may not always be the same thing as "chastity."

This would surround the church's clerical structures in a fog of secrecy and stall reform.

Thus, Pope John Paul II told the U.S. cardinals that the current crisis is not just about priests with sex problems. It's about children, parents, marriages, homes and a warped culture. It's about doctrine. The church must deal with its own problems, so it can get back to healing souls

To do that, it will need bishops and priests who will answer tough questions.

"People need to know that there is no place in the priesthood ... for those who would harm the young," said the pope. "They must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.

"We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed. ... So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier church."