Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Tough Year for the Catholic Church.

Paul Murphy writes for the Huffington Post about the trying times the Church is going through.

Having, as I do, a lingering religious sensibility and an attachment to Mother Church, is a complicated and confusing experience. One can be saddened and angered by repeated revelations of predatory behavior, mostly homosexual, mostly against children and adolescents, by priests and other church operatives, yet somehow be satisfied to read about moral failings a class of men who have too often distorted the call to serve the God of Love into an urge for power and cruelty.

It has been a particularly tough year for the church in Ireland, which has been over many generations the primary root of the church in America. In May, a government-sponsored commission delivered a report on church-run institutional schools that unflinchingly piled up details with a force that seemed to echo the violence of the incidents it described:

Punching, flogging, assault and bodily attacks, hitting with the hand, kicking, ear pulling, hair pulling, head shaving, beating on the soles of the feet, burning, scalding, stabbing, severe beatings with or without clothes, being made to kneel and stand in fixed positions for lengthy periods...

And on it went.


Nor have Irish priests in particular escaped the harsh light of state investigation. Last month a second scorching report reviewed 320 children's complaints of violation by priests in the Dublin Archdiocese, and concluded that, over three decades, through 2004, the administrations of four successive archbishops had been less concerned about helping victims than "the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets."

These motives sometimes seem to me most culpable of all. Many of the abusers are mentally unhealthy persons who are in some sense stalked by their own unnatural sexual desires, but men in power who have belittled the offenses of these persons, and re-assigned them to places here they could offend again, were free to act righteously and did not. And despite the many necessary adjustments that hierarchies have made to handling cases of abuse more responsibly, there remains in the church a smugness about its own wisdom and virtue, a resistance to observation from the outside, and a pretense that nothing very significant or potentially transformative has been revealed.

I am thinking of men close to home, such as Cardinal Edward Egan, recently retired archbishop of New York and previously bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, who in depositions revealed by theTimes early this month, retreated behind his legalistic training to challenge the gravity of sexual malfeasance under that earlier watch. The claims of abuse expressed by 19 persons in that diocese, he argued, were not "a significant segment or factor" in a population of 360,000 Catholics. And I think of the bishop of my own diocese of Brooklyn, Nicholas DiMarzio, who taped supportive phone messages for a local state-legislator who has helped to save a statute of limitations on lawsuits charging clerical abuse. DiMarzio, by the way, succeeded a man who had been waist deep in the Boston cover-up scandal that undid Cardinal Bernard Law.

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