“Most of the alleged victims were not raped: they were groped or otherwise abused, but not penetrated, which is what the word “rape” means. This is not a defense – it is meant to set the record straight and debunk the worst case scenarios attributed to the offenders.” – Bill Donohue, PhD, Catholics for Religious and Civil Rights, “Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Debunked”, 16 August 2018
“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
Once more, the ugly head of hypocrisy has arisen for the Roman Catholic Church. A mammoth report issued by the state of Pennsylvania last month has left the oldest and largest denomination of Christianity in turmoil – again. According to the results of a grand jury, top Catholic leaders covered up roughly seven decades of abusive child behavior by hundreds of priests. More than 1,000 victims, the report alleges, fell prey to the antics of pedophilic clergy. During that lengthy period (more than half a century, if you think about it), the Church put the welfare of itself over that of the affected children. That should surprise no one. One of the wealthiest and most powerful institutions on Earth, the Roman Catholic Church has metamorphosed from its humble beginnings as an ideology that regards everyone as essential and vital to the construct of humanity into an omnipotent criminal organization more intent on destroying anyone who dares question its authority.
The Pennsylvania scandal is painfully reminiscent of a similar fiasco that tore through the diocese of Boston nearly two decades ago. That mess centered mainly on one man, John J. Geoghan, a former priest who had molested a gallery of young boys in the Boston area starting in the 1960s. The focus then shifted to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston who was forced to resign in 2002, when proof arose that he became aware of Geoghan’s perverted predilections not long after he had arrived in Boston in 1984 to helm the diocese. Like any criminal syndicate (think a street gang or a drug cartel), the Church decided to handle the matter quietly and internally. The results have been catastrophic – and sometimes deadly.
Instead of doing something reasonable and decent, such as turning Geoghan over to outside authorities, Law moved him around. Even one of Law’s own bishops thought assigning Geoghan to another parish was too risky and wrote a letter to the prelate that same year, 1984, protesting the transfer. As early as 1980, Geoghan himself admitted to church officials that he’d engaged in predatory behavior with children! In one case, he repeatedly abused 7 boys in one extended family – something he claimed wasn’t a “serious” problem.
These various allegations and the Church’s documentation analyzing them were eventually uncovered by the “Boston Globe” and revealed in 2002 in a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials by 5 investigative journalists.
Not until the mid-1990s did some of the Boston-area survivors begin coming forward to tell their stories. These couldn’t have been easy decisions for them, especially when confronting such an indomitable monolith as the Roman Catholic Church. No one wants to believe that someone like a priest, or any religious official for that matter, is capable of such horrors as sexual assault and child molestation. People often look to their places of worship as refuges of safety and hope; places to seek guidance in moments of trouble and despair or to reaffirm their faith in the greater good of humanity. The men and women who function as leaders in these institutions are supposed to be above such humanly transgressions as sexual perversions.
We often forget those leaders and officials weren’t born into those roles. They came into this world like the rest of us; they’re human beings first and foremost. But they made the decision to lead lives of religious individualism. Being a faith leader may be a spiritual calling for some individuals, but it is also a profession; something that person chooses to do with their lives. People, therefore, choose to become drunk on the power bestowed upon them – supposedly by some deity – but, in reality, by elders in those organizations. They choose to take vows of celibacy or piety and to stand as the proverbial beacons of hope. And they choose to use their positions for good or bad.
In the Roman Catholic Church, priests don the fanciful regalia befitting their roles as leaders of the masses. They dress differently and (are supposed to) behave differently. Sex, which is a natural part of the human experience, is strangely viewed as base and demeaning. It is too much of a distraction for the individual; hence, the vow of chastity.
But the human libido is often stronger than the human-designed definitions of proper individuality. Thus, many priests (and nuns) stray from those vows and either hide their moral transgressions or leave the Church altogether. Church history is replete with priests and nuns who had the audacity to fall in love. I personally feel it’s perfectly normal and don’t see anything wrong with that.
Yet no one in their right mind can look upon the scourge of pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church and consider it misguided love. The tap-dancing semantics that people like Bill Donohue spit out to explain these transgressions doesn’t mitigate the significance of it; it only amplifies it.
I was once a strong devotee of the Catholic faith. Like most Hispanic-Americans, I grew up in it. It was a fact of life for me. I even became an altar boy at a church in Dallas in the 1970s and served that church – and what I felt was the greater good of my community – with some measure of faith and distinction. And, in case you’re wondering, no, I was never molested by anyone in the Church. I was never molested by anyone outside of the Church, for that matter. I never knew of anyone at that particular church who suffered physical or sexual abuse at the hands of a priest or a nun. In retrospect, I realize most were good and decent; a few of them were actually fun to be around. And sadly, some were assholes. But I can’t find that any scandal erupted within its walls.
It’s ironic, though, because the Dallas diocese was the nexus of one of the largest pedophile priest scandals within the Church. In 1997, a Dallas County jury awarded 11 plaintiffs of a class-action suit $119.6 million; the largest monetary award of its kind at the time. Eleven young men claimed they had been molested by a former priest, Rudy Kos. Tragically, by the time the case went to court, one of the young men had committed suicide. He was 21, and his family had pursued the matter. The Kos case served as the proverbial catalyst for the avalanche of similar claims and subsequent lawsuits across the U.S. Then Bishop Charles Grahmann testified in court that he knew nothing of Kos’s antics; claiming he’d never even opened Kos’s personnel file. If he had, he surely would have found letters dating to the 1980s from other priests warning of Kos; that the latter often gave alcohol and even drugs to some of the boys. Grahmann surely knew something was amiss, as he moved Kos around – which apparently had become standard procedure within the Church by then. Grahmann only exacerbated the dilemma when he blatantly insinuated that some of those boys were partly responsible for the abuse. That, of course, is a typical reflex-type response to sexual assault victims, especially those who are male. Remember, in the bloodthirsty psyche that is American culture, males – even very young ones – are never supposed to be victims. Kos was sent to prison, and Grahmann remained bishop for another decade before resigning. He passed away recently.
As with serial killers, I often wonder how many victims of a pedophile remain hidden. Who else is out there who just didn’t have the courage and / or support to come forward and tell their story? Like I stated earlier, these matters aren’t easy to discuss. Going up against an outfit as powerful and affluent as the Roman Catholic Church is overwhelming and sometimes impossible. What the Church has done to distance itself from these crimes – and even discredit the victims, in some instances – is beyond abominable. Their actions are truly monstrous.
One thing I find curious, though, is that other people within individual parishes had become aware of the pedophilia (or whatever crimes were taking place) and chose to put their concerns in writing. They apparently tried to do something; to bring it to the attention of higher authorities within the institution. Yet, when nothing was done, what did those other people do? Were they so bound to the laws and regulations of the Church that they felt it could go no further? It had to stop there and then? It is against the law to fail to report child abuse. But, with the separation of church and state a building block of the United States, how is that to be handled?
I haven’t waited for either the Roman Catholic Church or the U.S. government to respond. I left the Church more than a quarter-century ago over its disrespectful behavior towards women who comprise more than half of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics. Like its siblings, Judaism and Islam, Christianity is patriarchal at its core. A number of men within its environs had dared to say women should hold more leadership positions than head nun or head housekeeper. While other branches of Christianity have moved towards gender parity, the Roman Catholic Church remains unyielding. But the pedophile priest scandals that have exploded over the past several years solidified my decision to leave the Church in the dust of its own glittering arrogance. Shortly after the Boston fiasco, many wondered if the Church would survive the chaos. And I thought, who cares? The real question should be if the Church will admit not only that it has a serious problem in its ranks, but that it has been conducive to that problem.
I also have to be fair in that I know the majority of people who run the Church aren’t pedophiles or accessories after the fact. Most do try to uphold to the Church’s two millennia old principals that all humans are valuable and should be treated with respect. They work hard to ensure a safe community for everyone. When I think of those who embodied this dogma, I always think of Oscar Romero; the former archbishop in El Salvador who spoke out against the country’s dictatorial regime and was gunned down while performing mass in 1980. While Romero tried desperately to feed and clothe his parishioners in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, his counterparts in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world were paying out millions in settlements because they didn’t want any bad press.
Yet, I now feel the Church has run its course. It’s done; it’s served its purpose. It no longer has the right or the power to dictate how people should live their lives. Indeed, it is wishful thinking on my part that the mighty Roman Catholic Church simply fold up and somehow melt into the rest of society. It has too strong of a grip on the world.
In the late 1930s, my paternal grandfather, a carpenter, landed an ideal contract with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas: build a new parochial school. My grandfather, Epimenio, had mixed feelings about the Church. Sometime before then, my grandmother had fallen ill, and my grandfather had called their local parish priest to ask for some money to take her to the doctor. When he arrived at the rectory, the grumpy old priest flung the few dollar bills at his feet.
“If this wasn’t for my wife,” my grandfather told him in Spanish, “I’d make you pick this up and hand it to me like a real man should.”
One afternoon, as my grandfather and some of his men were atop the newly-attached roof of the school, the bishop appeared at the construction site to survey the project. One of Epimenio’s employees immediately stopped what he was doing and began bowing, as was the custom at the time, upon seeing a high-ranking Catholic official. Bowing to the bishop while perched on a slanted roof of a 2-story structure.
“Pendejo!” Epimenio muttered to the man, a Spanish curse word whose closest (polite) translation is moron. “You’re going to roll off this roof and die when you hit the ground! Then the bishop is going to wonder what happened!”
That’s what I’m thinking now. The Roman Catholic Church seems to be marching itself into oblivion. Its acolytes are literally dying to keep it relevant. Can any of them see that?
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro releases the findings of a two-year grand jury investigation into clergy abuse at six of the state’s Roman Catholic Dioceses: