Saturday, January 26, 2013


This is a data-base of all the confirmed testimony of cases of priests abusing children and the outcomes.  It is huge and discouraging to read.

I would not be happy to be responsible for stopping what seems to be an uncontainable wave.  It seems almost like trying to stop drug addiction.  When such widespread phenomena exist, the only thing that can have real impact is the change in the culture itself, all the things people assume about what is true and how to act.  At present our media gives us many vivid examples of crime and transgression.  Not alternatives.

Looking at this database, I see that the great majority of cases are boys at adrenarche (ages 5 to 9 or 10), which has been labeled “latency” in the past, a time when boys in most cultures run in same-age packs and do quite a bit of physical experimenting that is considered harmless at their age, but would not be if they were older.  Something about this age triggers something in some priests: maybe memories of their own abuse, maybe desire for women displaced to boys, maybe just that this is the age of altar boys and choir members, so they’re around the church.  (The boy choir is safer than the altar boy in the vestry.)  Obedient and eager to please, they are old enough to be unsupervised by parents but not old enough to fight off a molesting priest.  I don’t see cases of priests molesting babies and it seems as though most who interfere with adolescents are as likely relating to females.  The “Thornbirds” syndrome.  Young females falling madly in love with “safe” men.  When does molestation become seduction?  States prescribe specific ages, but individual development is unique.

Adrenarche may be far more important as a stage of development than we realize, with much worse damage consequences throughout the rest of life.  To sexually assault a younger child is physically damaging but the need to enforce secrecy is less pressing since the victim can’t say much, even if they understood what was happening.  An adolescent teen is old enough to think about things, share with peers, read and reflect, make moral judgments.  Even rationalize that he was being Chosen, a Sacred Honor.  But in that 6-9 span, identity is forming in a crucial way.  The child is learning to read, do math, study a map, relate a dream, absorb a film, understand art, music and games.  In some times and cultures boys this age were castrated to prevent them from entering adolescence.  Something about wanting them to be androgenous, “innocent.”  Native American and other “brown” boys that age (hairless) are often photographed or depicted in charming paintings, like Caravaggio’s famous painting of a boy, “Amor Victorious.”  Photos of explorers and travelers often show dozens of boys this age running alongside, sometimes begging, always curious, maybe stealing, boundary-crossers, up for adventure.  They look for heroes and those from damaged families look for fathers.

At the same time there is something about boys this age that attracts violence.  I don’t see so much on this graph about priests being physically violent -- that would be more in the context of the classroom beatings or self-flagellation -- but there is something about a few grownup priests that seems stuck at age nine.  Maybe it’s celibacy arresting the sexual development that is the task of adolescence or maybe it goes the other way around:  that arrested sexual development draws men to a celibate occupation like the priesthood.

Another huge historical issue doesn’t much get addressed.  The Roman Catholic Church has always considered itself a “nation” that is independent of and equal to the territory-based nations and their laws.  This is a result of being the sole official religious option for centuries all across Europe, wielding threats of retribution from God (something like threats of nuclear war).  With clever diplomatic interventions among the kings and emperors as a “first among equals,” the Pope was sometimes able to calm or deflect war.  (Which makes the failure to intervene against Hitler -- except for the efforts of individuals -- even more shameful.) 

Once Luther broke the Roman monopoly, erosion of power began.  As in any such institutional circumstance, the powerful who feel entitled are apt to insist and to use means such as secrecy, suppression of internal criticism, and claims to supernatural powers.  In modern times failure to report sexual abuse of children to civil authorities might have been somewhat justified IF the abuses had been effectively addressed, punished and prevented from first detection.  But the failure to do so, in hopes that the problem would go away, only made it inevitable that the criminal laws would claim primacy.  If the church can’t live up to its own ideals, it has disqualified itself.  Many forces would like to see the power of the church emptied and their purses moved to national tax bases.

In a similar but opposite confused way, conservative factions and religions have tried to get secular authorities to accept their sectarian moral standards into criminal laws about marriage, abortion, same-sex relationships and so on.  Since Roman Catholic officials can’t control their own people, they want their standards enforced outside their own flock, so that even nonbelievers, Buddhists, Islamists, and so on would have to accept Catholic rules.  This is why it’s wise to separate church and state.  There’s no going back to 1100 AD.

In the past a religion could defend itself by using damnation and excommunication, but if people are no longer superstitious and don’t care if they are excluded, what can a religious institution do but hide?  At one time it was claimed that a priest’s acts were efficacious even if the priest himself were corrupt -- something like arguing that a presidential office deserves respect regardless of who occupies it.  But now it’s hard to persuade people that a bad priest is a Holy priest.

Abusive priests on reservations not only betray children but also damage the centuries of dedicated and agonizing work their compatriots did in the past to carry a whole people from one culture to another.  Now that we value the culture the People were forced out of, the task itself is questioned.  But if you grant that there was really no realistic alternative but to operate the equivalent of boot camp, no other way of “civilizing” them than by removal from families and “immersion” in a mission school, then there were saints out there putting body and soul into the task, however misguided they might have been.  The stupidity of assaulting children totally discredits those predecessors.  

No worthy civilization destroys its children under the pretext of saving them.  Given all that, and quite aside from any notions of monetary reparation, we need to ask ourselves whether we ourselves are in a worthy civilization.  Given the present trafficking and slavery levels, how have we improved?  

No comments: