Friday, February 01, 2013


GF TRIBUNE, 1-27-13  

Hollidaysburg, PA.  Police say a Franciscan friar accused of sexually abusing students at schools in two states killed himself at a western Pennsylvania monastery.

Blair Township police Chief Roger White said an autopsy by the county coroner confirmed that Brother Stephen Baker, 62, died of self-inflicted wounds.

White said officers were called to St. Bernardine Monastery in Hollidaysburg on Saturday morning after another resident had found Baker not breathing.

It seems obvious that priests who molest children should be addressed by the priests themselves, not by trying to suppress knowledge of the individual cases but by trying to understand why such things happen:  how did these people get into the priesthood, what in their formation did not address this tendency or even their developed perversion, and what should be done with them once they are detected molesting children while in active ministry?  I had not known until just now (by Googling) that there HAVE been efforts to understand and prevent.

Gerald Michael Cushing Fitzgerald (October 29, 1894 Framingham, MA - June 28, 1969) was a Roman Catholic priest  who began his ministry as a diocesan priest in Boston and later became a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, founded by Basile Antoine-Marie Moreau, who was born on February 11, 1799, in the final months of the French Revolution. Moreau was raised in a time when the Catholic Church was facing intense pressure and was being stripped of land, resources, and rights. When Moreau decided to enter the priesthood, he was forced to undergo his seminary training in secret for fear that the French government would arrest him. He completed his studies and was ordained for the Diocese of Le Mans in 1821. The French government continued to work for the removal of the Church from the educational system, which left many Catholics without a place to be educated or catechized. It was out of this environment that Fr. Moreau and a fellow priest came forward to form what is now the Congregation of Holy Cross.”
Non-Catholics, even Protestant clergy -- much less secular laymen or, say, Buddhist or Confucian or Jewish religious leaders -- are not always aware of a basic division inside the Roman Catholic clergy.  Some are part of the place-based parish church structure governed by Bishops where priests guide and support their congregations besides providing the Rite of Communion Mass.  Others join “gathered” communities with a mission that addresses a specific issue or practice, such as constant prayer for the world or education.  Some of these men (both in the parish or in gathered communities -- never women) may be qualified to perform Communion Mass.  Their hierarchical responsibilities are mixed between the authorities of their own order and those of the regular diocese.  Sometimes these purpose-based orders come into active conflict with the Pope’s diocesan authorities.  Sometimes the Holy Orders themselves interfere with each other.  They were founded in quite different times over the millennia, with different missions.

The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete was founded in 1947 by Father Gerald Fitzgerald in Jemez Springs, NM.  Because of the history of his earlier order, the Congregation of Holy Cross, Fitzgerald must have been sharply aware of the potential opposition between secular government and religious communities.  He felt that priests should be dealt with in a religious context.  When he founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete, he seems also to have become trapped by the times in the ongoing class between science and religion.  More specifically, the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete began as a way of helping priests struggling with alcoholism, addiction, mental and emotional problems.  Fitzgerald was awakened to the need by a down-and-out man who had once been a priest, something like today's discarded and homeless veterans of war.  “Paraclete (Gr. παράκλητος, Lat. paracletus) means advocate or helper. In Christianity, the term most commonly refers to the Holy Spirit.”  Soon after the order was formed there were priests seeking help because they molested children.  Also, homosexual issues arose, sometimes confused with child abuse.

Fitzgerald believed that faith was both salvific and transformative: that is, he thought that religion could save people without the intervention of psychology and other scientific strategies, and that the people could change through faith.  He was opposed to Alcoholics Anonymous and felt that at least temporary withdrawal from the larger world could be healing if it were an experience of devotion.  Over the tumultuous post-WWII years the order expanded worldwide to a network of centers where troubled priests were often sent by their superiors.  As experience evolved, Fitzgerald came to believe that sexual abusers of children could not be reformed.  Some who had been certified by secular expert psychologists as now being “recovered,” had turned out to continue to offend.  Towards the end of his life Fitzgerald had put a down payment on a Caribbean island where such priests could be confined like lepers for the remainder of their lives.  Perhaps this is an extreme of the practice of assigning troublesome clergy (of all kinds) to remote jobs where they are presumed to “do no harm,” but one can never avoid children without a walled environment.

He and the others in the order also began to learn the hard way that those who help the stigmatized will soon be stigmatized and shut out themselves.  Fitzgerald constantly wrote letters to whoever had power, trying to persuade them to do more about priest-predators, advocating that they be “laicized” -- which is to say “defrocked.”  When his papers were opened after his death to show that he had recognized and vigorously addressed the problem, the information was used to indict the bishops who had claimed they knew nothing about it and tried to hush up the matter.

Today, much diminished, the community still exists and the remaining centers still try to help, but they are more agreeable to psychological methods and secular help.  Soon if not already, no doubt they will be looking at neurological research to see if there are organic reasons for the initiation and perseverance of inappropriate sexual behavior -- which, of course, begs the question of what is appropriate.  (Is celibacy appropriate?)  But scientific approaches evade the whole issue of whether spiritual conviction and practice really “works”.  In a pluralistic society with many forms of religious devotion -- including “devil worship” -- how can the Paraclete not shatter into meaninglessness?  What does shielding spiritual communities do for justice when the law is not obeyed?

It appears that history in its circular way is again coming to the French revolution’s desire to strip the Catholic church of its property and power.  The people want punishment, a guillotine of the treasury.  Communities of the Holy Spirit as “helpers,” which have always been in ambiguous relationship with Holy Communities as “missionaries”, must work hard to understand even for themselves what they are doing.  It might be smart for secular authorities to learn from them or alongside them.

One great need is the elimination of the stigma of having been a sexual victim as a child.  The stigma of the status acts as an invitation to more violation and continues the violence.  I’ve heard their anguished testimony, years later.  In intimate and powerful situations children think everything that goes wrong is their fault: their pain, their confusion, their failure to escape, and their secrets all seem like sins to them.  No Paraclete comes to help them.  Science tells them there might be something wrong with them.  Society tells them they are pariahs and condemned to a life outside the law.  Medicine becomes a vampire, both in the clinic and on the therapist’s couch.  I don’t know whether there is already a community of Holy Orders that defends and supports child victims of priests, but it might seem like a good idea to someone out there.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that person were Native American.  Come to think of it, can a Holy Order be founded by children?  What would a Rite of Absolution be like if there was nothing to absolve, as in the case of child victims?


Marcel said...
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Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is a secular organization that provides support, information and group discussion. They are activists who welcome new members.

Anonymous said...

While clearly there has been a serious problem of child sex abuse by priests, I can't get rid of the nagging suspicion that some of the adult men who come forth complaining of abuse years ago are con artists looking for cash settlements.


Mary Strachan Scriver said...

A shrink would be very interested in your "nagging suspicion." But the lawyers for the priests and their bishops would be delighted to have you on their jury. One con contaminates the whole class?

Prairie mary