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Feb 03 2013

Like many others

Janet Heimlich casts a cold eye on a bishop’s “apology.”

You know what’s coming. We could all write the “apology” in our sleep.

“I wish to acknowledge and apologize for those instances when I made decisions regarding the treatment and disposition of clergy accused of sexual abuse that in retrospect appear inadequate or mistaken.” Curry added, “Like many others, I have come to a clearer understanding over the years of the causes and treatment of sexual abuse, and I have fully implemented in my pastoral region the archdiocese’s policies and procedures for reporting abuse, screening those who supervise children and abuse prevention training for adults and children.”

Uh huh. In retrospect. In retrospect they appear inadequate or mistaken. As Janet says, that’s no apology.

In retrospect they appear inadequate or mistaken, meaning, they appeared perfectly fine at the time, indeed virtuous and holy, because otherwise I wouldn’t have done them, because I am a bishop. It was all a mistake of perception, like being color blind. It was not at all a failure of empathy or moral alertness or basic consideration for others or recognition of the helplessness of a child in the hands of an adult man with all the weight of the church behind him. No no. Just a mistake, that’s all, like thinking Pluto was a planet.

Like many others, now he has learned better, but he didn’t know then, and that’s not his fault because he was like many others. Only he was also completely different because he was a Catholic priest, so he got to conceal crimes from the police. Janet continues:

The statement is disgraceful and disrespects victims of sexual abuse. The documents that have been released reveal communications between Curry and Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who is also Archbishop Emeritus of Los Angeles, in which they discussed ways to conceal cases of molestation from law enforcement. (Mahoney issued a more heartfelt apology to victims on January 21.) One particular case involves a priest who admitted to sexu­ally ab­us­ing 13 boys dur­ing his 36 years in the Los Angeles arch­diocese. Yet, rather than reporting the man to police, Curry said he should be sent to “a lawyer who is also a psychiatrist,” thereby putting “the reports under the protection of privilege.”

But he wants us to think that at the time, like many others, he didn’t know it’s not ok to hide crimes from the police.

But then if he didn’t know, because he was like many others, what becomes of the church’s claim to be better than everyone else? Why didn’t his priesthood make him better than “many others” – isn’t that the whole point of it? If it’s not, why are they always trying to tell everyone what to do?

They’re lying cowardly self-serving placeholders. They let their colleagues and friends make generations of children miserable, and now they pretend they didn’t know any better. They’re contemptible.

 

13 comments

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  1. 1
    dmcclean

    But then if he didn’t know, because he was like many others, what becomes of the church’s claim to be better than everyone else? Why didn’t his priesthood make him better than “many others” – isn’t that the whole point of it? If it’s not, why are they always trying to tell everyone what to do?

    This, to me, is a key point. You can’t claim to have special access to divinely revealed moral knowledge and simultaneously claim that your moral views have evolved alongside those of everyone else.

    (What makes this even more infuriating, of course, is that everyone else knew all along that engaging in shenanigans to hide child abusers from justice was and is wrong.)

  2. 2
    peicurmudgeon

    Has there been a single case of a Catholic priest coming forward of his own volition and turning himself over to the police? Or have they all waited until they were actually caught? I can’t think of any. In my mind that would be a recognition and acceptance of guilt.

  3. 3
    Ophelia Benson

    There are at least priests who tried hard to get their superiors to do the right thing. There’s one in Ireland I think who did. He didn’t go to the cops himself, as far as I know, but he did try to make the process work.

  4. 4
    rocko2466 (the one and only)

    You should relate this back to the ‘Pit in some way, or noone’s going to read this. You should know this by now, Benson!

  5. 5
    anthrosciguy

    Hey, it worked as a defense at Nuremberg… wait, no it didn’t.

  6. 6
    sheila

    The church never did answer Stephen Fry’s question:

    They, for example, thought that slavery was perfectly fine. Absolutely OK. And then they didn’t. And what is the point of the Catholic church if it says, “Oh well we couldn’t know better because nobody else did.
    Well then what are you for?”

  7. 7
    sailor1031

    How come the Rattenfaenger always gets a free pass here? Isn’t he the one, when he was boss of the holy inquisition, that wrote that letter instructing all the bishops in the world NOT to go to the civil authorities and to sweep everything under the rug to “avoid scandal”? Or did I dream that?

    The Nuernberg Defence BTW was often “obeying superior orders”……which these guys could invoke, I guess, but haven’t.

  8. 8
    Eric MacDonald

    These guys knew. They just thought they wouldn’t get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Now they can’t hide, they’re making excuses. If the Nazis knew what they were doing was inhuman — and they did — then how do Catholic bishops get off with trying to pretend they didn’t know that raping children was wrong? Good grief! Have they no conscience at all? And if they haven’t, they have some nerve telling us that we need religion in order to be morally good. They can’t have it both ways. And, actually, when you count them, Christopher Browning (I think it was he) says that there were more communicating Catholics in the SS Vernichtungslager guards than those from other religious groups. It seems to give them a license to do bad things.

  9. 9
    Michael Brew

    I, for one, have no doubt that he did what he thought was right at the time. Did he know that it was legally wrong? Of course. Did he know that the act of child abuse, itself, was morally wrong? Very likely. However, if there’s one constant of human psychology, it’s that we all think what we’re doing is “right” when we do it, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. I can see him believing that avoiding a scandal to the Church was more morally righteous than letting some secular authority do with their priests as they would and possibly hurt the ability of the Church to “save souls.” Of course, everyone from the person who lies to make someone else feel better to the person who murders homeless people justifies their actions like this, so it’s certainly not an excuse, and simply acknowledging that you were wrong is hardly an apology, and the sincerity also comes into question if this statement comes only after being caught.

  10. 10
    Deepak Shetty

    In retrospect
    yeah I noticed that too. Its more or less I would do the same thing again (ignoring free will discussions )

    @Eric
    If the Nazis knew what they were doing was inhuman — and they did
    oh why did you go here :) ?Cue Orac, Nick Matzke etc etc.

  11. 11
    Richard Smith

    @Sailor 1031 (#7), re Nuernberg

    Interesting coincidence that the nürnberger is a long white sausage…

  12. 12
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    The first priority of the church is always the church. Nothing can be allowed to damage the church’s reputation as a Godly moral arbiter–not the truth, not the law, and certainly not simple human decency nor mercy.

  13. 13
    mildlymagnificent

    Did he know that the act of child abuse, itself, was morally wrong? Very likely.

    But did he know that some sexual acts and some sexual partners are, undoubtedly, occasions of much worse sin than others? Very doubtful.

    My meta reading of all this sexual stuff within religious institutions, mainly the Catholic, Anglican and Jewish ones for this purpose, is that they’ve got their intellectual knickers so twisted up over the notion of approved, marital, but still icky, sex that they can’t think straight about the moral options when anyone steps over that arbitrary line.

    A forbidden but years long, loving and monogamous affair between a priest and a parishioner? Mortal sin. (Or the equivalent for your particular version of godly stuff.)
    Occasional sexual ‘lapses’ with willing adult partners? Mortal sin.
    A years long habit of dominating, manipulating, or brutalising dozens of primary aged children for sexual purposes? Mortal sin.

    No differences. No examination of bad, worse, worst. (And there’d be a very funny, but impossible, conversation available about the relative badness or worseness of those first two transgressions. I’d be willing to bet that a goodly number of the religious hierarchy would see the first as much worse than the second – whereas the ordinary member of the laity would usually reverse that order.)

    Which leads to the age-old practice of relocating offending priests. That’s what you do to separate the loving couple, so that’s what you do to separate the priest from the ‘temptations’ of the children currently within his reach. Not much but confession and professional, repentant retreat, available to deal with the occasional lapse person.

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