Very, Very Rare?

I had posted an article in which I addressed the priestly pedophilia scandal in Boston. The day I posted the article, I received an email from an irate priest who, while acknowledging that occasions of homosexuality, pedophilia, etc., can be found in the Catholic priesthood, argued that they are "VERY, VERY RARE."

I responded with figures from newspaper accounts of the scandal in Boston and citations from what I consider to be an objective look at the matter by a Catholic priest in possession of credible information concerning the issue.

The mystery priest sent me a second email, in which his ‘defense’ of the priesthood consisted primarily of attempts to discredit the author of the book I had cited, comments by unnamed ‘priest brothers,’ strawmen and non sequiturs. At no time did this boldly anonymous priest offer any verifiable data in support of his argument. This pattern is, of course, one that I suspect most non-Catholics are accustomed to seeing from their Catholic antagonists.

I do not doubt that the mystery priest who wrote me, and who set a filter to prevent me from replying to his emails, believes that Donald B. Cozzens, priest-author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood, is misinformed. However, it would appear that an increasing number of those “VERY, VERY RARE” instances of priestly pedophilia/homosexuality are finding their way into newspaper reports these days. Could it be that, in compliance with the published wishes of John Paul II, Catholic bishops in America at last are reporting complaints of priestly sexual deviance and/or predatory acts to local law enforcement authorities?

I checked the March 3, 2002 issue of Diocese Report, a valuable source of news concerning the Catholic Church. Here are excerpts from some of the stories that single issue:

Four more Roman Catholic priests have been dismissed from duty amid allegations of child sexual abuse, religious authorities said yesterday, as the church continued to reel from a molestation scandal in Boston…Their dismissal, which follows the adoption of a new church policy to expel priests allegedly involved in the sexual abuse of children, effectively rids the diocese of clergymen known to have a history of such misconduct.

Up to now, the four priests had been allowed to remain on duty because psychological evaluations and therapy found them suitable for priestly ministry, the diocese said.

Also yesterday in Wausau, Wis., a Catholic priest was sentenced to 18 months in prison and 20 years' probation after pleading guilty to molesting and exposing himself to teenage boys under his care at two churches.

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The Rev. Timothy E. Svea, 39, was convicted Monday of second-degree sexual assault of a child under 16 and several counts of exposing himself to a child. Svea also pleaded guilty to charges of false imprisonment... -- By Wire Services, 4 priests in Pa. accused of abuse: And in Wisconsin, cleric is sentenced in molestation case, © Boston Globe Newspaper Company, February 28, 2002

Then there is this “stuff happens” article. The author points out, in a flawed interpretation of Scripture, that even Jesus made a bad choice when He picked Judas. Every time I read lame efforts like this one to use the Scriptures to paint a false picture in support of some Catholic writer’s position it is clear to me why the Catholic Church doesn’t want her misinformed faithful to interpret the Scriptures in any way different from the interpretation of the Magisterium.

…One who had followed the Lord, who had had his feet washed by the Lord, who had seen him walk on water, raise people from the dead, forgive sinners, betrayed the Lord. The Gospel tells us that he allowed Satan to enter into Him and then he sold the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, handing him over by faking a gesture of love. "Judas," Jesus said to him in the garden of Gethsemane, "Would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" Jesus didn't choose Judas to betray him. He chose him to be like all the others. But Judas was always free, and he used his freedom to allow Satan to enter into him, and by his betrayal, ended up getting Jesus crucified and executed.

So right from the first twelve that Jesus himself chose, one was a terrible traitor. SOMETIMES GOD'S CHOSEN ONES BETRAY HIM. That's a fact that we have to confront. It's a fact that the early Church confronted.…No matter how sinful a priest is, provided that he has the intention to do what the Church does - at Mass, for example, to change bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, or in confession, no matter how sinful he is personally, to forgive the penitent's sins - Christ himself acts through that minister in the sacraments…God has essentially made the sacraments "priest-proof," in terms of their personal holiness. No matter how holy they are, or how wicked, provided they have the intention to do what the Church does, then Christ himself acts, just as he acted through Judas when Judas expelled demons and cured the sick

…The only adequate response to this terrible scandal, the only fully Catholic response to this scandal - as St. Francis of Assisi recognized in the 1200s, as St. Francis de Sales recognized in the 1600s, and as countless other saints have recognized in every century - is HOLINESS! Every crisis that the Church faces, every crisis that the world faces, is a crisis of saints. Holiness is crucial, because it is the real face of the Church. … --Fr. Roger Landry, Anointed Hands — Reflections on the Boston Priest Scandal, Catholic Exchange

The next excerpt is from an OpEd piece that appeared in a Chicago-area newspaper: It was written by a Catholic priest who doesn’t make excuses or sugar coat reality.

…The problem is not celibacy but rather a dangerous trait in clerical culture — an excessive compassion for priests who are in trouble. Like cops and doctors, priests stand by their own, sometimes when they shouldn't.

Pedophilia is a deeply rooted, at present incurable emotional disorder that some men bring to the priesthood, a twisted pattern of sexual desire whose demands are almost impossible to resist. Many of the pedophiles are themselves victims of childhood abuse and are more deserving of our sympathy than the bishops who reassign them to parishes. The priesthood doesn't make a person a pedophile. Most pedophiles are married men. Rather, the priesthood attracts pedophiles, as do other groups that deal with the young, like rabbis, ministers, educators, coaches. There are no psychological tests, so far, to filter out those with pedophile propensities. The problem for the church is, rather, that once it knew about such men, it often reassigned them to work where they have easy access to the young… Thus, until very recently, we simply denied abuse charges against our own, quoted with approval their denials, and demonized the victims and their families. The various priest organizations, locally and nationally, have been content with calls for the bishops to do something about the problem but also to protect the rights of the accused priests. When priests are asked by the media what they think about the pedophilia, they usually offer self-pity — how difficult it is now to know whether the lay people trust you. Very rarely do you hear a priest worry about what pedophilia has done to the image of the church or to the appeal of the priestly vocation. Almost never does one hear a word of compassion for the victims…-- Andrew M. Greeley, Pedophilia and celibacy, Daily Southton, February 24, 2002

Then, there’s the story of John Walker, a British state school teacher who pleaded guilty to a number of charges involving sex and young children. Walker left the school where he had worked when an anonymous complaint was filed against him. He then taught for 11 years in a Catholic girls’ school where, of course, we are assured he harmed no child.

A TEACHER who carried out a series of sex offences against children had been allowed to continue teaching despite complaints about his conduct 13 years ago.

John Walker, 58, pleaded guilty to 35 counts of indecent assault and gross indecency against boys and girls aged between eight and 11 between 1976 and 1989. The allegations involved 19 victims but detectives believe Walker may have assaulted up to 60 children.

After receiving a formal warning following an anonymous complaint in 1989, Walker, of Headington, Oxford, left the state school near Oxford where the abuse occurred and went on to teach maths and science at Rye St Anthony, an independent Roman Catholic girls' school in Oxford, until the allegations against him resurfaced in November 2000…-- Sean O'Neill, Teacher admits sex offences, © Telegraph Group Limited 2002

Some of those VERY, VERY RARE situations may also have existed in Scranton, Pennsylvania, according to another story from Diocese Reports.

The Roman Catholic bishop of Scranton, Pa., says a campaign against him and the Society of St. John, a conservative religious order based in his diocese, is being waged by a "very determined, very vengeful, and very talented" ex-Society employee who was hired to head a fledgling college under Society sponsorship…Fr. Dominic O'Connor, a Society priest, echoed the bishop's comment, telling NRO that he finds it odd that Bond only began complaining about alleged sexual improprieties after the bishop, on October 15, 2001, officially turned down Bond's request for the college's independence…Yet Bond has long maintained he sent an e-mail to Society priests on September 27 — nearly three weeks before the official break — asking them to denounce Urritigoity's alleged bedroom practices…{Bishop}Timlin says Bond then began making accusations that Fr. Carlos Urritigoity, the superior-general of the Society, was sharing his bed with teenage boys — though not necessarily engaging in sexual relations with them.

"When I heard that this was going on, I called the whole bunch of them {Society priests} in and ordered them to stop it," Timlin says. "They denied any wrongdoing, and said they did things like that only when they were crowded. They denied any immoral activity. I told them that they had to understand that in this climate, this is outrageous. You have to avoid even the appearance of evil."

The bishop says the priests were "very obedient" and promised to stop. He insists that there is no evidence that anything "immoral" — by which he means homogenital activity — happened between Urritigoity and the teenage boys. Timlin says he told James Bendell, a lawyer representing Bond, that Urritigoity "may have slept with boys, but that's not a sin. I agreed with that it didn't look right, and it should stop."

Bond still maintains the bishop is being naïve at best, saying that, "People should know their bishop doesn't think there's anything immoral about a boy of 15 or 16 sleeping in bed with a priest in his private chambers.:.. – Rod Dreher, Scranton Scandal-A Follow-up:The bishop speaks, National Review Online, February 15, 2002

There’s another story by Dreher in which the writer examines a pattern of behavior within the Catholic hierarchy. The story begins:

When news broke in 1992 that former Catholic priest James Porter, known for years to Church officials as a predatory child rapist, had sexually abused dozens of children during his clerical career, making his the worst clerical pedophilia case in U.S. history, it was hard to imagine how anything could get worse for the Church. But as American Catholics have learned since the wave of clergy molestation lawsuits began in 1985, new lows are always just around the corner.

Porter assaulted many of the children while serving in the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., which prompted the Boston Globe to report aggressively on the assaults and the Church cover-up. Under fire, an angry Bernard Cardinal Law, the archbishop of Boston, denounced the media for what he believed was sensational reporting of the scandal. Later that year, Law said in a Globe interview that his staff had gone through past molestation cases the archdiocese had investigated and found no cases that merited further attention or concern.

It wasn't true. While Law was fulminating against the press and assuring the public that all was well with his clergy, a Boston priest, Father John Geoghan, was in the final years of a 36-year career, during which he molested scores of children in at least three Boston-area parishes, including a four-year-old boy and seven boys in one extended family. Documents show that the archdiocese had long been aware at its topmost levels of Geoghan's abuse of children. Law's predecessors knew about this priest, and they made sure Law knew about him when he took over in 1984… – Rod Dreher, Sins of the Fathers Pedophile priests and the challenge to the American Church, National Review Online, February 11, 2002

Another of those VERY, VERY RARE situations occurred that week on the West Coast. This story began with an apology: The bishop of the Stockton Catholic Diocese made a dramatic public apology Thursday.

Bishop Steven Blaire…spoke out amid allegations of sexual misconduct by a priest and a former youth minister, both of which worked at a Turlock church…."In the name of the Church in Diocese of Stockton, I humbly apologize to any child or young person who has been sexually abused in any way, at any time, by a priest or youth minister of our diocese," Bishop Steven Blaire said…Priest Oskar Pelaez faces 13 counts of child molestation. Pelaez was assigned to the Church of Annunciation in Stockton until November. Meanwhile, part-time youth minister Jose Perez faces five counts of molestation.—Stockton Bishop Apologizes For Alleged Molestations, KCRA TheKCRAChannel.com, February 21, 2002,

There are other stories reported at the Diocese Report site, but I believe the above are sufficient to make my point that, in spite of what my mystery priest correspondent claims, the incidence of priestly sexual abuse of children and adolescents is definitely not VERY, VERY RARE. Perhaps the point of view held by this priestly masked man has been colored by his own experiences within the hierarchical family of the Catholic Church.

There seems to be little point in continuing to call attention to each new report of priestly sexual abominations. These revelations, which seem to reach us almost daily now, differ from one another only in the details; the despicable crimes are the same.

Why are so many priests being exposed now, when some of them have been preying on the children and adolescents of their flocks for decades? Part of the reason, I suspect, has to do with the enormous amount of hush money paid to victims of pedophile priests, or to their parents.

While the phenomenon may be as old as the priesthood itself, we still struggle to understand the scope of the problem. Most victims simply never come forward. William Reid claims that “careful studies have indicated…that child molesters commit an average of sixty offenses for every incident that comes to public attention.” Thomas Fox, at the other end of the estimates, reports that the “average pedophile priest abuses 285 victims.” By the mid 1990s, it was estimated that some 600 priests had been named in abuse cases and more than half a billion dollars had been paid in jury awards, settlements and legal fees. – Donald B. Cozzens, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, © 2000, The Liturgical Press, pp. 124-25

Perhaps what we are now seeing is a sea change in Vatican thinking concerning the sexual activities of pedophile, ephebophile and homosexual priests and, hopefully, all other religious. Pope John Paul II sent a non-obligatory letter to Catholic bishops, urging them to, among other things, report priests who abused children and adolescents to law enforcement authorities.

Change won’t happen quickly, if it truly happens at all. Though Vatican officials have discussed the problems engendered by pedophile/ephebophile priests, they are saying that it would take a major reform to end them. Of course, as is not unheard of in Mother Church, they seem to get all tangled up with word definitions and social actions, rather than settling down to solve the problem. There was, however, at least a small indication of some interest at the highest level within the Vatican in determining whether the ordination of homosexuals are valid.

ROME—Many Vatican officials, conservative and liberal alike, say it will take a sweeping reform of the priesthood to stop the pedophile scandals.

The liberals want better psychological screening and revamped training in seminaries.

The conservatives shift the focus elsewhere, saying that most victims are teen-age boys, not young children, and so the true solution is to make the priesthood less welcoming to gays.

Priests who said this made clear they weren’t suggesting gays were any more likely to be pedophiles.

But they said that most of the sex cases being investigated involved a gay priest and one teen-age boy, and thus didn’t fit the classic definition of pedophilia.

Pope John Paul II’s spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Vals, questioned whether ordinations of gays even were valid.

“People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained,” Navarro-Vals said in an interview, citing canon law but wading into what he knew was sensitive territory.

“That does not imply a final judgment on people with homosexuality,” added Navarro-Vals, a Spanish layman who’s a psychiatrist by training. “But you cannot be in this field.”…- Melinda Henneberger, New York Times, Priesthood reform eyed: Pedophile scandals spark talk inside Vatican, © San Antonio Express-News, March 3, 2002, p. 6A

I do hope that no one believes that Catholic priests and religious are the only church people who prey on children and others they are charged to look after. Sexual predators are to be found, I am convinced, in just about every denomination, sect and cult. Right now, Catholic priests and religious are getting the lion’s share of bad press, but don’t get complacent. It is every bit as important to be careful of your children in non-Catholic religious settings.

Come quickly, Lord.

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