Suffer Little Children
April 5, 2010

I was raised Catholic. My mother is still devoutly Catholic. My aunt is still devoutly Catholic and the chair of the religious studies department of a large Catholic university to boot. My sister and my cousins, all Catholic. I am the only oddball in the family to leave the church.

The others make assumptions as to why, although no one has been brave enough to ask. As far as I can tell, they make two general assumptions: 1) I left because I'm gay and the Church has no love for the queers. 2) I left because while not abused by any clergy, I was abused and probably don't like how the Church is handling abuse claims today.

Both assumptions are incorrect.

I was a child of questions. "Don't do X" was immediately followed with why not? If that wasn't actually explained to me, I did "X" anyway, largely to find out what the problem was. If an adult or child couldn't explain something to me, then it didn't exist to me. I can remember being at a friend's house in grade school and asking where her kitten was. No answer. A little later I asked again. And again. And again, until one of the other kids took me aside and explained that the kitten had feline leukemia and was dead. I couldn't seem to pick up on the social cues that everyone else had picked up on ... and I had to have an answer.

My mother learned quickly NOT to tell me, "you can't do X," because I would promptly do X just to show that I could too so do it. She also learned to quit telling me "you can't say X" for the same reason.

The Catholicism I grew up with was largely built of "you can't" without explanations. I drove my CCD (Catholic "Sunday" School) teachers crazy with my questions.

The lunchbox church I attended in jr high and high school

"You have to go to church every Sunday."

"But what if you live too far away from a church? Can't you just read the Bible all day long on Sunday and have that count?"

I was planning, you see, on moving to the middle of nowhere, totally off the grid, in a log cabin house I somehow miraculously built myself with an ingenious water trough system that would give me electricity (in some magical fashion - I couldn't be bothered with the minute details just yet).

"No, that's not enough, you have to attend Mass with a priest."

"But if you live in the middle of nowhere and can't get to a church, I mean. Is it still a sin."

"Yes."

"But why?"

"Because you chose to live away from the Church."

Oh well, for Pete's freaking sake. Nothing the teacher said would make me believe that God would be so petty as insist we drive 10 hours to find a Catholic Church just to hear some priest ramble about giving money to the church during his ten minute sermon. Seemed to me that the priests I knew were too boring to count as really going to church and we'd obviously be better served by doing something active for God instead. Reading the Bible, doing good works, something.

In fact, failing to get a good answer (or the answer I wanted, you can interpret that either way), I began taking a hard look at my church. For a long time, I assumed that the problem was with my specific parish. I remembered kind of liking church in Austin, but the Monsignor who ran our church seemed a bitter old man who simply wanted his parishioners' cash.

It was, of course, a bit more complex than that, but at 12 or so, I couldn't see it yet.

There was no youth group ... every time a young "helper" priest was assigned to Most Blessed Sacrament, the Monsignor ran him off in a matter of months. Youth groups were started and fell by the wayside with each one. There was no way to engage with the church at the time. I couldn't serve at the altar. I was too little to be a reader. Too little to be a Eucharistic minister. The only thing I could "do" was sit and listen.

Being passive has never been a strong point for me. And yet, that was all that was being asked.

I wanted to be part of things. Discussion, activity, mission work ... something to demonstrate the faith I was being told to believe. It wasn't enough to talk about the Good Samaritan, where was my chance to act that way? To help someone?

By the time Confirmation rolled around, I already knew I was not, in my heart, Catholic anymore. I disagreed with far too many tenets of the faith. I was not a docile lamb to be led. I needed discussion, activity, challenges and I was not getting them. I didn't really believe in the infallibility of priests or the Pope.

But I couldn't figure out how to tell my family that.

I read Joyce's Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man ... and as Stephen said, I wasn't Catholic, but I sure wasn't Protestant, either. After reading several novels by Chaim Potok, I contemplated converting to Judaism ... but there were several issues there.

Then came my first year in college ... and I was just about ready to tell Mom my big secret ... that I just couldn't pretend to be Catholic any more ...

... and some idjit called the house to tell Mom I was gay. So of course that was a whole different trauma, and to be honest, Mom just assumed that I was no longer Catholic because of it. That phone call set off a whole avalanche of events - I was kicked out (although I already had a lease signed to move out within about 6 weeks anyway); Mom divorced Dad within about 12 weeks of that phone call; Mom moved an hour away. Best though - I was no longer expected to go to a church in which I no longer believed.

Let me make this clear: I do not hate the Catholic Church. I just don't believe in the hierarchy. I don't think any less of my family for continuing as Catholics. I admire them, particularly my aunt and cousins who are very active in their churches and have found ways to disagree with some tenets and yet still retain faith not just in God, but in the Catholic Church. Much of what led me to early disgruntlement with the church had more to do with a specific priest ill-suited for the congregation he found himself in and some not very thorough CCD teachers. Had the early foundation been more strong, I might have felt more comfortable working within the Catholic church instead of having to find my way out.

The Vatican

So when I say that I am DISGUSTED with the current pope and the sexual abuse disaster, please understand that it is not some kind of uninformed and misdirected emotion.

The vatican has made it pretty clear to me that they prefer to push off blame. First, they tried insinuating (or, in some cases downright saying) that if they could just clear the queers out of the priesthood, the problem would be over. Of course, this completely ignores the girls and women who've been abused by priests. It also ignores the fact that most of these priests committing abuse are not necessarily gay. They are pedophiles and pederasts (men who are attracted to adolescent young men). In other words, the church would begin a crackdown on queers in the priesthood and obviously this kind of crap would become a thing of the past. Move along, nothing to see here.

This ignores the good homosexual priests who've remained celibate. (The homosexual issue is separate from the abuse issue - and besides, if the priest is celibate and only the homosexual sex act is actually a sin, then why care if they are priests????)
It ignores the heterosexual priests who have abused their position.
It ignores the heterosexual priests who are sexually stunted and don't know how to help their parishioners when they come for advice.

I am not going to get into whether or not celibacy "causes" the kinds of problems the Catholic Church is facing right now. I think it's far more complex than a simple answer like that.

I am furious that the way the church has handled the issue up until now is through silence and secrecy, the very things that abusers instill in their victims and perhaps the hardest barriers to getting those victims turned into strong survivors. I know ... it took me a number of years to be able to admit to myself what had happened to me. And it took a seemingly ridiculous number of additional years to be able to physically write or utter the words, much less tell someone else.

For the church, which is supposed to be a place of refuge, solace and safety to essentially tell people "forgive and most of all forget," and insist on reinforcing secrecy, shame and silence is, to me, completely unforgivable.

Catholics are to obey the hierarchy. I understand this. It is the main problem I had with Catholicism ... and the reason why is being played out so publicly right now.

How can any person of conscience keep silent about the types of things that they knew were happening? There are documents of bishops, local priests, etc, begging the next person up in the hierarchy to do SOMETHING about some priest who'd done something horribly wrong. How could they in good conscience keep those secrets just because their bishop or cardinal told them to do so?

Why did any member of the church think this was a healthy and healing way to handle the problem?

From paperwork now coming out, it looks like now Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, knew about at least some of these cases. Some of the truly heinous cases ... and did nothing.

The church claims he tried to fast-track some of these cases, but the facts seem to indicate otherwise. (I'm thinking particularly about the Wisconsin case with the school for the deaf.) At the very least, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he either knew about such cases or was woefully negligent in his duties. After all, the Wisconsin case involved the highest priority - a priest accused of molesting in the confessional, sullying the sacrament of confession - and accused of molesting an absolutely insane number of boys.

One case in Germany seems to sum up the reaction of the Catholic church:

A German man who after many, many years finally was able to physically say that he'd been abused, was first disowned by family who refused to believe him. Then he reported the men who'd abused him to the church. He was offered a smallish sum of money ... on the legal condition that he never speak of it again. This made him angry, and rightfully so. He'd worked so hard to finally be able to speak and break his silence.

He wrote to the Pope - at that time John Paul II - asking for help, and received a letter from Rome.
It contained no apology. Instead, a Vatican official wrote that the Pope would pray for him and encouraged him to return to the family of the Church.
(source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8564378.stm retrieved 4/5/2010)

Other news sources report that Pope John Paul II knew about other cases as well ... and did nothing. That Ratzinger knew or should have known about cases ... and did nothing. (Or moved with glacial speed.)

I don't know for sure. I do know that the church's reaction to this now is what has me both incensed and more likely to believe the worst. One cardinal said this is all "petty gossip." The pope's personal priest attempted to read a passage from a Jewish friend's letter and seemed to indicate that the "persecution" the church was experiencing was just like anti-Semitism.

Another article points out a cardinal who's had to deal with the aftermath of a pedophile, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Groer's successor, criticised the handling of that scandal [Groer is believed to have abused some 2,000 boys] and other abuse cases last week after holding a special service in St Stephen's cathedral, Vienna, entitled "Admitting our guilt".
Schönborn condemned the "sinful structures" within the church and the patterns of "silencing" victims and "looking away".
(source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article7086738.ece retrieved 4/5/2010)

Schönborn and others seem to be insisting that Cardinal Ratzinger tried to do the right thing, but that Pope John Paul II is the one to blame.

They all miss the point.

A true person of conscience, once they know about such heinous abuses had a moral duty to STOP IT. If they could not do that from within the system, they should have, in the spirit of Jesus, gone outside the Vatican's system.

While the survivors and victims' families may want to place blame precisely where blame is due ... those less directly affected just want the church to 'fess up.

I don't care if it was Ratzinger's fault or John Paul's fault that Father Murphy wasn't instantly removed and laicized. I really don't. I want Pope Benedict to say, "We should have removed him sooner. We should have had a better process, a faster process by which to determine guilt and then laicize him from the priesthood. We messed up, but we're looking at what went wrong and using that to better our process and our system so this doesn't happen again."

I have heard of a document supposedly kept under lock and key in which bishops were told to NOT go to the authorities in abuse allegations, but to keep the parishioner quiet and send the info along to the Vatican so the priest could be moved somewhere else.

Those who are speaking out about this, seem to want to blame John Paul II. I don't know if they're simply pushing this off on a dead man who can't defend himself ... or if John Paul II was truly to blame. I don't really care. Pope Benedict is in charge now and he's got a lot of work to do to earn back the trust of so many who feel the Church as a whole has been lying, has been concealing, has been betraying the very people they are supposed to shepherd.

It's not about blame. It's about taking responsibility.

Claiming the church is being persecuted, that people are engaging in "petty gossip," these are not the responses representative of a loving God. They're the responses of a child with a hand in the cookie jar and crumbs all over their shirt.

(Title of post from Matthew 19:14 (King James Version)
14 But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.)

Posted by Red Monkey at April 5, 2010 10:15 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

The action, and lack of action, taken by the church representatives is disgusting.

As a never-was Catholic and questionable Christian, it pushes me more towards disbelieving in any church's official.

April 6, 2010 7:02 PM

 

avasmommy said:

**applause**

Wow, so well said. I'm a Catholic who left the church as well. My reasons were different, but I agree 100% with what you said.

Somewhere along the way, we've deviated from the message of love and hope and taken a detour in to money and power town. Not what Jesus envisioned, I would imagine.

April 6, 2010 7:18 PM

 

timethief said:

Thank you for sharing this. Ratzinger implemented and maintained a policy of protecting pedophile priests from the long arm of the law from the 1960's until the end of November 2008, when he made a blame the victims apology, and did so only after it became clear that the US court of Appeals would find that the Vatican can and will be sued, and that the The Pope himself will be subpoenaed to testify.

He disgusts me because the policies he implemented and upheld lead to hundreds of thousands of more incidences of the same pedophile priests grooming children for rape in the name of Jesus. He further disgusts me because his "sheeple" have bought into his blame the victims mentality.

"The Popes testimony is important because before he was pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_for_the_Doctrine_of_the_Faith and oversaw reports of sexual abuse by priests. That office, along with its predecessor, the Congregation of the Holy Office, were directly involved with the investigation of sexual abuse by clerics. In May 2001 then Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) sent a letter to Bishops confirming that the 1962 code of secrecy remained in effect.

I don't know what disgusts me more the fact that this coward who protected child abusers from the long arm of the law got away with doing so, and had the temerity to attempt to assign the blame to the victims. Or the fact that many of his "sheeple" are saying Novenas for him and believe he ought not to be held to account in a Court of Law for his actions.

For more links got to the BC discussion forum searchbox and type in these titles: Pedophiles In The Church and Ireland: Shocking Child Abuse - Roman Catholic Church

P.S. I love the new design.

April 6, 2010 7:43 PM

 

Mark said:

I wish the pope would see that doing the morally correct thing and doing the politically astute thing overlap here. The only way to get past it is to face it head on with openness, humility, and fearlessness. It might cause some trouble for many individuals in the Church hierarchy in the short time, and the Church will no doubt look even worse as more is revealed, but in the long run it is the only way towards a semblance of moral credibility, which is prerequisite to spiritual leadership.

April 6, 2010 8:50 PM

 

inthefastlane said:

Not Catholic, never have been, but I do believe in owning your beliefs. And to really own it, you HAVE to be willing to question it and make sure it is really and truly a part of you.

As for the travesty of covering up these acts that changed and destroyed the lives of so many??? It is so unbelievably wrong that I can't even wrap my head around it.

April 7, 2010 10:27 PM
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