July 27, 2013
This year marks the end of the third decade of the contemporary chapter in the Catholic Church’s age old reality of sexual violation of clerics. In 1983 Jeff Anderson filed the historic case in Minnesota that would launch him on his life long vocation of bringing not only civil but human rights to the Church countless victims.
That summer, the bizarre saga of Gilbert Gauthe was exposed to the light in Lafayette, Louisiana.
This nightmare did not begin in Boston in January 2002 as many erroneously believe. It did not begin
in 1983 either. It has been a toxic virus in the Body of Christ since its very beginning. The Didache, a handbook for the earliest followers of Christ, written before the end of the first century, explicitly condemns men who sexually abuse boys....and the “men” included the leaders or elders of the infant Church.
The Louisiana spectacle generally gets the credit for being the beginning of public awareness of the
so called “crisis.”
I dare say though that had Jason Berry lived in Minneapolis and not New Orleans, things might have been different.
Either way you look at it, Jeff in Minnesota and Ray Mouton in Louisiana opened a new era nor the Catholic Church and in doing so, changed the course of its history.
When I first became involved with the Gauthe case in 1984 I still believed in the Church. I thought the institutional Church and the People of God were one and the same.
In spite of already having served three years on the inside at the Vatican Embassy I still had some confidence in bishops and shared the hope with my colleagues at the time, Mike Peterson and Ray Mouton, that once the bishops became aware of how terrible sexual abuse of a child could be and also aware of the potential for a very serious problem in the Church, they would quickly step up to the plate and do the right thing
,especially by the victims.
I was dead wrong and by the time I left my position at the Vatican embassy I was quite convinced
I was wrong.
I had no idea however, of the extent of the problem but more important, and worse, I had no idea just how duplicitous and destructive the bishops could be.
Back in 1985 the transformation of the Catholic Church back to a medieval monarchy was underway but not yet in high gear. There were still some good men holding down the office of bishop, most of them
remnants from the Vatican II era of hope. John Paul II, soon to be canonized, set about changing the Church by appointing men as bishops who had replaced pastoral compassion with unthinking obsession with orthodoxy that was a thin cover for soaring ambition and lust for power.
The unified game-plan for confronting the “nuisance of pedophilia” as one bishop referred to it, was
not so obvious in the first years of this era, but it certainly is now.
I don’t think any of us who were around thirty years ago had any idea where this odyssey would take us.
Above all, we had no idea that the stubbornness,shock, conviction, anger, compassion,
desolation, fatigue, disappointment and courage that we have all felt at one time or another, would propel the disparate and sometimes unlikely allies in this hellish
drama to bring about profound changes in the Catholic Church and in our
We have discovered things that have shocked and stunned us that
thirty years ago were well outside most people’s imagination.
We have learned that it's not “over” and it won’t be over
as long as the culture and institution that enabled
the systemic sexual violation remains as it is.
We have learned that the presenting issue is the sexual violation of
children, adolescents and vulnerable adults by clerics of all ranks, from
deacons to Cardinals but that the most outrageous aspect of the scandal has
been and continues to be the response by the hierarchy.
We have learned that both the Church and secular society
had to be forced to look at child sexual abuse straight on
and reluctantly accept the reality that it is a profound and lasting violation of a
person’s body, mind and soul and to the additional reality that violated children and adults
have regularly been ignored.
We have learned that the toxic and even vicious response of the hierarchy and clergy
is deeply embedded in the clerical culture
and not a geographic phenomenon caused by forces extrinsic to the
institutional church such as an anti-Catholic media, a sexualized
culture or a materialistic society
We have learned that there is a
monstrous chasm between the
Christian response expected
of the institutional Church and the actual
experience of victims and their families.
We have learned that the exposure of widespread sexual abuse by
clerics has brought irreversible changes to the relationship between the
Church and secular society.
We have learned that John Paul II cared little or nothing
for the victims of his priests and bishops but
was instead concerned with protecting bishops
and finding a focus for blame anywhere but in the institutional Church.
We have learned that the clerical elite that runs
the institutionalChurch is abysmally ignorant of the
complex nature of human sexuality and
therefore of the devastating effects of sexual violation on all levels of
We have learned that the exposure of widespread sexual abuse
at all levels of the institutional Church has triggered
the exposure of corruption in other areas and a demand for accountability.
We have learned that today’s bishops have a severely limited and
deficient understanding of pastoral care.
We have learned that the last two popes and the hierarchy have a
seriously twisted notion of right and wrong whereby they protect
clerics who violate children but persecute and punish sincere,
faith-filled men and women who seek ways to bring Christ and the Church
to people in our twenty-first century culture.
We have learned that victims who present themselves to Church authorities
in a docile, deferential and non-demanding manner will be tolerated but
those who stand on an even level with the bishops and demand
true justice will be treated as the enemy.
We have learned, for certain, if we ever doubted, that the compulsion
of an adult cleric to find sexual satisfaction from a child or a vulnerable
adult may have moral dimensions but it is fundamentally a highly
pathological aberration in one’s psychosexual makeup. It is not
first and foremost a matter of morality controlled by the will
but of a disorder controlled if possible, by various therapy protocols.
We have learned that the Church’s leaders
from the papacy on down have grossly underestimated
the impact their action and inaction would have on the community
and the mortal blow this would deal their credibility.
We have learned that some of the most morally compromised people
in our society are lawyers who represent Church entities in sex abuse litigation
We have learned that the Church’s response would continue to be
shaped by a small number of celibate males, most of them bishops and
any experience of parenthood
and who live in a monarchy significantly isolated
from the real world.
We have learned that the clerical subculture than runs the institutional Church
is fed by a highly malignant, narcissistic spirituality
that requires a docile, controlled and compliant laity to survive.
We have learned that the passive-dependent relationship
of the laity to the clergy, centered around sacramental rituals,
has caused a passive, muted response to the sexual abuse plague.
We have learned that the strident defense of the institutional Church is
grounded in either an ignorance of the authentic meaning of “Church”
as the People of God or worse yet,
an arrogant rejection of it.
We have learned that blind orthodoxy has replaced courageous charity
as the main focus of the papacy and hierarchy in our era.
Those who profess their staunch but limited orthodoxy and
total loyalty to the pope and magisterium
are concerned for their emotional security at the expense of charity towards victims.
We have learned that the Church has in fact, responded to the victims
with charity and support in their demand for justice, but it is not the
institutional Church but rather the fundamental Church, the People of God.
The sex abuse phenomenon has affected peoples' lives in a variety of ways.
It has had a profound impact on my life on several levels. Most of the
impact has been from things I have learned.
I have learned that the sage advice I was given in 1972 by a
distinguished priest who had been a peritus at Vatican II, that with bishops
yes and no are interchangeable terms, is true.
I have learned that it is dangerous and naïve to place complete,
unquestioning trust in every utterance from popes and bishops.
I have learned that the ontological change that happens at ordination
to the priesthood is a myth that is sustained only to try to bolter clerical
I have learned that constant, obsessive and unchecked anger
towards the institutional church, the bishops, is not only debilitating but self-destructive.
I have learned that as long as I allowed my anger to dominate my emotions,
the toxic and dark side of the Church still controlled me.
I have learned that I needed to challenge and question every aspect of
the institutional Church that I took for granted or believed without
reservation, and that to gain a healthy spirituality I needed the freedom
to reject that which made no sense to me.
I have learned that the institutional Church, its bishops, priests and
unquestioning followers are not the enemy. The enemy is a destructive,
heretical and anti-Christian virus called clericalism.
I have learned that bottomless pits of money expropriated from the
faithful,legions of lawyers, volumes of empty excuses and seemingly
endless public relations verbiage are, in the end, no match for truth.