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Fr. Glenn: Acknowledging The Inconceivable

on September 17, 2017 - 6:59am
By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

Many no doubt saw the recent press release in which the Catholic Archbishop of Santa Fe published the names of the members of Catholic clergy who have been accused of past sexual abuse of children. It’s no new news that those things happened, but if you’re like me, your reaction may have been: “Wow … so many.” At least know that they have all been permanently removed from ministry, if not now deceased. I know of no allegations of new abuse by clergy in our archdiocese for many years now, and all of us in ministry pray that that beast never again raises its contemptible head. Allegations that still arise in the news are almost invariably from actions in decades past.

Why so many? From what I’ve gleaned, this archdiocese once contained a “treatment center” for acknowledged abusers intended to turn them from those desires, and other dioceses also sent offenders here for “treatment”; that’s why on the list are many clergy from other regions and religious orders. At the time such psychological treatments were believed to be—and deemed—effective, and some who completed the regimen may have been released to return to ministry.  However, from what I’ve read recently it seems very unlikely that such desires can be purged, at least permanently.

What brought about their perverse desires in the first place? I have my own ideas, as unscientific as they might be. First of all, I don’t think it was so much that priests became predators, but rather that some predators became priests—slipping undetected through the system. Predators seek prey where it is most plentiful and least vigilant, and where they themselves are best camouflaged. Churches where families are led trustingly by one able to hide himself underneath a cloak of virtue provide perfect hunting grounds.

Another possible cause (I think) may have been the past system of minor seminaries—boarding schools for teenage boys, and thus prime targets for molesters masquerading as administrators and teachers. Because the abused often become abusers themselves, the abuse may have become self-perpetuating, increasing over time. As those abused themselves eventually became clergy, it spread throughout regions and nations. There are now few (if any) minor seminaries still operating.

Finally—and perhaps most contributive—may have been simple naiveté: sheer disbelief that someone professing to be dedicated to God and to love of neighbor could be so treacherous as to do such despicable deeds. This is a reason, I think, so many bishops were slow (indeed, negligent) to take effective action: they simply couldn’t imagine such horrid hypocrisy and betrayal by those professing to dedicate their lives to pursuing virtue and holiness. Such incredulity doesn’t excuse inaction, but it may be a possible reason for it. 

Whatever the causes, it doesn’t assuage the sorrow. A line from the 1980s movie “Excalibur” sticks with me; when King Arthur questions Merlin: “Where does evil remain in my kingdom?”, Merlin replies: “Always where you least expect it.” And we remember that even Jesus had Judas. This is why the Church now insists that all staff and volunteers in any ministry (even those unrelated specifically to children) submit to criminal background checks and receive training on recognizing signs/signals of possible predation.

One result of these scandals includes the unfortunate cultivation of some misconceptions. A prevalent one is that the required celibacy of Catholic priests (in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 7, if you’re wondering) is the cause of these crimes. If that were the case, married men would commit such things at lower rates, which is not the case.

Another (more malicious) erroneous charge is that Christianity/Catholicism secretly teaches such evil behavior. Such aspersions, of course, are grossly unmerited; Christian/Catholic teaching abhors such crimes, not approves them. If such a charge were true, one would expect non-Catholics/non-religious people to perpetrate such crimes at comparatively lower rates, but that doesn’t seem to be true.

The problem stemmed (stems) not from closeness to God, but rather in perpetrators disregarding Him, regardless of their public profession or persona. It is difficult to understand how such utter hypocrisy and betrayal of what one publicly professes could not but be mere deceptive simulation of belief.

“What is wrong with these people?!” Tommy Lee Jones asks in exasperation in “No Country for Good Men” about those committing particularly heinous crimes.

Psychology? Physiology? Moral perversion? Who knows for sure? But none excuses. If one can resist temptation in public, he can resist in private. In the case of child molestation, the normal person free of such aberrant desires cannot but be mystified, for such behavior goes against every particle of our human instinct to protect our little ones. The shield? Perpetual vigilance … so regrettably essential in our day, even with those who are most trusted.