Victims of Their Own Monster
Ballyhooed System for Monitoring Priests Fails
By Eugene Cullen Kennedy
February 16, 2006
Lord Macauley famously predicted that Catholicism would survive long after "some traveler . . . shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on the broken arc of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's."
After viewing the inconsistent and defensive management and monitoring of sex-abusing priests in Chicago, many Catholics are moving their chips from the bishops to the bridge.
How, they ask, could the bishops in general and Cardinal Francis George in particular have bungled the implementation of the clerical sex-abuse procedures that they themselves hacked out in Dallas four years ago?
Like George, the bishops are good and kindly men now assaulted by the Frankenstein monster they shocked into existence with policies that protected their property more than their people.
But, as moviegoers know better than desperate bishops, every monster eventually turns on its makers. The Frankenstein creature composed of hierarchical cast-offs is now rending the bishops who shocked it into life. They suffer from "AD Syndrome," the After Dallas collapse evident in the nearly incoherent and rue-laden official explanations for reassigning to parish work priests who have molested children.
This monster of hierarchy now victimizes, to their horror and surprise, the bishops who patched him together in Dallas to buy time in order to accomplish what they conceive as their major obligation: to preserve the institution from further public embarrassment and financial loss.
A study of America's bishops carried out at Loyola University revealed that at the end of the day bishops want, most of all, to please and be approved by the pope. Under Pope John Paul II, they treated any theological questions about hierarchical style as unclean thoughts in order to support that pope's insistence on reinvigorating this moribund model of the official church. Unsure of Pope Benedict XVI's expectations, they continue to do so.
Hierarchy divides the universe, the church, and the human person into stadiumlike seating. Closest to heaven is the skybox crowd of popes, cardinals and maybe some papal knights; below them we find the reserved-seat crowd of monsignors and mother superiors; way beneath them, the standing-room-only crowd of ordinary men and women.
That sense of sharing in the divine right of kings may, in fact, be largely responsible for the sex-abuse crisis and its chronic mishandling. Hierarchs sit above all others by, as they see it, God's own designs. Because the notion of hierarchy has nothing to do with the essential nature of the Catholic Church, it corrupts its champions, leading them to feel that they are exempt from the laws that bind those below them and that, as pastors, their task is to fence in the pasture rather than feed the flock.
George and other bishops are victims of the graded architecture that does not fit what we know of the universe, the human person, or a church that defines itself as a people of God rather than a steppe-like array of the saved. They also now feel the bite of the legal and criminal justice system they thought would save them from the sex-abuse scandal.
They are now suffering, as the long-neglected victims of sex abuse have, from a system built on looking down on, demeaning, and controlling others. In a vast solitude they are uncomfortably perched on the broken arch of the bridge smashed by the hierarchical Frankenstein. They can rehabilitate themselves only by climbing down and living on the same level with their people--where they can look them straight in the eyes again.
Eugene Cullen Kennedy, a former priest, is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University Chicago. His most recent book is "The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality."
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