A Crisis of Faith
By Patty Kleban
March 7, 2016
In the Bible, (Matthew 15: 8-9) Jesus refers to hypocrisy when he says “these people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.”
When the news came out last week that the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church has joined the ranks of Boston and Philadelphia, to name just a few, in facilitating sexual abuse by priests, I could not help thinking about hypocrisy. According Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathy Kane who released the summary of grand jury proceedings and years of investigation, more than 50 priests and other diocesan personnel were involved the sexual abuse of minors. Leaders in the diocese then allegedly compounded those crimes by hiding the atrocities from the proper authorities and reassigning priests to other parishes where they inevitably continued their sickness. Few if any criminal charges will be brought forward in this case because of the statute of limitations.
Is it not the definition of hypocrisy for those who we looked to for spiritual guidance and who heard our confessions and baptized and confirmed our children to not only perpetuate but cover up the torture of the weakest members of their flock? Using their status within the church, and in some cases God’s name, the men sought sexual gratification and power over others. It is not only hypocritical but both legally and morally reprehensible.
And all the while they were preaching from the pulpit about sin, confession, penance and redemption.
As an adult convert to the Roman Catholic Church, this has sent me into a bit of a spin on where I stand with my faith.
The details in the 147 page Grand Jury summary are horrific. Secret files and archives kept behind locked doors. Families of children reporting their abuse to the church hierarchy to be then dismissed or blamed for the abuse. The informal “priest network” suggesting that many knew who were the bad guys and yet said nothing. A contrived and allegedly independent review board for which the Bishop had oversight in terms of outcomes. Diocesan personnel including priests in cahoots with police departments and other elected officials to keep the scandal out of the public eye – all of whom who knew that something was going on if not specific details of the accusations.
Among the documents found in the files was a payout chart which assigned specific sexual acts to dollar figures that the Diocese would pay to make the incidents go away.
Matthew 23:27 says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”
People will argue that the percentage of priests who are pedophiles or sexual predators parallels that within the general population. That may be true but a plumber or a mechanic or a manager of a convenience store who molests children is not generally afforded the protection of one of the largest and most powerful institutions in history. They are not relocated in secrecy and without regard to the justice system to continue their behaviors with unsuspecting families and children. Although experts know that pedophiles often seek that put them in contact with children, most professional organizations don’t have institutional norms – Canon Law – for secret files and archives.
Some might also argue that our culture handles sexual crimes differently than we did in 1966, the year that Bishop James Hogan took over the diocese. Molestation and other unspeakable acts against children were just that – unspeakable – for centuries lest it bring shame or embarrassment to the child or his/her family. Common sense, however, would suggest that, even then, people had to know that continuing to allow a predator access to prey would mean just a relocation of the problem. At the very least, a second or third accusation in a new town – and the name and face of a child who has been hurt - should have indicated that these monsters weren’t being “cured” with prayer and a visit to a resort.
For Bishop Joseph Adamec, it is a different story. Adamec took over the diocese in the late 1980s when the McMartin preschool trial was in the national news and legislation in Pennsylvania requiring background checks and mandatory reporting for people who work kids was enacted. Certainly, by the 1990s when the news of monster Father John Geoghan and the cover up in the Archdiocese of Boston was all over the news, Adamec had to understand that similar decisions in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese could be damaging to both the children involved and in the trust of the faithful. According to the grand jury report, Adamec demonstrated his disdain for the truth when he reportedly threatened a priest with excommunication when that priest stepped forward because of his own experience with abuse in the diocese.
Adamec refused to testify in the grand jury proceedings on the basis of avoiding self-incrimination. His response to the grand jury summary is that accusations that he didn’t respond to allegations of child abuse by the priests he supervised are “unfounded.”
In the midst of so much evil, there is also incredible goodness. Altoona businessman, civic leader, father and devout Catholic George Foster became the catalyst for intervention when he used his own resources, time and connections to conduct an investigation into the rumors and reports of the abuse of children. He was quoted as saying “I answer to God. I am not afraid of Bishops.”
When we see the news of a hurricane or tornado or other tragedy that hits other communities, we pray and seek ways to help the victims. It is human nature to also feel relief that it didn’t happen in our town or to our homes or to our family. After watching it happen in Philadelphia and in Boston and in churches around the world, the sex abuse scandal that has scarred the Roman Catholic Church has hit home.
The Roman Catholic Church has an institutional problem. What are the faithful to do?