Patheos [Englewood CO]
June 15, 2022
By Rebecca Hamilton
Clergy sex abuse is a big topic, spanning generations of baby-raping clergy and their innocent child victims.
I’m going to write about it in small doses because there’s too much to say to try to put it in one blog post.
I want to begin with a small discussion of one of the most common arguments that the bishops and their priests have tried to use as an excuse for the Church’s corrupt, amoral and predatory behavior.
“We aren’t the only ones doing this,” they have told us repeatedly, “other denominations do it too, and, in fact, most sexual abuse of children happens in families.”
These men, who are supposed to be trained in moral theology, say this as if they honestly think it makes what they’ve done OK. They are attempting to excuse an organized, world-wide, generational, institutional cover-up and enabling of child rape by trusted clerics with the execrable moral illogic that, if other people do it too, then what they did is not so bad.
These are the same men who will tell you with a straight face that they speak for the One, True Church that was founded by Christ Himself, and that when they stand behind the altar and confect the Eucharist, they become an alter Christus. There is no limit to the exalted claims that they will make about themselves when it suits them. But when they get caught out in their sins, they excuse it by saying that they are just another guy.
As it applies to the sexual abuse of generations of children that were entrusted to them, the “Other guys do it too,” excuse is not only moral garbage, it is morally repugnant. It’s also another, secondary, level of spiritual abuse and cover-up.
Catholics respect their clergy too much. They are loathe to talk back to them and tell them straight up that an appeal to moral relativism doesn’t excuse generations of child rape. Catholics, especially cradle Catholics, have been trained from birth to practice what I’ve come to regard as the Catholic lie by silence.
Catholics can’t seem to make themselves stand up to their clergy, even when the clergy rapes their children. What they do instead is go silent and, when “Father” isn’t around, they mutter quietly among themselves so that the priest doesn’t overhear. It doesn’t matter if “Father” is drinking too much communion wine, embezzling the parish bank account, gossiping about private confidences, or getting too handy with the little girls and boys; Catholics won’t tell him to stop.
They apply the same kind of non-verbal omertà to Church teaching. It’s quite clear to anybody who can count that a majority of Catholics use artificial contraception. But nobody says so. Ditto for gay Catholics who go to the bar on Saturday night and then to mass on Sunday. The same thing goes for pre and extra marital sex among straights, divorce and abortion.
Catholics vote with their actions on these teachings, and their vote is, “I won’t abide by it.” That silent disconnect between Catholics’ genuine love of their Church and their inability as real people in real life to abide by the harsh rules of Catholicism is the source of a lot of what we call “Catholic guilt.” I think that guilt plays a big part in what binds Catholics to their silent assent to whatever “Father” does and says.
How do you tell the guy to whom you confessed that you
cheat on your wife,
go into the back room at the gay club,
hate your mother-in-law,
cheated on your ACT test,
what you did on patrol in Afghanistan,
lied on your taxes,
killed your neighbor’s dog,
stole money from your child’s piggy bank,
how do you tell the guy you confessed your deepest secret shames to and who absolved you from all of it that he’s blowing smoke? How do you get in his face and say “Look fella, that excuse you’re giving is preposterous?”
So the Catholic lie by silence reigns. Nobody disagrees with “Father” and they wouldn’t dream of confronting the bishop, no matter what stupid things they say.
The result is that bishops and priests have gone around for 20 years telling the people in the pews, or as they like to call us, “the faithful,” that the Catholic version of the clergy sex abuse scandal isn’t all that bad because Southern Baptists and Episcopalians have their baby raping clergy, too, and, as everybody knows, there’s a lot of incest out there in families. Ta da. All better.
Except it’s not. It’s not all better. And it’s not Ok. And everybody knows it. They just won’t say it. What they do instead is more voting with their actions. They ignore the Church’s moral teachings when it suits them, and, more and more, they drift way from coming to mass.
The truth that nobody will tell “Father” is that “He did it too” is no excuse for anything. It doesn’t work for a six year old, and it hasn’t worked for grown-up bishops and priests these last 20 years.
“They do it too” doesn’t justify decades of child sexual abuse on an international scale. It is not an explanation for a systemic, organized, institutional cover-up. It doesn’t heal the harm of decades of victim blaming and shaming. It doesn’t explain or justify these things. It doesn’t even address them.
Any thinking adult who accepted the gravity of what they had done would not try to use such an excuse. Only someone who was still deep in the hubris and moral corruption that allowed this to happen in the first place could convince themselves that this is an answer to such monstrous sin and cruelty. The whole basis of this line of argument is that bishops and priests arrogantly — and as it turns out — rightly believe that the people in the pews will not challenge their ridiculous “explanation.”
This passivity on the part of the laity is exactly how they got away with raping our kids for so long.
They used our money to silence victims with non disclosure agreements, to pay for lobbyists to get laws passed protecting themselves and to hire the attorneys who bullied the victims. They used our faith and our trust in the Church to keep us passive and stupid like a bunch of sheep when we should have been protecting our kids.
This Catholic lie by silence is why Catholic police officers called the diocesan headquarters instead of the DA when a parent actually worked up the courage to report a predator priest. It’s why DAs wouldn’t prosecute, police wouldn’t file charges, why attorneys wouldn’t take cases, why reporters buried the story and why parents went to the bishop instead of the press and the police with what was happening. They were good, obedient Catholics, all of them, and they passively played their part in allowing the Church to destroy children to avoid that great bugaboo that it uses to justify all manner of evil that it does: Scandal.
When a bishop or priests tries to claim that the Church’s deep-seated, generational sin doesn’t matter all that much because other clergy in other denominations do it too, you know right then that they aren’t repentant and they don’t care.
The reason this problem won’t stop happening is simple. There has been no repentance.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a little kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or a bishop, trying to explain away generations of sexual crime against minor children. If their answer is “He did it too,” they aren’t accepting responsibility for what they’ve done. They are trying to pass the buck and get away with it.
Note: I said in another post that I was going to write about the McCarrick report. This is installment one on that project.