I came up with the “Evans-Manning Award” for reader comments that are exceptionally well-expressed and thought-provoking. I don’t know that I’ve ever given it to one as painful to read as these remarks by Joe McFaul, from the “On What Really Matters in Church” thread. He’s responding to an Erin Manning comment about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Joe had earlier revealed that he has left the Catholic Church over the matter; Erin, in her usual thoughtful way, challenged him on a few points.
And then Joe said:
Erin, as usual, raises several well thought out points. I just don’t think that they address the issue of when religious institutionalized corruption becomes so severe that a person may reasonably choose to disassociate themselves from the religion of their birth and the one they have practiced for over 50 years. I think Erin’s answer, summarized fairly, is “Never.” Rod’s answer, summarized fairly, is “Under exceptionally grevious circumstances.” I join Rod.
I don’t think Erin can convince us that her own sins damn her to hell. I know enough from her writings that I can guess with a very high degree of certainty that she regularly participates in the sacraments, is is a state of grace and, as of today, not hell-bound (“Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.”). If she is, then there’s no hope for any of us and the views from our tables in our afterlives are going to all have burning coals in the background.
I’m not talking about sex abuse. I’m talking about institutional corruption that conceals and disseminates the crime. I can only speak for myself, but I know instances of sex abuse in the circle of my immediate family and friends. My recommendations to go to the police were sometimes followed, sometimes ignored. Calls to CPS have been made. I called the cops on an immediate family member and had him arrested off my front porch. I am not merely hypothesizing when I say I can speak up when required because I have in real circumstances. I have lost friends and remain estranged form family members as a result. I was distraught then and am haunted today by what I had to do, so I don’t pretend it’s easy or the consequences aren’t severe.
I had the unfortunate experience of having “bad vibes” but not a single thing more about a highly respected individual who offered to assist me in my then-recent widowhood. I declined his assistance and shared my “vibes with another recent widow, who accused me of calumny. He is now serving time in prison for abusing her sons. I wish I could have quantified my vibes. You can practice vigilance with family members and choose to to participate in those organizations that do not take it seriously. That is more than striking a pose at the keyboard. If you are a parent you have an obligation. I suspect most of us attempt to live up to that obligation.
I missed completely the signs with our parish priest who helped me as a very young widower with three young children. My sons loved him and two served as his “go to” altar servers. I relished the attention he gave to my children. I saw my youngest son crawl into the priest’s lap and hug him as they watched a children’s pageant for about 30 minutes and I knew I was blessed that this man was in our lives at this difficult time. Years later, as I later prepared my sons to testify at his sex abuse trial, I was given a document from his order, dated two years before my wife’s death, instructing him to have no contact with any children (based on prior concealed abuse incidents). He and the pastor had countersigned the letter acknowledging its conditions. They routinely violated those conditions, as indicated by my observations with my son in his lap. If I had known of that document, I would still have allowed my sons to be altar servers (with caveats) but would not have allowed my 3 year old to sit in his lap for 30 minutes. I, and every parishioner, was owed a copy of that letter when it was issued. Other parents weren’t so fortunate and unknowingly allowed their children to be abused because his propensity was concealed and unchecked.
It is unavoidable that there will be a certain level of clergy sex abuse–just as there is an unavoidable level of sex abuse in society. There is little I can do for the clergy sex abuse in Jewish or Baptist congregations. The Catholic Church is different. I can do something and I have some skills to assist. Just as we all have our sins, we all have our spiritual talents. The Church has intentionally sabotaged the spiritual talents of those who could have assisted it. It actively sabotages the talents of those who could assist today because the Church prefers institutional corruption to the alternative. Pope John Paul’s treatment of Maciel is the most famous example of this.
I just can’t be part of that kind of organization.
Thank God I never had to suffer what Joe has had to suffer: the sexual abuse of his children. But of course I sympathize with Joe here, because I left the Roman church for the same reason. I think Joe’s last line is so important: “I just can’t be part of that kind of organization.” The passivity conveyed by this construction is something I experienced myself, when I left. Not “I won’t be part,” but “I can’t be part.” I don’t know how Joe dealt with the intellectual convictions that had undergirded his Catholicism, but I well know what it feels like to had your ability to believe in them ripped from you by circumstance.
It wasn’t that I ceased to believe in Christ, or even in most Catholic doctrine. It’s that I ceased to believe that my salvation depended on being a Roman Catholic. This was not a moment of joy or liberation or anything like it. It was desolation. God brought me through it, but it was the worst thing I’ve ever lived through, and it scrambled my sense of truth and its knowability so profoundly that I still struggle with the consequences six years later.
If you comment on this thread, please do so in a spirit of charity, not combativeness. Joe is a man who has endured a nightmare. There are other Catholics who have been through what Joe went through, but who remain in the Catholic Church. I certainly don’t require any of you to agree with either side, but I will insist in this thread that whichever side any of us take, that we speak with charity and courtesy towards each other. No man or woman who has had to live through the revelation that a priest sexually abused his children, and its aftermath, should have to be nastily dumped on in an Internet forum. I’m not going to let it happen here.