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Prime Directive: Do Not Upset The System

Reader Becky writes, regarding the Catholic Church crisis:

I commented with this story several years ago, but it bears repeating. When my oldest child was a toddler and I was very pregnant with my second child, I found out that my mother was hiding the fact that two of my cousins had been arrested for possession of child pornography (to the tune of 50,000 files. I do not understand why they are not in jail for the rest of their lives, but they only got probation). She lives within reasonable weekend-trip driving distance and had been begging me to visit for months after she learned about their arrest–while knowing full well that if I visited, my child would be in the company of my pedophile cousins, who live in the same town and are frequently over at the house my mother shares with other family members.

Word eventually got around to one of my other cousins, who is about my age and also has young children, and he alerted me *immediately*, for which I will be forever grateful. I called my mom to confront her, and the first thing my mom did after we spoke was call my cousin and chew him out for spilling the beans.

She claims to understand why I was so angry and what she did wrong, but I don’t really believe her. At the time, she said she was just trying to protect the family. She thought it was no big deal because my child would not have been alone with them. (This is probably correct, but only because I had thought the cousins in question were shady for years–I don’t think my mother would have been especially vigilant if my toddler had wandered into a room and one of them had followed, for instance.)

I am never, ever going to get over the fact that my mom chose to protect her nephews over her own grandchildren. And she is never, ever going to understand the magnitude of her betrayal. Since my cousins are not in jail and live in the same town as her, my mother talks about them all the time despite my repeated requests that she never, ever mention them to me again.

My mother has had a lot of disappointment in her life. I don’t think she’s an evil person. If you asked her, she would tell you that my children are the most important people in her life.

But either my children are not actually the most important people in her life or–perhaps equally likely–their importance to her was not enough for her to prioritize their well-being over covering up family secrets.

And my mother will never, ever understand that what she did in an effort to “protect” the family has scarred her relationship with me and my children forever.

This doesn’t excuse the bishops or church hierarchy for their evil in the slightest, but I suspect there is something deep and enduring in human nature that encourages people to draw a veil over the darkness within themselves and the institutions in which they find themselves. I am missing that particular impulse and find it difficult to comprehend. I suspect we have at least that much in common.

Man, is that ever true to life. I’ve seen it play out in my own family, though not, thank God, over anything as serious as abuse. I think I’m missing something in my personality that understands how and why people do that. I recall that a friend of mine faced something similar in her family, and was told by an older relative that yes, we all know that ____ is a tyrant who pushes everybody around, but your duty is to be loyal to the family and take it like the rest of us. Another friend sat by helplessly as her father ran the family business into the ground, because none of the family members involved with the business dared to confront him about his own deep disorders. To have done so would have been disloyal, according to the family system.

What I find especially hard to take is those who, like Becky’s mother, insist that they are Good People, and therefore cannot be guilty of having done bad things. Becky’s Mom:

  1. I am a good person who loves family above all things;
  2. My daughter says I favor pedophile cousins over her own children, and in so doing show contempt for those children;
  3. If that were true, I would not be a good person;
  4. But I am a good person;
  5. Therefore it’s not true;
  6. And Becky is a louse for saying such mean things about her mother

This is not just a Catholic thing by any means. It’s a human thing — and it is so very, very destructive. It is destructive in part because it allows a system — a family, a church, a corporation, an institution — to avoid facing up to internal problems that could hurt it, even destroy it.


I’d like to hear from readers who have experienced this in their own lives. How did it work out in the end? Was the institution (family, church, etc) destroyed? Did you leave it? Or did it somehow come around to accepting that what you were saying was true, and act on it?

62 Comments (Open | Close)

62 Comments To "Prime Directive: Do Not Upset The System"

#1 Comment By Surly On August 15, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

Oh–and the 16/17 year old he took up with dumped him after he paid for her to go to community college and took up with a hot firefighter who was her own age.

Karma she a beeyotch.

#2 Comment By P On August 15, 2018 @ 11:21 pm

Rod, there are a million different reasons for a million different things. Institutional dysfunction and its related motives transcend personal, professional, and spiritual relationships.

There’s a reason pride is the mother of all sins. Narcicissts and sociopaths are proud people, but for every one of those there are at least a dozen others who are just too proud to admit they’re wrong. Call me cynical, but to be a CEO or a bishop I believe there has to be a screw loose in somebody’s head. To be in that kind of position, you have to be willing to stomp on people and treat them like dirt for the good of whatever order. It really doesn’t matter whether you answer to a spouse or stockholders or Rome.

The Profumo Option doesn’t afford cocktails and canapes. Nor does it really pay the bills 99% of the time. For those of us who are used to drinking from the gilded goblet, it’s damn hard to go back to the trough. Especially if that’s where we started from.

What about those of us who are just cogs in the gear of a machine? To pride I’ll add another element: fear. Of prison, poverty, or whatever negative consequences exist. There’s a reason liability insurance is a commodity. For much the same reason, that’s why intentional acts are excluded from said insurance. Because it happens so frequently.

Sure, we could rat out the perverted uncle. Or speak up about the neglect and abuse at work. But is it really worth the ensuing ostracizing or unemployment? For the vast majority of us the answer is a resounding “No.”

Mark Twain said “When in doubt, tell the truth.” Our Lord was really on to something when He said the truth will set us free. In conflicts both personal and professional I like to win arguments by forcing people to either lie or tell the truth. For the most part, the consequences for flat-out lying are still worse (assuming the liar is caught).

Fasting, confession, and prayer all combine to keep us honest and humble. Let these be some of the building stones of our families.

#3 Comment By pa15017 On August 15, 2018 @ 11:47 pm

“1) I suspect there is something deep and enduring in human nature that encourages people to draw a veil over the darkness within themselves and the institutions in which they find themselves. 2) I am missing that particular impulse and find it difficult to comprehend. I suspect we have at least that much in common.“

Line 1 sounds right; Line 2 is one of the most bogus things I’ve read on this blog.

I don’t know Becky or Rod but I feel safe guaranteeing that both of them have been drawing “veils” over their own sins, or the sins of their favored institutions, from their childhood to this day.

It bothers me because I’ve read, all around, people claiming to not understand how the bishops could have covered this all up. Statements like, “they must not really believe in God”, or, “the victims weren’t real people to them, just cutouts.” Ironic how simple condemnations like these do the same work as the aforementioned “veils.” Because there must be something different and special about these men to make them act so cowardly and so wickedly, right? Hollow chests, or something. Of course they couldn’t be normal people like you, because that would raise a bunch of other difficult questions that no one likes.

#4 Comment By Myles On August 16, 2018 @ 2:09 am

I’ve seen similar things in different contexts. Not in my own family, thankfully. But I’m very familiar with the same patterns from my experience of left-wing activism. The problem wasn’t just a minority who were bullies or cheats or occasionally sexual predators. It was with the majority of nice, well-intentioned people who felt the need to rally round them no matter what they’d done.

In the end it destroyed whatever trust I had in them. If I said “Comrade X is a creep, a serial sexual harasser and possibly a rapist” and the response is “He does so much good work for the cause – what’s wrong with you?”… well, to me that’s no different from the most blinkered sort of Catholic laity. Precisely the people they loved to look down on.

#5 Comment By JonF On August 16, 2018 @ 6:23 am

Re: Good citizen, you might have 5,000 porn files on your computer without knowing it.

Oh? Where are they hiding? Files do take up hard drive space.

#6 Comment By Mark VA On August 16, 2018 @ 7:36 am

Common sense and life experience tell me that a measure of objectivity is possible, but difficult. Insularity, unqualified group loyalty, and bias inexorably creep in. This has been known for a long time: for example, Greek writer Lucian wrote that “the historian among his books should forget his nationality” (Norman Davies, Europe, p. 35);

For us Catholics, I think it was clericalism (undue reverence for the opinions of the clergy) and undeserved clerical secrecy (in which many lay Catholics willingly participated) that got us into the present horror;

I was raised in a Catholic house that was free of clericalism. I recall one story my parents mentioned, when I was in grade school: After the homily, a woman stood up, and in a confident voice said: “That was a beautiful sermon, Father, but you’re still late with our child support payments!”. The Bishop immediately reassigned the priest to a village out in the sticks (obviously, right?), where the unknowing church ladies undoubtedly fawned over him, as was the custom (this was in the sixties);

The false syllogism mentioned above is indeed a human condition. Consider:

1. Western Civilization is the highest form of human progress;
2. Some people say that there were and are those who were harmed by Western Civilization;
3. If that were true, Western Civilization would not be the highest form of human progress;
4. But Western Civilization is the highest form of human progress;
5. Therefore, Western Civilization did not injure anyone, it produced beneficiaries only;
6. Whoever questions Western Civilization is a dirty liberal louse.

#7 Comment By Donald On August 16, 2018 @ 7:48 am

No personal stories, but most of American politics ( both parties to some degree) is a constant acting out of this tendency. It would be funny if it weren’t so depressing.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 16, 2018 @ 11:07 am

In the end it destroyed whatever trust I had in them. If I said “Comrade X is a creep, a serial sexual harasser and possibly a rapist” and the response is “He does so much good work for the cause – what’s wrong with you?”… well, to me that’s no different from the most blinkered sort of Catholic laity.

Absolutely true, agreed Rod’s resident Bolshevik. That pattern even appears candidly in a number of early Soviet era novels. Its a problem with any hierarchy, in the absence of adequate recourse, or a clear understanding that this is wrong and undermines the cause. The Roman Catholic church happens to be one of the most extensive, pervasive, wealthy, and well-connected institutions that indulges this stuff.

But I can’t help thinking about the time General George Patton slapped a private in a military hospital with what we would now call PTSD, and called him a coward. He shouldn’t have done that. But the German high command was astounded that the US would even think for a moment about dismissing one of their best generals over such an incident. (And, the US did not do so.) Really, should we have put winning WW II in the balance to make clear that such behavior was unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman? Sometimes its hard to know where to draw the line.

It’s common in the West today. It comes from the therapeutic culture. — RD

“I’m a good person” was nurtured by the modern therapeutic culture of The West? I think its been around a LOT longer than that. Reminds me of Miss Manners’s joke about peopl who believe sex was invented in Berkeley CA in 1963.

Since this was the 1970’s and my cousin courted her (we would now call this behavior grooming), and behaved honorably, the family encouraged the relationship. He waited until she was 18 before the relationship was consummated, and when she moved from her mother’s house to his, he bought her a horse and a gun. The only thing missing was a wedding ring.</i.

I believe everything Surly said, and I agree with they way she handled it and her loyalties, but I have to object to the broadside equation of courtship and grooming.

Post pubescent males still do want a bond of some sort with post pubescent females, and vice versa. They are going to be getting acquainted with each other via some process or other. You could call ANY experience leading up to marriage to be "grooming." In a way.

For a young man over 20 to keep company with a 16 year old, scrupulously NOT consummating anything until she is 18, is not per se a sign of dysfunction or exploitation. What is dysfunctional, is that after this honorable courtship, he didn't get her a ring, and a few years down the road, he dumped her for someone as young as she was when he first met her — rather than making and keeping a commitment until death do them part. The distinctions are important.

We have an adult child with mental illness. My wife is constantly “ashamed” of our child’s behavior and avoids talking about it except to me.

That is another two-edged sword. IF the behavior is not chosen, or understood, by the individual with the mental illness, then it is objectively illogical to be “ashamed” of it. But, you really might not want it happening in your house, even if that means placing them in a group home or institution. Its like the case over the man with Tourette’s syndrome who wanted a retail store to hire them… the court ruled that there was no reason a retailer should subject their customers to a non-stop stream of profanity, albeit that was involuntary on the part of the individual. There are limits to what accommodations are reasonable.

It’s well established in U.S. law that husbands and wives don’t have to testify against each other in court. Marriage is considered a sacred trust that government cannot undermine.

Except that since 1960, if the feds offer the wife a plea bargain to testify against her husband, she can “choose” to do so, and the husband cannot invoke marital privilege. This was the work of conservatives, like Justice Frankfurter, over the objections of, among others, Chief Justice Earl Warren, who insisted that even robust law enforcement sometimes has to yield to the sanctity of marriage.

(And incidentally, even before that ruling, it was already true that if one spouse was charged with a crime against the other spouse, the defendant could not invoke marital privilege.)

#9 Comment By Kevin On August 16, 2018 @ 1:44 pm

In yesterday’s show, Ben Shapiro talked about how this kind of thing is rooted in people’s tendency (in their animal or sin nature) to protect the integrity of their in-group and to have no empathy for the out-group.

He didn’t say this, but I suspect that many of the Bishops saw their priests as their “in-group” and the parishioners as an “out-group,” a faceless mass of customers and not their children.

There’s no easy fix to this (though getting rid of the whole rotten lot of current bishops will help) but I think it’s key to return to bishops as pastors and not primarily administrators and I think that means we need to have smaller diocese (though as the story above indicates, even smaller communities like a family can succumb to this insanity).

#10 Comment By Richard Parker On August 17, 2018 @ 3:47 am

“Oh? Where are they hiding? Files do take up hard drive space.”

My ten year old computer has 10’s of 1000’s of files and yet 230 GB of ‘free space’. Who knows what unseen evil lurks in the free space?

Your system utilities reflect as reality the results of their programming. They can be bypassed and manipulated. They are ‘logical’ and not ‘physical’.

‘Undelete’ file recovery tools exploit this in a very simple fashion.

#11 Comment By Lllurker On August 17, 2018 @ 8:59 am

Kevin: “There’s no easy fix to this (though getting rid of the whole rotten lot of current bishops will help) but I think it’s key to return to bishops as pastors and not primarily administrators . . . “

I think that hits the nail in the head. Clearly the personnel decisions and significant administration decisions within the Church need to be taken away from the priests. It’s just too corrupting for them to have all that power. Once a few bad apples get into power the whole thing is almost pre-arranged so that over time it morphs into a den of vipers.

And there’s certainly no practical reason why the religious experts should have all these other responsibilities anyway. Even setting aside the corrupting nature of the situation, most priests are awful managers by nature. It’s not their thing. And it’s not why they are needed in the first place.

#12 Comment By JonF On August 19, 2018 @ 2:58 pm

Re: Who knows what unseen evil lurks in the free space?

Nothing at all. That free space represents real estate that is not claimed by any files. It’s possible there’s stuff (e.g., old deleted files) there but any program will write right over it if you save something new there. Besides if it’s unseen and unseeable who cares? It might as well exist in an alternate universe far far away as it has no point of contact with ours.