Gibson on "Five Myths"; Kristof on the "Other Church"

Two excellent articles in the Sunday papers today shed light rather than heat on the sexual abuse crisis.  First off, David Gibson has a terrific piece in the Washington Post entitled Five Myths about the Catholic sexual abuse scandal.  The myths are: 1.) Pope Benedict is the primary culprit in the coverup of the abuse scandal.  2.) Gay priests are to blame.  3.) Sexual abuse is more pervasive in the Catholic church than in other institutions.  4.) Media outlets are biased against the Catholic church.  5.) The crisis will compel U.S. Catholics to leave the church. 

Here's #3:

Sexual abuse of minors is not the province of the Catholic Church alone. About 4 percent of priests committed an act of sexual abuse on a minor between 1950 and 2002, according to a study being conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. That is roughly consistent with data on many similar professions.


An extensive 2007 investigation by the Associated Press showed that sexual abuse of children in U.S. schools was "widespread," and most of it was never reported or punished. And in Portland, Ore., last week, a jury reached a $1.4 million verdict against the Boy Scouts of America in a trial that showed that since the 1920s, Scouts officials kept "perversion files" on suspected abusers but kept them secret.

"We don't see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of this or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else," Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told Newsweek. "I can tell you without hesitation that we have seen cases in many religious settings, from traveling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others."

Part of the issue is that the Catholic Church is so tightly organized and keeps such meticulous records -- many of which have come to light voluntarily or through court orders -- that it can yield a fairly reliable portrait of its personnel and abuse over the decades. Other institutions, and most other religions, are more decentralized and harder to analyze or prosecute.

Still, it is hardly good news that the church appears to be no different from most other institutions in its incidence of abuse. Shouldn't the Catholic Church and other religious institutions hold to a higher standard?

And in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, who reports extensively on sub-Saharan Africa, speaks of a Catholic church that has not been making the news much lately: the one that most Catholics know about, the one that works tirelessly with the poor particularly in the developing world.  It's something that only someone who works "outside" the church can say and be heard.

Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.

This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.

This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.

So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.

It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness. 

His article, "A Church Mary Can Love" is here.

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8 years 6 months ago
My comments above were based on just what Father Martin posted.  I did not read the original article in the NY Times.  At the time I thought this is amazing that the NY Times would print something so positive about the Church.  I should have known better and after reading Michael Winter's post and then reading the whole article it was just another hit piece by the NY Times.  My original instincts were confirmed.
John Raymer
8 years 6 months ago
Thank you, Fr. Martin. This clarifies a lot.

Now what remains is the coverup - protecting abusers; sending abusers from one parish to the next; obstructing civil and criminal investigations; secret settlements to buy silence.

Item 3 does sound a bit like "But everyone's doing it!" Rather, I think we all should expect a higher standard of behavior from Christ's Church than from everyone else. Furthermore, when a priest commits an act of sexual abuse on a minor, it is typically accompanied by spiritual abuse that lays especially deep burdens of guilt an shame on the victim in order to keep her or him quiet. This is not so with a teacher or a scout leader.

It is my deepest hope that our Pope will enjoin his vocation and root out the rot and corruption that seeks to keep the abuse covered up. God's Rotweiller needs to bare his teeth and rend those bishops and cardinals that have so callously keep this abuse in the dark for so many years. If Benedict cannot do this, then I expect "Peter the Roman" will.
8 years 6 months ago
What has driven my love for the Catholic Church is what is in the second story.  From first grade when the nuns told me that Jesus sent Catholics all over the world to help the poor and our pennies would help them do it and to all the priest, brothers and nuns who would show up on Sunday mornings to tell us what they were doing in South America, Pakistan, Kenya etc and to all those who taught me with love, I witnessed a loving and dedicated group of people who sacrificed a normal life to help others.  That is my image of the Catholic Church.  It is one of love.
The one thing I disagree with Kristof's article is this:  ''It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness''  Much of what he witnessed in Africa could not have happened without the Vatican and also the vestments represent the heart of the Catholic Church, namely the Eucharist.  Without the Eucharist, none of the other could have happened.  ''Do this in memory or Me'' is at the heart of what being a Catholic is and drives the ''Feeding of the Sheep.''
8 years 6 months ago
It's this second Church wherein lies our hope. But the cover-up bleeding has to stop very quickly as some cells are being starved and will not recover. a tournequet needs tightening around some curia necks.  We had a wonderfull homily today on the cover-up crisis. It  centered about Peter jumping from the boat in a hurry to greet Jesus. "That's what real shepherds do'. They take a risks for their flock and don't wait for safe landings'
Chris Boscia
8 years 6 months ago
Jim, thanks for pointing out these two pieces.  Kristof's article reminded me of a term I heard from Howard Gray on a few occasions to describe the Church.  Howard would say that some Catholics live in a "pastoral schism" from the hierarchy.  I think Kristof's article captures some of what Howard was talking about, but not all.  I don't believe Howard has ever published this...and I can understand why he wouldn't.  But maybe it's worth asking him for an article on this?  Hope you are well.  
Tom Maher
8 years 6 months ago
The myth # 3 argument implies we are just like everyone else. This is bad argument to make in the middle of a crisis. This is corporate "happy talk", the offical corporate or team explaination for things that have gone very wrong meant to make people feel good. But it does not work. Typically these "we are winning the war" messages, when in fact the war is going badly only confirms things are bad. People want candor.

This equal comparison to other institutions is not acceptable. Higher standards are expected of the church.

This comprison was use unsuccefully by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002. It was stated then that the church like the general public had 2% sexual abusers. It soon turned out that in fact about 6% of the clergy in the Boston Archdiocese going back 40 years were sexual abusers. The argument was misinformation. It was a whitewash.

The sad fact is it is likely that sexual abuse is significantly more pervasive in the Catholic church and that fact should be candidly dealt with.
Winifred Holloway
8 years 6 months ago
I very much appreciated Kristoff's column in yesterday NYT.  It's the real Church, on the ground, all over the world that we are blessed to be part of.  The ossified Church of the Vatican may just be hopeless.  Read Kung's essay in the Irish


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