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The price of silence. July 15, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,

Our friend Ben isn’t alluding to Silence Dogood in the title of today’s post, but to the topic that’s been dominating our local news here since at least January. I don’t know if your news has spent as much time on the dual sex-abuse scandals that have been on trial here in Pennsylvania as ours, but we can’t open our newspaper without being bombarded by the latest in the Jerry Sandusky case and Monsignor Lynn’s trial and conviction in Philadelphia.

It makes for very grim reading. But I hope the relentless coverage has driven the point home: Collusion is as much of a crime as commission.

Monsignor Lynn, after all, wasn’t accused of being a pedophile; he was accused—and convicted—of covering up the activities of pedophile priests in the Philadelphia area, moving them from parish to parish where they could continue their unholy and unnatural activities until it became too hot for them, and then transferring them again before an overt scandal broke out. Monsignor Lynn would doubtless say that he was acting to protect the reputation of the Church. Monsignor Lynn is now in jail.

Jerry Sandusky was a primary offender, and will hopefully rot in jail for the rest of his life for his monstrous behavior. (He went so far as to create a charity for underprivileged kids so he could lure in and cherrypick his victims.) But in light of the just-released Freeh report, which investigated the actions—or lack thereof—of Penn State officials when repeatedly confronted with evidence of Sandusky’s behavior, I suspect the chips are just beginning to fall there.

Legendary coach Joe Paterno, who was fired and driven to his grave by the scandal, was just stripped of his halo by the artist who had painted it on a mural at Penn State, and Nike has removed his name from a daycare center. Penn State’s ex-president Spanier, who was forced to resign in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, made it clear in e-mails that he was in favor of keeping Sandusky’s behavior quiet to protect Penn State’s reputation. It wouldn’t surprise me if he faces further repercussions, along with the other university officials who decided not to go to the police when confronted by the evidence. There’s been talk of suspending Penn State’s cherished football program. (Sandusky was an assistant football coach.) 

The point couldn’t be more clear: Trying to protect a cherished institution by shutting up and allowing atrocities to continue within it is ultimately going to backfire bigtime.

Penn State will ultimately recover; the people who committed the crimes and covered them up are gone, and it’s the state university. But it may lose a lot of the contributions that gave it such a healthy endowment, and students from other states may think twice before applying, especially if they plan to play college football. 

I’m not sure the Church will be as lucky. It has taken a body blow that may prove to be a death blow. Because priests were revered as icons of chastity and goodness, their betrayal is a gaping wound in the soul of every Catholic (including yours truly).

And the efforts of higher-ups to conceal the horrors and minimize the damage have made it infinitely worse. Where fine men like my local monsignor spoke up at once, roundly condemning the atrocities, others said horrendous things, like a powerful monsignor invited to speak to a group I was a part of, who said that pedophilia in the priesthood was no greater sin than premarital sex. In other words, what’s the big deal? Shut up and keep suppressing nuns who try to fight for social justice for the poor and disenfranchised, or attempt to divert attention onto abortion so social justice—and the atrocities perpetrated by priests—fade into the background.

Jerry Sandusky was just one sick man. The men who covered up for him are criminals, but no one assumes they’re pedophiles. The Catholic Church faces a different, and heartbreaking, problem: No one knows if their parish priests are pedophiles or not. Who can you trust in the face of such a widespread scandal? It’s a certainty that most men have entered the priesthood, and sacrificed any hope of a normal human life, for the best of reasons, to serve their fellow humans as Christ did. Now they’ve all been tarred with the brush of their deviant brothers. I can’t imagine how mortifying it must be to get up before your congregation and have to wonder what they’re thinking about you, or to know exactly why parents have kept their kids from becoming altar boys or joining the choir, when you’d as soon die as harm a child in any way.

This is the ultimate tragedy. In Jerry Sandusky’s case, he possibly occasionally thought about the effect his behavior might have on his wife and adopted kids (at least one of whom he also purportedly molested). But I doubt that he ever gave a thought to the consequences of his actions on others, like Joe Paterno and his family, Penn State, his charity, The Second Mile (which has since closed), and the Penn State football players, past and present, who must all be asking themselves how they missed the signs. Clearly, Sandusky never gave a thought to the damage he was doing his victims and their families; in his mind, it was just good fun. 

Pedophile priests, who’ve been trained in morality and taught all there is to know about sin, doubtless have very different feelings. Not one of them could possibly justify his behavior on any grounds at all. No doubt more than one of them resorted to flagellation or other forms of self-punishment for their crimes.

What astonishes me is that apparently none of them were willing to give up their so-called vocation to the priesthood in light of their inability to be chaste. You—or at least I—would think that when it was apparent to someone that his sexual urges were beyond his ability to suppress, and he was in a vocation that required sexual suppression, he should get out of the job. If he still has a call to the priesthood, the Episcopal Church allows married priests and sanctions gay priests. The Catholic Church allows its deacons to marry, and nothing’s stopping you from expressing your love for religion by teaching it in a university. If you don’t have what it takes to be celibate, and the Church demands that its priests be celibate, get the hell out! Don’t start molesting kids as an outlet for your frustrations.

Gack. What a sickening state of affairs on all counts. Why didn’t anyone who saw Jerry Sandusky abusing boys just call 911? Why didn’t higher-ups in the Church demand the resignation of priests who had resorted to pedophilia as a way to counter the imposed rule of celibacy? Blowing the whistle, and clearing the air, would have certainly brought these scandals into the open. But it would have saved Penn State and the Church from the far worse stigma of covering them up and, by doing so, letting them continue. 

May Christ have mercy on them, and on us all.



1. William S. Scudder - July 15, 2012

Well said.
It is a good start to a discussion long overdue. Unfortunately as much as we would like to frame it in the context of good vs. evil, I fear it far more complicated.

Like the Penn State administration and Catholic Church, we all are complicit to one degree or another. Sandusky and the priest pedophiles, represent the most blatant, perverted and pathetic kinds of individuals who abuse their position and status. They are by no means the only. Twisted socio-paths exist in any large monolithic organization. The more powerful the organization the more likely abuses will be overlooked or concealed for the good of the group.

Sadly, history shows us that this dark side of human nature is as much a part of our social mechanics as kindness and charity.
Our friend Ben knew this and optimistically soldiered on hoping that industry and education would improve the human condition. Days like this make me inclined to believe we are more a product of circumstance than evolution.

Let’s all pray for better circumstances.

Thanks for your insghts, William, and indeed. Let’s pray for better circumstances!

2. narf77 - July 15, 2012

I think its just a case of an institution and a practice fostering this sort of environment that allows this sort of behaviour to go on and be protected. The reason why these priests didn’t step down from their positions is that to them…it was a “job” rather than a vocation. We can’t expect that every priest that stands up in front of a congregation has our best interests at heart as there are all sorts of people “called” to this profession with good and bad reasons behind their decision. Much like teachers who can be either inspirational or downright obstructive to the garnering of knowledge or the blockage therof. The Catholic church is a huge organisation that has been around for a very VERY long time and as such there are pockets of nefarious activities being promoted and protected by very high sources. The only difference between the church and many other companies is that most other companies don’t demand the level of celebacy that the church insists apon setting its priests up for a fall. As wel all know whenever you insist on denial, you tend to encourage an undercurrent of people drawn to the asperations of denial and denying themselves becomes more important than the original job description. Martyrs do not make the best people to deal with others…they don’t have time to consider those around themselves because they are too busy making themselves pay for prospective sins. I think that this festering undercurrent has had its time and this cleansing of the church is long overdue. If the church is to remain relevant to modern society it needs to become more transparent and the fear that garnered Catholics of old and kept them held in webs of guilt is less tangible today. We no longer believe that we can only find God through our church leaders and this has made them lose the power that held them above us and has enabled us to question their activities and those of a church that remains amongst the richest corporations in the world. Time for a good dig methinks! Hand over those black books Mr. Pope…we are gunning for you! 😉

Ha! I guess the only martyrs with any street cred these days are in the repressive regimes like Myanmar; the rest better take to the streets and start helping the less fortunate out like Mother Teresa, whatever the fallout. And I totally agree, the whole issue of a celibate priesthood (not to mention an all-male priesthood) is well due for an overhaul.

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