Sunday, April 4, 2010

How Long Is a Piece of String?

So the evidence stacks up against the Vatican’s spin that the issue of child abuse by priests wasn’t merely an American problem, as they were wont to have us originally believe.
I could have saved them the trouble and told them differently.
Paedophilic priests have been part and parcel of Catholic life since the god in which they believe was a boy. That’s a fact. Systematic abuse of children has been taking place under the Church’s protective auspices equally as long and throughout the scope of the Catholic world.
A priest was removed to another diocese when I was a seventh-grader at the local parochial school. That was in the mid-Sixties. He taught us music. We never knew exactly why he left. He was there before Christmas, and he was gone in the new year. My father told me he’d gone because “he liked little boys too much.” Such was my innocence at the time, I didn’t know what he meant. I do now.
A decade later, over lunch whilst studying in Spain, the topic of homosexuality came up. This occurred in the last days of Franco’s regime, but my host family was an enlightened one. During the discussion, I recall one brother remarking to the other: “And the priests! You remember the priests and what they got up to …”
I have always believed that certain careers were more vocations than professions, where people had a particular knack or calling to serve in a particular field – teaching, for example, or medicine, certainly religion.
When I taught school, teaching was often considered a transient profession, one which many people used as a means to a professional end. With finances scarce for gtaduate or professional school, people often taught for a few years in order to accumulate funds for a law or medical school degree. Others, indecisive about what they wanted to do in life, often acquired a teaching qualification in order to tide them over financially until they really found a career that sparked their interest. Sometimes these transients turned out to be quality educators. One of the most inspirational teachers I ever had in high school was a young man teaching biology as a means of financing subsequent medical school studies. Three years later, when I was a first-year coed at the University of Virginia, he was in his third year of medical school there.
But sometimes, transients weren’t the best of teachers; they were the worst. At best, they’d leave after a couple of years, moseying on down the road to try something else out professionally; at worst, they got tenure for some reason and drew a salary at the expense of a child’s education. Or worse.
I don’t know why it seems, all of a sudden, that the Catholic Church attracted an undue amount of paedophiles amongst the ranks of the priesthood. People can argue that it’s down to celibacy, but sexual scandal has encompassed various Protestant denominations and still does, and Protestant clergy are allowed to marry. Just as a lot of people shouldn’t be in the classroom teaching, a lot of people affiliated with the religion in a clerical capacity, shouldn’t be. Maybe they were pushed in that direction by their parents; maybe they genuinely believed and wanted to serve.
At the end of the day, it transpires that they were all deeply, deeply flawed human beings, who were allowed to get away with the worst kind of sexual offences imaginable: the systematic rape and torture of children.
When one thinks of child abuse in the Catholic Church, one normally thinks about priests kiddy-diddling little boys; but girls suffered also. The Magdalen Laundries in Ireland are a living testimonial to that – where families were enticed by the local parish to commit their daughters for the slightest of peccadilloes – either real or imagined – and there they stayed, often until they reached an early grave; and there they suffered, mercilessly, at the hands of nuns.
The first seven years of my educational life were spent under the tutelage of nuns. Some were excellent teachers, but some of the older ones didn’t spare the rod either. My parents, products of the same school, always told me things were worse in their days. I know now that a lot of these women who entered religious orders did so, primarily, because there was nothing else they could do – which basically meant that there was no man on the horizon to take them off their parents’ hands. If you couldn’t be a bride of a man, better yet to be a cold-hearted bride of Christ and take your frustrations out on a myriad of curious and bright children in various degrees of verbal and physical abuse.
It’s said that a nun so terrified and terrorized the current Vice-President as a child, because of his stammer, until his own feisty mother took matters into her own hands and threatened violence against the woman. Joe Biden was lucky he had such a mother.
Others had parents, so in thrall to the teachings of the Church, that when a child ventured to speak of the unspeakable to his mother or father, they refused point-blank to believe anything had happened, and that the child was giving vent to evil imaginings. I daresay, this is what the Church intended everyone to think. After all, the clergy and religious in question had taken vows. If they were tempted in the flesh in any way, this temptation came from the lay community, even if that meant sexualising an innocent child.
And that leads to another reaction by parents, whose children confided abuse to them. Until recently, to complain to one’s bishop about the unwonted attentions of a priest on a child, would have only resulted in the priest being removed to another parish, and the bishop apprising his replacement with a warning to keep an eye on the family who’d made the complaint, marking them down as trouble-makers. And so the parents would make a decision to leave the Church, to remove the child from harm’s way and hope for the best, tacitly sweeping the incident under the carpet in hopes that the incident – out of sight – would soon be out of everyone’s mind.
Well, we all know that life doesn’t work that way, and psychological scars are those which never heal.
I don’t know what will happen with all this, except to say that, at present, the Catholic Church is acting like the thief who got caught with his hand in the till and apologises profusely for getting caught. An entire lifetime of Catholic theology, dating back to the mythical St Peter, the first Pope, is hingeing on this one. That the current Pope was aware of all the shenanigans and responsible for the cover-ups of the past thirty years is without a doubt; but now he’s Pope, a person whose infinite wisdom is supposed to be infallible.
Someone suggested he should be excommunicated, but only he can do that, himself. He could resign, but that would never happen – to do so would denote fallibility instead of the opposite, which is the basic tenet of the Pope being God’s representative on earth. Most people, and probably most Catholics, don’t believe in the fact that God needs a representative here amongst us who mirrors God’s perfection, and maybe something could be done, ultimately, in the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
But whatever is done will be precious little to rid the victims of abuse of the scars they’ll carry until the release this mortal coil, nor will it assauge some of the guilt their own parents may have felt at their inadvertant actions, which they did, genuinely believing that they acted in the interest of their child.
There are a lot of recovering Catholics, angry both at religion and at their God.
Happy Equinox.

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