Sunday, February 24, 2013

Catholicism Through My Eyes: The Church, Her Priests and Pedophilia

Okay...I will let you in on a little secret. When I write a blog....usually it is spur of the moment, meaning that I don't do a lot of pre-planning or pro and con thinking on it. I usually get the idea and then run with it. Since I have started doing my Catholicism Through My Eyes blogs though....I try to plan ahead and pick topics which I think will be both interesting and subjects that I myself have been asked about. Today's blog took a little more thinking as I wanted to be sure that I did the subject justice. Many have asked me about my thoughts on priests and pedophilia in the church and I decided perhaps now was the time to discuss it. I hope this blog helps to clear up any misconceptions and also helps to educate at least a little on this subject.

Before I begin....I would like to reiterate what I have said from the beginning. These blogs are how "I" see my faith and the issues surrounding it. Unless otherwise notated...what I write is strictly my thoughts and my opinions and are to be viewed as such.

Being Catholic my entire life, I have had the honor of knowing some extraordinary priests. I have also known some passable priests, one priest whom I am not sure the priesthood was his true calling and another priest whom I can say hands down was the saintliest person I have ever known. As Catholics...priests are a part of our lives. They are our spiritual guides and are there when our spiritual life here on earth begins at baptism and again when it ends when we are anointed for our final journey home. In between life and death their job is to prepare us, guide us, counsel us and do whatever possible to keep us strong in our faith.

Growing up I was a product of both Catholic and public school. Where public school was laid back and informal....Catholic school was far different. You had teachers, you had nuns, you had some nuns as teachers, you had a principal and then you had the priest. At every Catholic school I attended (3 in all) if the priest walked in the classroom, lunch room, etc....everyone stopped what they were doing and stood. We remained standing until Father either left the room or took a seat himself. It may sound like a lot of pomp and circumstance for just one person....but the reality was that it taught us that priests were called to serve God and they held a very special place in the eyes of the Church and the school and therefore they deserved reverence and respect. It took me years after leaving Catholic school not to stand at attention when a priest entered a room.

In my life priests have been wonderful people who have worked hard to help others, guide others and keep their parish families faithful in the ways of the church. This is truly the only kind of priest I have ever known....(except for the one and he is another story for another time). Nearly my entire life my mother always included prayers for priests in all our family prayers. Once I asked her why we always prayed for priests and she said that since Jesus made Peter the first pope....the church had been at war with satan. Satan would love nothing more than to destroy the Catholic church and the best way to destroy anything is from within. So it was because of this that we prayed that our priests stayed strong, faithful and worked according to God's will and not their own. As a kid this didn't really make a lot of sense to me as somehow I felt that if you were a priest you were above sin. It wasn't until I was older that I realized that priest are holy men....but they are all human with human frailties and if a man becomes a priest without a true calling or with bad intentions....he can become a cancer on the church.

It used to be that every Catholic mother had one fervent prayer for her children. She always prayed that at least one would be called to a religious life in service to Our Lord.  When there was a calling in the family it was a time of great joy and happiness and of course the family felt it was very blessed to have a religious person in their number. A calling though had to be a true desire to give up all worldly goods and to be willing to spend the rest of your life serving Christ. With a true calling there is never a doubt although there are those that have thought they had a calling only to find that while going through the first stages of studying for the priesthood that perhaps they were meant to serve God in other ways. There is no shame in realizing such a human mistake as God calls us all in one way or another. To be called to the priesthood means that you give up any life outside the church. You give up money for you will only have what it takes to feed and clothe you. You give up you seldom see the family you came from and you give up a future family (wife and kids) as God and those you serve become your only family. You also give up roots as you can be transferred from parish to parish as the Bishop deems necessary or you can even be transferred to other parts of the world. When you are called....the desire to serve God is more important than any worldly or physical desire or need and all is easily given up. However...if the calling is not truly there...then giving these things up is no longer done with joy and humility and the desire to serve God can become a frustration causing human frailty and human desires to take over. It can be a road to disaster. There is also the very real knowledge that men with no calling at all but rather a desire to destroy both the church and the faithful also enter the priesthood. As my mother used to say "satan walks the earth in all forms for his own greater glory and to destroy the Catholic Church is his one true desire," and if you have picked up a newspaper in the last decade or is quiet evident that he has darkened the doors of more than one Catholic church in the guise of a priest. He is working very hard to try and destroy us from within.

The facts are that according to a quick look at wiki....currently in the world, there are somewhere around about a half a million priests. Of those half million about 3,000 have been accused of pedophilia. As you can see....the number of good and faithful priests far outweighs the number of priests who have entered the priesthood with bad intentions or those who have fallen to human wickedness. When the first cases of pedophilia came out...the media latched onto them and ran. The headlines not only tried and convicted the priest in question but they cast such a vast and dark net that suddenly the entire Catholic church was tried and convicted in the press......and it seemed that all priest everywhere had to watch their backs as they were viewed as deviant and dangerous in the public eye. As time went on....more and more stories of young boys who had been molested by their parish priests were surfacing. Bishops and Cardinals were trying to calm the waters and reassure both Catholics and non-Catholics that these incidents were best case scenario false...worst case fairly isolated....but the media would have none of it and soon the Catholic Church was the butt of every late night comedians joke and the headline of every newspaper and broadcast news report around the world. It was horrific, embarrassing and although not a true representation of the Church or her was the view that the world now had of the Church and her priests. The Church then did the worst thing it could do. It tried to deny and to some extent cover up and if I remember correctly there was even talk of victims being paid off. It was a horrendous situation made even worse by a Church who simply either didn't know how or couldn't face the fact that there were those among them who were not men of God but men who used their position to gain trust and then take advantage of those whom they were suppose to be protecting both physically and spiritually.

After a time, the Church realized that they couldn't run from this. The men.....priests or not, who had committed these crimes were in fact criminals and should in fact have to suffer the same consequences as any other criminal charged with the same crimes. It took awhile but eventually some of the Bishops and Cardinals over the churches where these crimes were committed did publicly speak out and apologize to the victims for these tragic and life altering acts, and the Pope too apologized for the unspeakable crimes committed by these priests. Some saw this as too little too late and for the was.

Pedophilia amongst priests though must be put into perspective. Not ignored, white washed or excused.....but put into a perspective that shows the reality of the church, priests and pedophilia. Out of half a million priests....approximately three thousand were accused of this criminal act. Were all guilty? There is a great possibility that a percentage accused were not, but I don't have any facts to back that up. However...those three thousand suddenly became the face of all Catholic priests. There were no headlines about the priests who quietly said daily Mass, headed up their parishes and worked in their communities to make them better places. We never heard about the priests who worked tirelessly to help those in need, who sat by the beds of the dying, fed those who needed fed, helped find housing and necessities for those who had lost jobs or were down on their luck. No....we didn't hear about the majority of those who gave their lives to God and lived their faith daily. We only heard about the few. The few who had no real faith and who had left God behind in favor of their own sick desires. It hardly seems fair.

A little further perspective? There are pedophiles in every walk of life. There are teachers who not unlike these priest gain the trust of kids and then use that trust to lure them into sex acts and molestation. I would guess that if the number of good teachers in the world were compared to the number of teachers who have taken advantage of their students that the percentages wouldn't be a lot different than that of the priests. However....I have never heard anyone openly accuse all teachers of being dangerous pedophiles because of the few. While those teachers who have committed these criminal acts do make parents take a step back and assess their own kids teacher a little closer.....there has been no mad dash to pull kids from school because there are those teachers who use their jobs as a means to a sick end.

What about police officers, firemen, rabbi's, ministers, youth group advisers, scout leaders, politicians, neighbors and family members? There have been cases in all of these sectors of pedophilia. It really doesn't matter if a child is molested by a priest or a scout leader, the fact is someone they trusted used that trust against them and in the end they will never be the same. Funny just don't hear the damaging headlines about policemen, rabbi's or scout leaders like you do about priests. In no other group is the whole held accountable for the few.

My take on all of this? Any time a child is harmed in such a matter who does it, it is a crime. Those kids will have to live not only with the molestation but also with the knowledge that someone they trusted took advantage of that trust in order to cause them harm. I feel that the priests who committed these crimes should have been treated the same as any other criminal who committed a crime of this nature. The Bishops and Cardinals should have taken an honest and open stand on priests and pedophilia from the get go and they should have taken the power from the media where the Church is concerned by facing the allegations head on. I also believe that the Pope should have spoken out immediately on the allegations apologizing to the victims and their families and assuring them that the Church would not stand for this type of behavior among its priests....thus giving the offending priests no place to hide and showing support and protection for the multitude of good priests.  Much pain and suffering could have been alleviated with swift and straight forward action, but then again...hine sight is always 20/20.

Looking forward.....I would like to think that both Catholics and non-Catholics alike would be able to see the big picture. There are those in every group whose actions have the ability to damage the whole. The Catholic church is no different. It is obvious that the main stream media has little love for the Church and will take any chance it gets to tarnish, defame or annihilate her anyway they can. And now.....Mom's words ring true with a crystal clear meaning that only in the last few years have I fully understood. We pray for our priests because they are the heart and soul of our Church. We pray for those priests who live their lives daily for God and hold their vows deep within their hearts. We pray that they stay strong and faithful even in the face of those who wish them harm either physically or spiritually.  If these last few years have taught us nothing else....the point has been dramatically brought home that the Catholic Church is under siege and the battle lines have been drawn among her priests. Yes satan continues to walk the earth in all forms for his own greater glory, but his efforts to destroy the Catholic Church continue to fail for as long as there is continued prayer and love for God, His Holy Church and our beloved priests.....satan will never stand a chance. 


Anonymous said...

This was a very thought provoking blog. Pedophilia is a tragedy no matter who is behind it and honestly, you did put some prospective into my thinking. Good work.

cradle catholic said...

THANK YOU! Being a Catholic this is a very touchy subject and like many Catholics I have been questioned about this by my nonCatholic friends. I never really know what to say or how to handle it. I think in the future I may just have to refer them to this blog. Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

I am at a loss for words on this one. This was a very deep subject and I am really surprised you chose it. It is hard to separate the good from the bad when the media and those who are not catholic fans use these "bad" priests as the face of all priests. You made some excellent points and I am glad that you did not excuse the crime because they were priests. Nice job on such a tough subject.

Anonymous said...

Boy, you do like to hit the tough subjects. I take from this that you are not entirely pleased with the way the church handled these cases. I was not either but I always thought that maybe church officials had information that I did not have. I also heard at one time and I can't tell you where I heard it because I don't remember, but I heard that the Pope did not know about these cases until sometime after the fact. Apparently there was a lack of communication between the American cardinals and the Pope. Whatever the situation though, these priests caused a huge media scandal and a huge black eye for the church along with the damage they caused these boys. I have to say I like this blog and the points you made but I would never have been able to approach such a topic as this on my own.

Anonymous said...

I will have to tell you that when I first saw the title of this blog I was angry. In fact I was angry enough that I almost did not read it. I feel that the church has taken enough guff over all of this and that rehashing it was a mistake. I also was not sure that you would handle it in a way that didn't further make the church as a whole look bad.

I have to say that I am glad that I went against my first inclination and did read this. People do question how Catholics felt about all of this and if they were like me, they said nothing because they did not know what to say. My first reaction was to deny that a priest could commit such a crime and to a child, well it was unthinkable. Obviously the church felt the same way. As time has passed I know that these men did this, I had no words to explain the pain it caused me or the church I love.

In this blog you give me an understanding and maybe even a place to start healing. Supermen did not just go bad, human men did and as you said, evil was in their hearts.

Thank you for this blog and the willingness to take on such a lofty subject.

Converting Catholic said...

This was great I was trying to explain this same thing to my family and friends. I think it is wrong to see what a few people did should balm a group. Honestly It's like my gym class a few people were talking when the teacher was speaking and we all got in trouble. very similar anyway.

Anonymous said...

I really like both the honesty shown in this post and the perspective. People lose sight of the fact that pedophiles lurk in all walks of life not just the catholic church but the catholic church is an easy target. This was well written and well thought out. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

As a catholic I have really struggled with all of this. The fact that priests could do such a thing and that children were harmed along with how the administrative channels of the church handled things really bothered me. At the height of the scandal I was embarrassed to tell people that I was catholic. For awhile with all the media and television attention that the scandal was getting, you almost forgot that the catholic church wasn't the only place were pedophiles lurked. This blog made a lot of sense to the point that even as a catholic I let the bad press get in my head and forgot that it was just a few and not the church in general. Thank you for making some rational sense about a subject that doesn't seem very rational. Nice blog.

Anonymous said...

When all of this first hit the news I had just joined the church. It was something that I had wanted to do for many years. I was thrilled to be a Catholic and my love for the Church was growing daily. My family was not so thrilled at my decision in the first place and then to have to deal with the fallout from these scandals was a little treacherous. I confess that at that time I had a fairly good knowledge of the Catholic faith but not nearly good enough to handle the questions and accusations that were thrown at me about this church that I had just joined. It was such a touchy subject that I hesitated to even bring it up with my fellow catechist and parishioners so instead I just prayed about it. I prayed for the priests, the children and my new church. Since, I have learned more about my church and the clergy but not until I read your blog did it give me enough food for thought to maybe be able to field questions about the subject sounding a little like I know what I am talking about. It is too bad that more are not as open about the subject. Great blog and I will be passing it along.

Anonymous said...

Very good blog.