Tag Archives: Catholic Church sex scandal

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First page of Book of John, part of illuminated manuscript known as Athelstan Gospels (late 9th or early 10th Century), British Library (Cotton MS Tiberius A.ii) (PD)

WARNING:  Graphic Images

The news comes crashing toward us at the speed of light these days.  We cope with it as best we can – ignoring some things, shrugging off others, arguing over (or worrying about) those that strike closest to home.

We can at times be grieved by the news, even wounded by it.  More often, in self-defense, we develop calluses.  Occasionally, we dare to hope.

  • Catholic Church Sex Scandal.   Catholic Cardinal, George Pell, the third highest ranking official at the Vatican, has been charged with multiple sexual offenses by Australia [1].  These involve more than one individual, and are believed to extend back decades.  Pell will be returning to Australia to mount a defense.
  • Mother’s Boyfriend a Threat.  Michael McCarthy, convicted of second-degree murder in the 2015 killing of his girlfriend’s two year old daughter, has been sentenced to life imprisonment by a Massachusetts court [2].  Evidently, Bella was killed because she did not want to go to bed.  Testimony indicated she had been harshly punished before.  Both McCarthy and Rachel Bond, the girl’s mother, were heroin addicts at the time.  McCarthy will be eligible for parole in 20 years.
  • Opioid Epidemic and Child Abuse/Neglect.   Tragically, incidents of this kind are becoming all too common.  The nation’s opioid epidemic is having a direct impact on children.
    • In urban areas, the number of infants born drug-dependent quadrupled between 2004-2013 [3A]. In rural areas, that number increased by a factor of seven, stretching limited hospital and medical resources to the breaking point [3B].
    • As might be expected, the children of addicts are entering foster care at an alarming rate [4].  Often these children live in deplorable conditions for an extended period before the system takes notice.  Trash and vermin, illicit drugs, and drug paraphernalia fill the home.  Milk and food are absent.
  • Preventing Hot Car Deaths. Meanwhile, Bishop Curry, an 11 year old Texas boy, has invented a device that may aid in preventing the deaths of children left unattended in a vehicle [5].  When the “Oasis” detects a child inside a vehicle alone, it texts parents and police while blowing cold air until assistance arrives.  Toyota is exploring the possibilities.

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“Spotlight” won this year’s Oscar for Best Picture. The highly acclaimed film details the Boston Globe’s investigation into the Catholic Church sex scandal.

Does this matter to abuse victims? I think it does. Here’s why.

To begin with, the film and the attention it has received have heightened public awareness of abuse. Viewers come away with a better understanding that predators can lurk anywhere, even in plain sight and priestly garb.

More than that, “Spotlight” sheds light on a mindset and bureaucratic structure within the church that facilitated abuse.

The highest levels of authority within the Catholic Church enabled abuse by systematically covering-up what may have been thousands of instances. In the vast majority of cases, the church did not defrock predator priests. Instead, it transferred them to new parishes, allowing them continued access to children without so much as warning the new parishes.

And the church failed to report these crimes against children to civil authorities, abandoning and betraying the children under its care.

For all such reasons, the church must be viewed as complicit in the abuse perpetrated.

This is not ancient history. The victims of clergy abuse continue to wrestle with the scars of that abuse today. Many will never obtain justice.

But change comes slowly. The Catholic Church’s Advisory Counsel for the Protection of Minors now teaches that church officials have a moral and ethical duty to report suspected abuse to civil authorities [1]. As recently as September of last year, however, Monsignor Tony Anatrella had argued that reporting was not required by church law.

Hopefully, what victims can take away from “Spotlight” is a recognition that any shame associated with abuse is the predator’s alone…not theirs. Other moviegoers should already know that.

[1] Crux, “Papal Commission: Bishops Must Report Sex Abuse Charges”, 2/15/16, http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2016/02/15/papal-commission-bishops-must-report-sex-abuse-charges/.



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Christian Marriage and the Misuse of Scripture, Part 4 – Public Shame

Women are often reluctant to make abuse public, as if their lives did not matter.  Speaking out about domestic violence, and seeking help for it, are said to bring shame on the family and the church.

The truth is that abuse starts an avalanche of harm that can extend for generations. Whatever consequences flow from domestic violence, they result from the abuser’s actions – not the attempts by his victim to defend herself and her children, or escape the abuse.

The Catholic Church sex scandal illustrates how bad the organized church is at dealing with victims. Focus Ministries http://www.focusministries1.org is just one Christian organization helping the victims of domestic violence, while training churches how better to respond to abuse [1][2].

Though priests and ministers have endorsed them at times, the Scriptural passages keeping women in abusive relationships are taken out of context.  Satan uses these snippets – these lies – to undermine women’s faith, and destroy their lives.

But in Christ we are set free.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5: 1).

[1] Today’s Christian Woman, “The Silent Epidemic” by Corrie Cutrer, September 2004, http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2004/september/silent-epidemic.html.

[2] 1 Cor. 6: 1-11 and Matt. 18: 17 address conflict between Christians, and the use of secular courts. However, church intervention was never intended to shield sinful behavior, or place lives in danger.



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Unbiblical, Part 6 – Forgiveness v. Victims’ Rights

“ ‘And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us’ ” (Luke 11: 4).

As I have said elsewhere on this website, forgiveness is a personal matter between abuse victims and their God. Urging forgiveness on victims prematurely ignores the gravity of their trauma, and the depravity of the sins committed against them.

This amounts to a further violation. Victims will necessarily feel that Christians are siding with the predator…even condoning the abuse. Shockingly, in some cases Christians have been guilty of this.

Witness the Catholic Church sex scandal. This was, at best, a product of poor judgment, and a distorted view of Scripture. At worst, it was a cold and calculated attempt to avoid corporate responsibility, while facilitating the most heinous of crimes.

Either way, church hierarchy applied precisely the same rationale to young abuse victims, as the high priest, Caiaphas, did to Christ:  “ ‘…[I]t is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish’ ” (John 11: 50).

To be clear, forgiveness is not a “warm and cozy” feeling, on the part of victims. It is a deliberate decision by victims to leave the harm inflicted on them behind, and instead move on with their lives. Continue reading


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The Disney animated film “Frozen” has become enormously popular. Rather than telling yet another tale of how a girl finds her prince, the film tells the story of two sisters whose love for each other saves them and their world.

Child abuse victims, too, run the risk of being frozen.

It is not difficult to find stories about abuse in the news. Incest. Child pornography and exploitation. A child tortured to death. A group of children held captive; handicapped children tormented. Systemic abuse with the collusion of law enforcement or the church. The rare monetary judgment against a predator, more often than not unenforceable for lack of funds. Take your pick.

No Disney villain can compete.

The children robbed of their innocence and peace of mind – sometimes their lives – deserve to have their stories told. But as survivors we cannot focus exclusively on this darkness or we will succumb to it. Isolated, immobilized by despair. Frozen.

There is hope in the world. There are those who consider these violations among the worst harm human beings can inflict. There is love waiting to be found. Reach out for your share.

Darkness cannot withstand Light.  It was to conquer darkness that Jesus Christ came into our world.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1: 4-5 NIV).


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As abuse victims, we choose various means of expressing our pain, and seeking comfort for it.  The one thing victims should not do is attack one another for those choices.

Perhaps the most divisive issue for abuse victims is forgiveness.  Many victims view forgiveness as impossible, and forgiveness by other victims of their own abusers as a betrayal.

But forgiveness is, first and foremost, the decision by an abuse victim not to center his or her life wholly on the violation [1].

Forgiveness does NOT imply approval of the violation. Forgiven or not, the abuser should, if at all possible, be held accountable for the criminal act(s) of which s/he is guilty.  That may involve imprisonment, chemical castration, and lifelong monitoring to prevent a recurrence.

Whatever we do, we cannot fully balance the scales once a child has been violated [2].  In most cases, the child must deal with the scars of abuse for a lifetime.  For that very reason, the decision by a victim whether or not to forgive his or her abuser is entirely personal, not subject to a general critique, even by other victims [3]. Continue reading


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Clerical Celibacy

Now the sons of [the priest] Eli were corrupt; they did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2: 12).

In the context of the Catholic Church sex scandal, it is not unusual to read that celibacy is the root cause of child molestation by priests; that, if only the church would move forward into the modern world and abandon this bizarre requirement of its clergy, instances of child molestation by priests would vanish overnight.

This is in error. It puts the blame for the heinous crime of child sexual abuse on an “outmoded” system of belief, rather than on the shoulders of pederasts, where it rightly belongs.

The vow of celibacy taken by Catholic priests is akin to the vow of fidelity in marriage. There are those who would argue fidelity, too, is a lost cause, a pointless exercise in the face of an overwhelming evolutionary mandate. I am not among them.

The commitment to celibacy is a symbol of the commitment to hold oneself apart from the world, to save our highest and best for God alone [1].

In direct opposition to this, child molestation is, at heart, the abuse of power; an ultimate act of selfishness without regard for the negative impact to victims, in fact, the “sweeter” to the predator because of that impact.

Sex with children is “real” sex. It constitutes a violation of the vow of celibacy, rather than an exception to it. It is certainly a betrayal of the pastoral function.

Grown men and women, whatever their profession or calling, do NOT have sex with children.

[1] Not all would agree that this is necessary. Protestant ministers of various denominations follow a different model.

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Overcoming the World, Part 1 – Fame and Systemic Abuse

What a world it has become.  Headlines scream off the page at us:

Parents Arrested After Allegedly Forcing Girl, 5, to OD on Soda [1].

Doctor convicted of endangering stepdaughter in “waterboarding” Trial[2].

Couple Arrested for Enslaving Teen Girl[3].


Certainly, fame and affluence do not assure the safety of children.  Melvin Morse – the doctor mentioned above – had appeared on “Oprah” and “Good Morning America”. Fame may, in fact, foster a sense of entitlement on the part of some predators. They come to believe the prohibition against abuse is for lesser mortals.

And fame seems to provide an exemption of sorts from basic standards of morality.

Woody Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, continues to maintain that the filmmaker sexually assaulted her, some two decades ago [4]. Allen was never prosecuted [5A] [5B].

Woody Allen, you may remember, was, also, involved sexually with Soon-Yi Previn, 35 years his junior. Soon-Yi (whom Allen later married) was another adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, a woman with whom Allen had a longterm relationship. Allen has been quoted as saying, “What was the scandal?…There was no scandal…” [6].

Overseas, BBC star Jimmy Savile was repeatedly investigated, but never prosecuted either. Only after his death was it revealed that Savile had abused a staggering 400 children or more, often while they were hospital patients [7].  The possibility of a wider British pedophile ring with influential members protected from prosecution is still being explored.

The California trial of ex-football player Darren Sharper for rape should be instructive. Sharper is under investigation for a total of seven rapes in four states [8]. Assuming the allegations against him to be true, Sharper felt no compunction about drugging women in order to have sex with them.


Systemic abuse may be even more appalling. The public is by now familiar with the Catholic Church sex scandal. In “Secrets of the Vatican,” the investigative program, Frontline, recently exposed the culture of corruption which allowed sexual perversion to flourish [9]. But the Catholic Church is not alone in this.

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No Fairy Tale

The AP is reporting that Pope Francis defrocked some 400 priests in the last two years for raping and molesting children [1].

During the same period, an international alliance of police agencies traced and demolished a global child pornography ring. Over 300 arrests were made in Canadian-directed Operation Spade.  ABC.net quoted police spokesperson, Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, as saying, “It is alleged that officers located hundreds of thousands of images detailing horrific acts against young children, some of the worst that they have ever viewed,”[2].  More than 350 victims were, also, rescued.

Sadly, this is what passes for good news among abuse survivors.  And it is good news. Do not misunderstand.

The hours police spent on thankless, but necessary, tasks – the careful forensic analysis; the endless review of films depicting torture and violation; the phone calls traced; the witnesses interviewed; the false leads explored – not to mention the disappointments; the cold cups of coffee; and the peace of mind forever lost, were well worth the effort.

The 350 or more lives saved by police cannot be over-valued. Even one life saved would have been priceless. And vindication for the victims abused by priests is long overdue.

But this is no fairy tale. The benefit to victims is only prospective, not retroactive. Their scars remain.

[1] AP, NewsBreak: Pope defrocked 400 priests in 2 years, by John Heilprin and Nicole Winfield, 1/17/14, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/54101969#.UtmHqrTTncs.

[2] ABC.net, 66 Australians arrested as Canadian police smashed ‘horrific’ child abuse sex ring, 11/15/13, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-15/global-child-pornography-ring-smashed-by-canadian-and-australia/5093498.



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Jesus asked him, saying, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ because many demons had entered him” (Luke 8: 30).

Christians (and those calling themselves Christian) can be their own worst enemies. The Legion of Christ is an illustration.

Marcial Maciel, the Catholic priest who founded the infamous Legion, fathered three children despite his vow of chastity [1] and sexually abused seminarians.

William Izquierdo, a Legion of Christ supervisor who oversaw the training of priests, is acknowledged to have molested at least one minor [2].  In total, thirty five Legion priests have been accusing of raping children (nine of these found guilty at internal church trials).

Another prominent Catholic priest in the Legion of Christ, Thomas Williams, also, fathered a child.  Despite this, Williams — a moral theologian — had no compunction about authoring a book titled, “Knowing Right from Wrong:  A Christian Guide to Conscience”.

Williams’ superior was aware of the child, but took no action. Who else in the Catholic Church hierarchy may have known is unclear.

There is one more twist to this sordid tale. Mary Ann Glendon, an advisor to Pope Francis, and former US Ambassador to the Holy See, defended the Legion of Christ in the face of credible reports about the pedophilia. It is Glendon’s daughter who gave birth to Williams’ child, a fact one suspects may have colored the Ambassador’s opinion of the Legion.

The public can hardly be blamed for finding all this revolting. It has been grounds for many to turn away from organized religion.

Devout Christians will tell you that mankind’s tendency to sin is the very reason we need a Savior. Many so called Christians, unfortunately, wrap themselves in this principle the way some people wrap themselves in the flag:  to cover negative motivation.  For them it represents expiation, albeit without repentance.

Those two – expiation and repentance – cannot be severed from each other. Forgiveness is dependent on contrition (Luke 17: 3-4)…something that for many years seems to have escaped the leadership of the Catholic Church [3].

[1] A large number of people look down upon the vow of chastity today. But having committed to a state of celibacy before God, Catholic priests are under an obligation to adhere to their oath.

[2] The vow of chastity does not “exempt” child molestation. Nor is it a justifiable motive for child molestation.

[3] Pope Francis has announced that a commission will be formed on the sexual abuse of children by priests.  The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) views this commission as a diversion.  SNAP takes the position that exhaustive documentation on abuse by priests already exists which the Catholic Church has not turned over to civil authorities.


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