Friday, August 16, 2002

I Predict...

Well, two days have come and gone since Catholic World News broke the story that the Vatican will almost certainly send the Bishops' Dallas Zero Tolerance norms back with the charge: "do it again, and please get it right this time." In particular, Vatican sources told CW News that the policy would be rejected because of deficiencies such as:

-The absence of safeguards to protect the reputation of priests who might be unjustly
-The failure to guarantee that bishops would apply the norms fairly, or that bishops
themselves would be subject to the proposed discipline.

These are issues which I and others have blogged before.

Most interesting is the Vatican's concern with the Dallas policy's "failure to address root causes of sexual abuse." Does anyone else read that as a veiled reference to the problem of homosexuals in the priesthood? It sure seems that way to me. What other "root cause" is there for pederasty? Could it be that the largely inarticulate recent rumblings of Rome on this subject will be followed up by a demand that our bishops get their house in order and act with regard to disobedient homosexual priests like the St. Sebastian's Angels? Dare I hope for so much?

Now, aside from a story in today's Boston Herald and a couple of blurbs about this by Rod Dreher at The Corner, no one in the secular media has picked up on this. I know, because I've been watching, expecting at any moment an eruption of indignation at the Bad Old Vatican from the media establishment. But in the New York Times, nothing. The Chicago Tribune, nothing. From the TV networks, nothing. From "designated catholics" in the media such as Sean Hannity, nothing.

I confess to being puzzled at this. You'd think they'd be all over the story, if for no other reason than to re-open the wound of The Situation and pour a little salt in it. So what is the reason for the media's silence?

I can think of one explanation: A confluence of the slothfulness and bias of most of the people in the "mainstream" media. Bias, because the source of the story is Catholic World News, a "conservative" Catholic publication known for loyalty to the Magisterium. For this reason it is beneath the notice of most of the media. Slothfulness, because, for all the splash that media outlets make about "investigative" journalism, there's actually precious little of that being done. Most reporters rely on being spoon-fed information from their sources, who, for the most part, share their outlook and prejudices.

So, my prediction: When the official Vatican announcement is made that the Dallas policy is fatally flawed and needs to be redone, the media outlets will trumpet the story as shocking, surprising news that no-one (meaning none of their coterie) anticipated. That informed Catholics have suspected this outcome and predicted it all along will go unreported. Also largely unreported will be the substance of the Vatican's concerns. It will be played as another "power struggle" between Rome and the US bishops, who tried so hard, after all, to do the right thing with those nasty pedophiles in Dallas.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Peevish Thoughts

I readily confess that I am writing this in a spirit of peevishness. That peevishness is not directed at any particular individual: it is a sort of "free floating" peevishness, which has been brought up by the latest round of discussion, below and on Amy Welborn's blog, about Zero Tolerance and removal of priests guilty of abuse.

I suppose one source of the peevishness is the imprecision and offhandedness with which terms have been used. Phrases or words like "zero tolerance", and "accountability", and "clericalism" are being thrown around in equivocal ways, and I get the impression that many of us are talking at cross-purposes. Some may accuse me of being nit-picky, but these are issues of grave importance, and using language in a sloppy way will only lead to greater murkiness, confusion, and hurt feelings.

So to help get past the imprecision, let me propose a couple of explanations:

Firstly, it seems that many people are using the term "Zero Tolerance" itself to mean many things. Some people, in using that term, seem to mean only the policy that priest-abusers be removed from ministry after a single proved or admitted incident of abuse. When I and people like Mark Shea use the term Zero Tolerance, we are referring more specifically to the Norms enacted in Dallas and the procedures accompanying them. Thus, when I say that I am opposed to Zero Tolerance, I am not saying I am opposed to removing priest-abusers from ministry (as my blog below should make clear). I am saying that I oppose the current mechanism that is in place for achieving the end of removing priest-abusers from ministry. I think it would be very helpful, and avoid needless rancor, if we adopted this narrower understanding of the term "Zero Tolerance", on the grounds that, in general, terms should be defined as precisely as possible.

For the record, I am opposed to the Zero Tolerance policy because it ignores existing Church law, and it ignores the rights of the accused to due process. Furthermore, it is fraught with potential for abuse by bishops, disgruntled parishioners (Got a priest you don't like? Just denounce him to the abuse board and he's gone within 2 hours), or opportunistic attorneys. I think it matters a great deal what sort of process we adopt to remove priests guilty of abuse (whether in one instance or a dozen). If we're going to remove priest-abusers, let's do it the right way. As I have written before, seeing to it that the accused are treated with justice does not in some way deprive victims of the justice due them. Justice is unitary, because it is an attribute of God.

Several people have expressed their demand for "accountability" from bishops and priests on this mattter. Accountability is a good and necessary thing, but I fear it is being used as a buzzword, rather than with much actual content. The Dallas norms, as ill-conceived as they are, are an attempt to introduce accountability into the process of handling accusations of abuse. Removal of priests from ministry is another attempt at holding priest-abusers accountable. What does the accountability that is being demanded look like?

The other source of my peevishness is the charge of clericalism raised against those who are urging moderation and deliberation in dealing with priest-abusers and those accused of abuse. I fear that some people are confusing clericalism with something else. Clericalism is the attitude that priests should be accorded special benefits and privileges not due to them. Clericalism is odious and destructive. But asserting the rights that do belong to a priest is not clericalism. For example, if I demand that I be permitted to celebrate Mass in accordance with the norms and rubrics of the Church, I am asserting a right that is properly mine. That's not clericalism. Now, if a bishop protects priest-abusers from prosecution by "hushing-up" their misconduct, that is clericalism.

Insisting that priests guilty of abuse receive no less and NO MORE than justice is not clericalism. Justice is not a privilege, it is a right. And both the victim and the perpetrator have a right to justice. Furthermore, we (the church) have duty to show mercy to all wrongdoers. To call upon us to show mercy to priest abusers is not clericalism, because mercy is a duty we owe to all. If some priests or bishops have been selective about who they seek mercy for, that is contemptible, but it in no way reduces our duty to show mercy.

Finally, to demand that priests accused of abuse be treated with justice, to demand that their rights to due process be respected, is not about "protecting clerical culture" (as one commentor on Amy's blog wrote). Under the Dallas policy, all it takes is an accusation against a priest, and he has 2 hours to vacate the rectory. He is completely on his own in terms of mounting a defense. Furthermore, we know that in the current climate any accused priest will be considered guilty until proven innocent. How many of you would welcome back, with open arms, a priest who had been removed under "Zero Tolerance" and then returned some months later after being cleared by an investigation? Especially, as would be likely, with the accuser still publicly asserting the guilt of the accused priest! How many of you would let your kids hang out with him? The mere fact of a public accusation against a priest could severely damage, or even destroy, his priestly ministry. And that doesn't just hurt the priest, it hurts the whole Church.

The more grave the accusation, the more concerned we must be with rendering justice with scrupulous fairness.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Back again!

Well, I'm back from my blogging hiatus. The trip to Detroit was enjoyable, and the interview with Al Kresta was a lot of fun. Al is a very even-handed interviewer, and an all around good-guy. I'll blog more about the interview and its "fallout" later...

More Thoughts on Zero Tolerance and Fr. DeVita

I had a very interesting conversation with some of my brother priests last weekend about the Zero Tolerance policy and its effect on priests like Fr. Tom DeVita, about whom I blogged here and here last week. What I found interesting in the conversation with my brother priests (all of whom I would classify as in the orthodox/conservative camp), was that they all took a harder line than I with regard to priests like Fr. DeVita, who committed an act of abuse in the distant past and since then have mended their ways and served well.

All of us expressed disapointment in what we perceive as the bishops playing PR games at the expense of their priests in their adoption of the Dallas norms. All thought that Zero Tolerance, if allowed to stand, would become a weapon by which bishops could abuse priests whom they found troublesome. All thought that the priests removed by the Zero Tolerance "process" would probably be returned to active ministry, as their canonical right to due process was ignored.

But the thing that surprised me was that, to a man, they all thought that priests like Fr. DeVita should be out, period. There was no question about repentance or forgiveness: all agreed that a priest-abuser who repented and amended his life was forgiven. But they thought it was too damaging to trust within the Church, and too damaging to the priesthood, to allow these priests to continue in any form of active ministry.

One of my friends also made an argument that I hadn't considered before, and found powerful: He pointed out that Fr. DeVita had never been prosecuted and convicted for his crime, much less served any sort of sentence. He has never been sued or made to pay any sort of civil damages. He has been allowed to continue in active ministry all along. Now it is too late for any criminal or civil remedies. The bishops have made it clear in the Dallas norms that removal of priest-abusers is not to be considered a punitive act against the abuser, but is aimed solely at protecting children (this claim struck my brother priests as more than a little disingenuous). Fr. DeVita and others like him retain their faculties to celebrate Mass privately. So, my priest-friend claimed, Fr. DeVita has never actually been punished. But Justice demands punishment for such serious crimes as sexual abuse. I have thought about this quite a bit, and I find this argument unassailable. To cry "mercy" here is not on-point. For mercy tempers justice; mercy mitigates punishment. Mercy does not obviate the punishment that belongs to justice.

So, my friend concluded, priests who committed sexual abuse decades ago and were never subject to punishment still have punishment due them. That the demands of justice be satisfied is necessary both for the victims and the offenders. Since these men are beyond the reach of civil law, perhaps we as a Church need in some way to step in and supply the punishment that was avoided, and supply the justice that is still lacking. In this light, he said, removing such priests from ministry, and in fact involuntarily laicizing them, is only just, and compared to civil penalties, quite merciful.

As I said before, I find this argument compelling, and it is causing me to rethink my position on removal of priests who have abused in the past but are repentant. Mark, Greg, Amy, care to chime in?