Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A new Jay Study on clergy sexual abuse - UPDATED

*UPDATE at bottom of post.*

The John Jay College of Law at CUNY has released a new study on patterns in Catholic clergy who sexually abused minors. This will add information to their impressive earlier study from 2004.

Clarity is good in every aspect of life, both inside and outside the institutions of the Church. And while our bishops have individually been hit-and-miss in being transparent and decisive, it does my heart good to know that the USCCB is putting serious time and money (about $2M) into this kind of self-examination. Call it an examination of conscience.

Lots of pixels are flashing because the study notes the "permissive culture of the '60s, '70s" as a factor in the recent scandal. I have no doubt that is true. But it is far from the only factor, and it does little good to point to a factor which is in the past and beyond our control.

More reasoned articles point out that this spike in abusive behavior had many causes, some of which were historically rooted.

Other causes are structural, and those are the ones we can actually do something about.

The Vatican is making moves in that direction, and these are welcome. But the Church is more than just a hierarchy, and the diocese is not a subsidiary of the Vatican. We cannot and should not rely on the Pope to police the bishops.

Rather, each of us - lay, cleric, or consecrated religious - has a part to play in the reform that is needed.

I don't know all the steps we need to take, but at least three come to mind immediately:

  1. Pray - pray for ourselves, that we may grow in virtue and holiness; and pray for our clergy and other religious leaders (teachers, administrators, etc.) that they be given the grace, the wisdom, and the courage to do what is right for the Church, and especially for those most vulnerable

  2. Learn - this study acknowledges just how complex the life of a priest can be; it may not be more difficult than a layperson's life, but it is difficult in a different way; understanding the various causes can help us spot problems as they're still in the temptation stage, or at least prevent further harm from being done

  3. Act - not everyone is in a position to take direct action, but some of us are; we may be a friend of a priest, or may sit on the parish council; we may have the ear of the bishop; we may just be good with words; in any case, we must both support priests and other religious leaders, and also hold them accountable in both word and action

We can all of us do the first; most of us can do the second; perhaps only a few will do the third. But as members of the One Body of Christ, we all have a part to play in expelling the disease of abuse, and in bringing healing to those who are harmed.

The New York Times raised some important questions about the study, particularly that the study defines the line between "pedophilia" (abuse of pre-pubescent children) and "ephebophilia" (abuse of pubescent children) at age 10, while the medical and psychological standard is age 13. I haven't seen a good reason for the study to draw this line where they did.

So the report raises some questions about its own validity. I don't want to dismiss the report altogether, but questions are worth asking, and need answering. This is part of the learning we all have to do.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Torture works" isn't an argument

Joshua Mercer makes the point that "torture works" isn't an argument in favor of torture, even if torture did work, which is doubtful.

Hat tip: Mark Shea, who has some comments of his own here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

When mercy seasons justice

(Cross-posted at And Sometimes Tea)

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.
-- William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

When I first learned that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a United States military team, I felt...surprised. Bin Laden has been such a shadowy figure for so long that I suppose it didn't seem very real to me, to think that a military operation had been carried out successfully in such a cut and dried manner against someone who somehow seemed less than real. But there was no denying that news of his death was...good news, right?

I visited a few places--Facebook being one of them--and felt a little uneasy by the enthusiasm in some quarters for the news, especially for that enthusiasm as shown by fellow Catholics. Surely we could be glad that the terrorist mastermind of 9/11 has left this earth before committing any new crime of a comparable level without openly celebrating his killing, couldn't we?

The statement from the Vatican's spokeman seemed to strike the right note:
Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.
A far cry, this measured, reflective tone, from some other things I saw here and there on the Catholic blogosphere which seemed to rejoice in Osama bin Laden's death, and which actually credited either yesterday's celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, or the newly Blessed Pope John Paul II, with the success of the operation in killing the terrorist mastermind. Two things come to mind: one, that yesterday was Divine Mercy Sunday, and that no one living could survive "Divine Justice Sunday" should God ever decide to hold such a day; and two, that the author of Evangelium Vitae--the Gospel of Life--might admit sorrowfully that the death of an aggressor who could not be safely captured might be necessary, but would never celebrate such a fact.

It is possible, though we will not know in this life, that Osama bin Laden was not beyond the reach of God's mercy; certainly the fact that he remained alive for so long after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 was a mercy in itself, since the increased amount of time was time for him to repent. If he did not avail himself of repentance--if he did not seek forgiveness--if he will reside for all eternity in the flames of Hell--that is not something to rejoice about, either. That fate awaits all of us who turn our backs on God and refuse to listen to Him, who spurn His repeated offers of that Divine Mercy without which none of us has any hope at all.

A few Catholic bloggers and writers have mentioned that they have prayed for bin Laden and those killed along with him (and, indeed, some of them may have been innocent of everything but relationship to an evil man, which is not always something one can do anything about). Some said such prayers came naturally; others admitted to struggling with the idea, which is perfectly understandable given the situation. It did not occur to me to pray for those killed until after I'd read those posts, but I did pray once I had read them--I prayed that the mercy I hope for myself would be extended to those who died yesterday, and that if by their own choices they were beyond the reach of redemption, that my prayers help other poor souls awaiting liberty from purgatory. It does not matter if that sort of thing doesn't come naturally to us; it only matters if there is some person for whom we would absolutely refuse to pray--because that refusal would mean real hatred, which is what would cause us actually to wish someone were in Hell and to refuse to pray that they were not beyond redemption.

It may be objected that Osama bin Laden's crimes against humanity already prove him beyond redemption. Blessed John Paul II wrote this, though, about the world's first murderer, the first man guilty of such a crime against the tiny handful of humanity then born:
And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, "put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill him" (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to avenge Abel's death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is precisely here that the paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth. (Evangelium Vitae, 9)
It is justice that a murderer be stopped, even if stopping him ends up demanding the use of lethal force. But it is mercy to pray for his soul and the souls of those who perished with him, and further to pray for those tempted to commit acts of violence in retaliation, that they will heed the voice of God and turn from evil. And as we pray, so we hope that others will one day pray for us; as we cry to God for mercy even upon the soul of a man whose life was characterized by great evil, so we hope that others will shout for mercy for us when our days on this earth have ended.

On the passing of Osama bin Laden

When I heard the news on the radio last night, my immediate response was to offer prayer for the repose of his soul. If there's even the slightest chance the man is not in Hell, he needs all the help he can get.

This is, I hope, a Catholic response.

On the one hand, it is right and proper to rejoice in the defeat of one's enemy. And Osama bin Laden, by his own description, was our enemy. His actions were horrific and without excuse, and his defeat is a victory not only for the USA but for all those whom al-Qaeda targeted.

On the other, every human death is a tragedy, albeit a tragedy laced with hope, as we know from our celebrations of our Lord's resurrection. Osama bin Laden, before anything else, is a human person, and is a beloved child of God.

My prayers also go up on behalf of the team that conducted the operation. From some of President Obama's comments, it sounds as if the goal was to capture him, and that Bin Laden was killed in the course of that attempt. But the statement, "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body," makes it sound as if bin Laden was assassinated after the fighting had finished. This would not be a morally just action, even on a battlefield.

Now, it goes without saying that I am in no position to judge the morality of actions that I know about only from summary news reports. And I hope it is obvious that I consider this a day of legitimate and true joy for the US. But this joy is tainted with sorrow, and with a sincere concern that our joy will turn to arrogance or forgetfulness of our own sins, and of our constant call to charity.

Hence my prayers for his soul. I know only of his public acts of violence and aggression; I know nothing of the state of his soul. I do know my own faults, and I hope that people will pray for me at my death. The Golden Rule dictates I do to others as I would have done to me, so...

From the gates of Hell, rescue his soul, O Lord. Amen.