Sunday, March 10, 2002

The Boston Catholic Crisis

There is a fierce outcry in Boston over the actions of Cardinal Bernard Law, and his handling of priests accused of sexually abusing children at their parishes. In particular, the flashpoint of this crisis is John Geoghan, a former parish priest who has molested up to a hundred children. Maybe more. Cardinal Law, with full knowledge of Geoghan's pedophilia, moved him to other parishes.

The media loves this story: there are clear victims and clear "villains".

I feel tremendous ambivalence.

Geoghan, and other priests who have now come forward, men who have vowed to be celibate, to represent Christ on earth, they have used their power to partake in a perversion. But is this a story because these men were priests? What about people who are pedophiles who are not priests? The ones propositioning children in AOL chat rooms? The ones peddling child pornography? Are they less wrong? How about those that view these materials? Don't they deserve the microscope of media attention?

Cardinal Law, as an administrator, has made a critical mistake in thinking that Fr. Geoghan could simply be "moved" away from the problem. Cardinal Law has put his hat in his hand, and asked for forgiveness. He is backing up his words by putting into place a task force that will seek policies so abuse like this won't happen again. He is trying to affect change. I am encouraged by this action, and I do not feel he should step down.

We are all weak. We are all sinners. Out of this whole mess, this is one of the lessons that I'm most sure of.

I won't learn anything fundamentally new from the trial of Geoghan. I won't learn anything from new allegations of abuse from victims, or new admissions of guilt from priests. The sin/crime is the same. Only the details are different. My reaction is the same as when I first heard of these events: weary shock, weary sadness.

What do the abusers want? Understanding. Forgiveness. Perhaps help. Do they know that what they do is aberrant?

What do the victims want? Retribution. An erasing of a memory that can never be forgotten. Perhaps they want to forgive. Perhaps they want to make the priesthood contrite.

There are plenty of lawyers involved now, for both sides. Instead of the language of forgiveness, of healing, of faith and prayer, there is the language of secret testimonies, of settlements, of challenging statute of limitations. My Mom often says "man proposes; God disposes." We're proposing now: we're proposing in our courts how to exact a justice that won't ever be enough. We're proposing how to fix a priesthood that is meant to represent Christ.

I will try to pray for these people: for the victims and for the abusers, caught in an awful cycle of sin then revelation. Caught in the media glare.

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