I had a conversation with a Victims Assistance Coordinator from the Diocese of Scranton in August. She is a very kind woman named Joan Holmes. She has consistently reached out to me since my initial notification to the Diocese of the events that occurred when I was 13 years old. While I still think that the position she holds within the diocese has more to do with collecting information on victims and less to do with assisting them, she has been very helpful to me in a number of ways. She is the only person in the Diocese that I have had consistent, albeit infrequent contact.
What struck me during the conversation was her use of the word “prophet”. She told me that I was speaking truth and that is what a prophet does. In looking up the word in the dictionary I found the following:
NOUN 1. somebody who interprets divine will: somebody who claims to interpret or transmit the commands of a deity 2. somebody predicting the future: somebody who predicts the future “prophets of economic doom” 3. advocate of something: somebody who advocates a cause or idea 4. inspired leader: somebody considered to be an inspired leader or teacher [ 12th century. Via French and Latin < Greek prophētēs “somebody who speaks beforehand” < phētēs “speaker” ]
I certainly do not see myself as a conduit for a deity. That would require me to have faith that one exists. The Catholic Church has proven to me that you should not take on faith anything that they say. I may be able to see myself in the third definition, an advocate for a reform of the legal system to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual crimes and the follow-on cover-ups in the Catholic Church. I keep going back to what Joan told me. Her view was that a prophet is someone who tells the truth. If that is so, why aren’t the Bishops of the world prophets? Why hasn’t the Catholic Church been an institution that supports prophets and the truth? Why have they been such an astounding failure at telling the truth? Why do we keep seeing the cycle of discovery, denial, contrition, deflection and distance played out as the game plan from the Bishop of Rome down the line?
Lets see how revelation of sexual crimes plays out in the latest hotbed of the sexual crime crisis in the Catholic Church. I suspect it will be just as it has been in Boston, Los Angeles, Ireland, Germany, and Belgium to name but a few. The story breaks and the first thing we hear is that the cases are isolated and that the church itself is innocent (denial). Then comes the uproar and a contrite bishop comes forward to say that he knew nothing of the abuse but now that it is made public that the church will support victims and take action against the perpetrators. Then the tide turns, Bishops or their mouthpieces begin to point out that the sexual abuses are a reflection of society, that these men are sick, gay, or that other institutions have similar problems. This is not an isolated Catholic problem! Finally, they try to put distance between themselves and the victims. They play the “we are protecting the confidentiality of the victims” card. That loosely translates to trying to silence the victim through any means available. Or they just get nasty and start the campaign, usually through people like Phil Donahue, that paints survivors as money hungry opportunists looking for a quick score at the expense of the poor parishioners that support the local dioceses. As we are seeing with the reports coming out of Europe in the past few days, we have an instance of the same playbook being taken out and put into action in a different city/country.
I recommend the pope be decisive and end this debate once and for all. He should go on tour. “The Pope Benedict XVI Last Apology Tour”. We could have satin jackets made up, collectible plates and spoons, maybe some T-shirts. I bet red shoe sales would go through the cathedral ceiling! In each city the local Cardinal can warm up the crowd and get them whipped up in a frenzy, tell them that new processes are in place and that the problems of the past are in the past. Groupie nuns can go crazy at the front of the crowd trying to get their pictures taken with the MAN. “Benny 16” is seriously “the goods”, he is happening, he is a rock star! When they finish the 3 month 71 city tour, the Holy See can claim that all is well and that a return to normalcy is the way to go. There is only 1 small problem. The status quo for the church included priests who committed varying degrees of sexual crimes on innocents while the hierarchy of the church shielded the predators from prosecution to save the Holy Roman Church from scandal. The problems of the past are not in the past. We see new allegations every week. We hear of new victims coming forward after years. We hear of very senior clergy admitting to abuse. One, a Bishop, even has admitted to abusing his own nephew.
The truth, which seems to be completely lost on the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, is that victims are victimized over and over because the church does not have any idea on how to fix the problem. Even if they did, they do not have the will to fix the problem. Society must enforce established secular laws on institutions like the Church and force them to comply to the standards of decency and the rule of law. (Is it me, or is the previous sentence a real head scratcher? We have to force the church to be ethical, do the right thing and protect innocent children and vulnerable adults.) If they do not comply, they need to be sanctioned. They need to be punished. They need to pay a dear, real price for their complicity and obstruction in the protection of predators and the isolation of victims. They can’t be sanctioned for arrogance by anyone but the people partially filling the pews on Sundays.
Warning! I am beating the drum again. We need to enact legislation in each state that does not currently have it, to pass laws that will allow victims to seek redress for their grievances against the men and women who committed crimes against them and the institutions that supported, shielded and protected them from being turned over to civil authority. Criminal behavior should be met with societal sanctions. (Again scratching my head because this all seems just all too obvious, even though it is not really playing out that way in the real world.)
I do not want to be a prophet. I do not want to be the guy in the blogosphere that is screaming at the top of his lungs about the injustice and stupidity in all of this. I do not want to be the one standing up for the other survivors. But, until the Bishops start being prophets and telling the truth, I have no other choice. Until Catholic Institutions lay bear their sins and seek real penance for the wrongs they have inflicted on the victims and their families, I cannot be silent. Until the Bishops, from Benedict on down, open the files on the predators and open the doors to those who are paying an incredible price for being the targets of pedophiles I have to be one of the voices that is shouting out.
How screwed up is it that we need prophets to show us that the direction the church is taking the faithful is the wrong way? How many other voices are willing to join in? What, exactly, are you doing?