Sunday, September 10, 2006

Deliver Us From Evil

I feel like I need a shower. Through slightly illicit connections I've just seen Deliver Us From Evil, a documentary about the pedophilia crisis in the Catholic Church. Oliver O'Grady, Thomas Doyle, and Roger Mahoney are all featured in the movie. O'Grady is now a white-haired, twinkley-eyed older man, who while serving in northern California abused God only knows how many children. Thomas Doyle is a canon lawyer who tirelessly advocates for the victims and families of victims. And Roger Mahoney is the Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles, who was responsible for moving O'Grady from parish to parish and failing to inform parishioners (and the police) of O'Grady's history.

It's chilling how easy it is to see why O'Grady was trusted in his parishes. How could a man who looks like that be anything other than a genial priest? It's even easy to see (although it's still reprehensible) how a bishop would want to cover up an offending priest's sexual history. And yet, it all adds up to a picture that is just unbelievable, somehow.

As recently as 15 years ago, the priests I knew commonly acknowledged that pedophilia was a problem and a huge betrayal of trust. Yet, they also claimed that it wasn't statistically more common among priests than it is in the general population -possibly even lower. So, yes, it was a tragedy, but it wasn't a flawed system. Just flawed individuals. We now know that to be wrong. Something about recruiting people to fill seminary slots attracts people who are broken in this particular way. How can that be? Of course, I know. Getting butts in the seats is more important, lately, than psychological screening. But having been presented with the evidence, to say nothing of the negative P.R., wouldn't you think they'd rush to change the situation? Apparently not.

Deposition footage of Archbishop Mahoney and his second-in-command (whose name escapes me) shows them passing the blame to the parishioners, to the diocesan lawyer, and anybody else who will hold still long enough. When they aren't doing that, they just deny everything, including the records they kept in secret files throughout the years. The whole thing just makes me feel dirty for being associated with the church.

There were a few things I was concerned about in the documentary. The film-maker might turn out to be right about them, but I don't think so. She claims that being Catholic is somehow different from any other religion (ok so far, I suppose) and that one must understand the culture to fully appreciate the damage that pedophilic priests cause. I'm still fine with this line of reasoning, but here's where we part ways. She further claims (and she's far from the only person to make this claim) that these priests are so destructive because of our belief that their power is absolute. Being abused by a priest is tantamount to being abused by God. Wow. In 12 years of Catholic education I was never taught that a priest's power was absolute or that he was God-like. In fact, theologically speaking, I'm absolutely right -as were the nuns who taught me. A priest's power is not absolute. Period. Which doesn't rule out the possibility that people think it is, so her claim could end up being right for the wrong reasons.

And if that's the case, we have bishops filling seminary slots with too many dangerous men and sending them to parishes where no one will question their behavior. We need a new theology of the priesthood and a mechanism for empowering the laity, and we need these things immediately.

My second quibble is with the disclaimer at the end of the movie that "the Catholic Church refused to be interviewed." What? How does one interview a church? Who would stand for the church, in this context? She means, I imagine, that Cardinal Mahoney refused to be interviewed. But equating "the church" with its administrators just perpetuates the same problem I was ranting about above. The church is all of us. Its administrators are just... its employees. (Ok, that's not entirely theologically accurate either, but I will stick to my guns and insist that priests and bishops are not "the church".)

Oh, and Fr. O'Grady? He's out of jail. He served seven years of a 14 year sentence, and was then deported to Ireland. He lives there in a parish which has not been officially informed of his history with children. Here we go again.

I need to focus for a few minutes on the things I love and need about the Church, because the picture I have in my head right now is just revolting.

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