Via Media

Via Media

In defense of the Cardinal

Andrew Greeley:

The Bernardin reforms have worked quite well for the last decade and a half and have been imitated in many other dioceses. The problem is not with the reforms but with the clerical culture that permeates the archdiocese’s Pastoral Center and its affiliates. The Defenbaugh and Childers reports reveal almost unimaginable blindness in such agencies as the seminary system, the Office of Catholic Schools, the Office of Vicars for Priests and the monitoring systems that supervise men who have been removed from active ministry but not yet excluded from the clerical status.

One wonders in what world the people responsible for the behavior described in the reports live. Are they deaf, dumb and blind? Do they not know what harm abusing priests have done to the church? Haven’t they read the letters and manuals from the cardinal? Do they not know about the circling vultures from the victims’ groups and the torts bar? Do they not comprehend that enemies would bankrupt and destroy the church because people like them have caved in to the clerical culture norm of always protecting the priest?


Evidence that clerical culture is alive and well can be found in two resolutions submitted by groups of priests, both concerned about the rights and privacy of priests and neither concerned about foul-ups in the Pastoral Center bureaucracy. Priests (many of them anyway) are like the Bourbon kings — they never learn anything and they never forget anything.

In adopting the recommendations of the two reports, the cardinal has clearly committed himself to the needed reforms. However, he will have to push many of his staff, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Presumably he has learned by now that no executive can take for granted that his subordinates have learned the folly of self-defeating behavior. The struggle against the narrow self-pity, the passive-aggressive narcissism and the blind folly of clerical culture can be won only by vigilance and persistence and men around you who understand, as the French writer put it, "Clericalism, THAT is the enemy!"

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charles R. Williams

posted March 24, 2006 at 5:03 pm

Who put the Chicago clericalists in positions of power?

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charles R. Williams

posted March 24, 2006 at 5:06 pm

I misread the reference to defending the Cardinal as defending Bernardin. Sorry.

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posted March 24, 2006 at 6:50 pm

The report says Cardinal George didn’t know all he needed to know. Yes, there was more information than he was aware of, but his review board did advise him to remove McCormack based on the info they had at the time and he decided not to remove him. What was he thinking when he disregarded the board, wasting their time and energy. Did he think they were incompetent? Was he concerned then about protecting children?

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posted March 24, 2006 at 10:35 pm

Excuse me, is this the same Fr. Greeley who was saying, years ago, that he knew names and had evidence of a many child molesters? Why has no one pressed him to name names if he so cares about ending clericalism and saving the children????

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posted March 24, 2006 at 11:11 pm

I don’t really see this problem (and problem it is,) as evidence of clericalism, of a problem with the way priests look at the world and themselve.
Whenever a substantial rumor about abuse is announced, a good number of people rally around the accused (I have seen this happen again and again in church and secular and family circles.)

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posted March 25, 2006 at 12:20 am

I agree. When it comes to the lack of action following the disclosure of abuse, I think the problem IS clericalism. From my observation, the clerics within the diocesan structures function within a closed system. One of the highest priorities is protection of one another. We could probably start a support movement for lay people who have been chewed up and spit out of the clerical diocesan structures.

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posted March 25, 2006 at 9:37 am

“One of the highest priorities is protection of one another.”
Sadly, it also happens to be the modus operandi for addicts and their co-dependents. Treat clerical sex abuse as addiction, not homosexual sin, and you’ll have healthy strains of recovery all through the system. Keep harping on those nasty gays and permissive liberals, and your sex abusers will be quite content. They’ll still lie, charm the pants off the bishop, and get away with soul-murder.

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posted March 25, 2006 at 12:16 pm

Excellent point, Todd. The single scariest thing about this system is the apparent presumption of cooperation on the part of the perpetrator. An aggressive addiction-style “intervention” might be exactly what these guys need, not presumed-innocent “monitoring.”

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Mike L

posted March 25, 2006 at 1:01 pm

I agree with Todd, sex abuse, not just clerical sex abuse, should be treated as an addiction. I have known a few people that decided to go to Sex Anonymous and recovered from the abuse. Two problems exist in this approach. First, it does not always work, it takes willingness, along with a great deal of work and effort to recover, just as it does from alcohol and drug abuse. And there is always the possibility of relapse. The second problem is that in todays culture, if ANYONE tries to find help for sexual abuse of minors he is referred to the police for prosecution. This does not encourage one to for recovery.
Another problem with the whole setup as I see it, is that the abusive priest is not getting the support that he needs from is clerical “family.” Not the support that Fortiterinre refers to, but real tough love. “you screwed up, now do something about it. You have our love and care, but we will not put up with this kind of behavior.” Instead the clerical family seems to tripping over each other to get away from them. Some how, spiritually, I don’t see this as very Christlike. In fact humanly, I don’t see it as family like.
To puy it bluntly, I think that the Bishops, and fellow priests have betrayed the abusers twice. First by failing to give them real love, tough love, and then secondly abandoning them when their problems became public. This isn’t to negate the betrayal of the lay members of the Church, or those that were abused. We see the same process there, failure to protect, then try to brush it under the rug when discovered.
God Bles,
Mike L

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Kevin Miller

posted March 25, 2006 at 1:23 pm

First: The desire to commit sex abuse is surely a disorder of some sort – and might be somewhat akin to an “addiction.” But sex abuse itself is a sin and a crime and needs to be treated as such. (Will some people try to hide their complicity in the sin/crime? Sure. And lots of people with addictions try to hide those too.)
Second: “Clericalism” isn’t the only problem, or probably even the main one. At least as big a problem is that our entire culture doesn’t take the evil of sex abuse very seriously. Again and again and again and again and again one sees in the media examples of sex abusers who aren’t priests and who do get treated incredibly leniently by the judicial system. If you think you can separate out bishops’ handling of priests who’re sex abusers from society’s handling of people in general who’re sex abusers, you’re wrong.

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Mike L

posted March 26, 2006 at 11:08 am

Kevin, I think that the similarity between addiction and sex abuse is much greater than you think. Addiction is not a sin, whether to alcohol, drugs, spouse abuse, or sexual abuse. The acting out of those actions may or may not be subjective sins. If people act on compulsions, they do not have free choice and therefore may not be culpable, even if there actions are objectively wrong. One might say that failing to try to recover from the addiction is a sin since they have some choice there.
If you think society’s handling of sex abusers is lienient, take a look at the other addictions I mentioned above. In spite of thousands of deaths each year caused by drunken driving, the divorces caused by drinking, the loss of production in business, society not only tolerates such behavior, it seems to encourage it and idolizes it. How many people actually get jail terms for killing someone while driving drunk. If a woman abuses a man, and that does happen, he will get no help from society and will probably be laughed at for failing to be a man.
I think of all of these, sex abuse is probably the most punished of any of the compulsive behaviors. But I agree with you, that clericalism may not be the main problem. I think that some of the problems are society’s refusal to hold people responsible for their actions, failure to recognize addictive/compulsive action and either ignoring them or just labeling them “sins,” and failing to provide/require treatment of such compulsions/addictions.
And need I mention speeding on the highways which kills a lot of people every year, but which everyone does because “it won’t happen to me!”
Mike L

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