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sanitized for your protection

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 16, 2007

At the First Things blog, Patricia Snow has some thoughtful remarks on a Virtus workshop she attended called "Protecting God's Children for Adults," created by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group (an infelicitously named enterprise if ever there was such). A husband and wife facilitation team guided participants through the instructional materials and tried to make sure no one drew the wrong inferences therefrom. Writes Snow:

If the guidelines from Hartford encouraged me by their balance, this video depressed me. After the first segment, when the husband facilitator was disabusing us of the myth that child abusers are primarily homosexual, I raised my hand and said that that might be true generally, but, in fact, in the crisis in the Church, the acts of abuse were primarily homosexual acts, which was why Rome was taking a fresh look at the seminaries.

The man stared at me. He seemed confused and uncomfortable, so I mentioned the John Jay report and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' columns in First Things, at which point he brushed me aside, saying quickly, "Well, this isn't about the Church. The Church is taking care of itself." Not about the Church?

Bad manners, Patricia my dear, to draw attention to the embarrassment Mary Eberstadt calls The Elephant in the Sacristy. Such workshops are, in part, lessons in an etiquette of ignoring the obvious. A well brought up dinner guest knows not to mention her hostess's disfigurement. A properly instructed Catholic knows better than to notice that the Church perps are usually not soccer moms and the victims are usually not girls. In default of careful indoctrination, badly behaved persons may blurt out the truth in such terms as did the aforementioned Richard Neuhaus on one memorable occasion:

Between men who want to have sex with adolescent boys and men who do not want to have sex with adolescent boys, the former are more likely to have sex with adolescent boys.

See what I mean? Your standard chancery apparatchik can't blow smoke sufficient to cover that scale of pachyderm, and it takes a skilled Virtus facilitator to instill the right inhibitions so that the wrong questions don't get asked. Whence it must be admitted that the motives of those who hand out the protection program contracts are not always, perhaps, as pure as the driving Snow:

Driving home, I was more discouraged than I have ever been since becoming a Catholic, even more discouraged than by the abuse crisis itself. How did it happen, I wondered again, that a specific problem demanded such a global solution? If catechists abusing children were a significant problem in the Church, surely the media would have alerted us? It might be commendable for the Church to try to educate everyone about the problem of sexual abuse, but is it prudent? Is it the best use of resources?

In his little book A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, Joseph Pieper distinguishes between true and false prudence: between the clean, impartial, and upright faculty of the spirit that transforms the knowledge of reality into the accomplishment of the good, and false prudence, or excessive cleverness, that is always in some sense "tactical," always anxiously concerned with its own survival.

Into which category did the workshop I had just attended fall? Was it an appropriate, constructive response to a problem, or was it an evasion, a defensive strategy, or a public-relations maneuver?

How did it happen, asks Snow, that a specific problem demanded such a global solution? The obvious answer is that the bishops -- when gathered in plenary session with their triathlete-rolfing confreres -- had no appetite for the kind of reforms that might turn out to be too well-targeted. Better to go with the carpet-bombing approach in the hope everyone hears the detonations but no miter gets knocked from an episcopal head. "The Church is taking care of itself," the Virtus hack insisted, and, from the perspective of suitably cynical clericalism, it's hard to disagree. As the Vice-President Elect of the USCCB said just the other day, when taxed with his knowledge of three incidents of homosexual impropriety on the part of a seminarian:

"It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained him."

That young priest was indeed ordained -- how's that for risk retention? -- and is currently doing prison time for molesting five boys (not that their gender was a factor).

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  • Posted by: - Nov. 18, 2007 1:32 PM ET USA

    at which point he brushed me aside, saying quickly, "Well, this isn't about the Church. The Church is taking care of itself." Not about the Church? This comment is key.. It describes the attitude of many in the Catholic Hierarchy towards the laity In their minds, in the strictest sense, we (the laity) are not "the Church" at least in areas of critical decision making or judgements... This is just another manifestation of the problem, they as controllers, and we as passive recipients

  • Posted by: - Nov. 17, 2007 3:53 PM ET USA

    Yes, Diogenes & Patricia Snow, one wonders how the bishops were able to push this Virtus diversion through nearly every diocese. Only a few courageous bishops rejected it, seeing it for what it is, as you point out so well. Again, the majority of bishops just don't get it. And if they do, they don't appear to care about doing what is right & good. Pray, yes, for the bishops to actually be Successors to the Apostles, willing to witness to the Truth, to give their lives for Jesus and His Church.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 9:52 PM ET USA

    The saddest truth in all of this is that it was in fact GROSSLY unfair TO ordain that priest. It was unfair to the Church, to the victim, and especially to that priest who is now behind bars. To put him knowingly into a position where he was very likely to fall into exceedingly grave sin is in FACT a sin of ommission at the very least. May God have mercy on us all! Pray Hard.... Pray REALLY HARD!

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 8:48 PM ET USA

    The points made regarding the Virtus seminar are precisely the reason some Bps, including mine, refuse to mandate that ill conceived program in their dioceses...at the expense of being deemed "not in compliance" (thank God!) with the directives of the Bishops' group. Teaching our children about these things is our responsibility as parents. The Bishops ought to focus not on potential victims but the perpetrators--errant priests (and probably some Bps too). As said before--they don't get it!

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 7:03 PM ET USA

    I saw the video as requirement to teach cathechism this week. Its the provervial ostrich with its head in the hole. Not only that but its a shameless effort to pass the bucket to the liaty. I also pointed out at the end that the problem lies with the clergy not the lay volunteers. I also asked if priests are being screened and was met with ignorance on the subject. What a fraud! Of the abusers in the video not one is a priest.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 6:14 PM ET USA

    I am a Virtus facilitator. We are not supposed to add anything - only use the detailed handbook and its points. I tell the truth about what got us into this mess, but do it carefully. I remember the seminary and how being uncarefully honest almost cost me ordination. The Virtus practical points actually are good for making a "safe environment". God gave us an intellect. I use mine and respect the intellect of those I teach who go home with something: watch everyone and pray! I unspin the spin.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 6:06 PM ET USA

    I was reminded while teaching my guys today that in the Gospel of Mark, the "ideal" disciple is Bar-Timaeus. He's blind, and knows it, and yet of all those around Jesus is the only one 1) to see that he is the Son of David 2) to proclaim it 3) and not be silenced by Jesus. He asks to be healed and is healed, and then follows Jesus (to the cross?). Would that we all have the spirit of the blind man who can see.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 5:03 PM ET USA

    "Grossly unfair" is a shocking statement to me. I wonder why anyone with any common sense would not be aware that ordaining a person who is homosexual is more than a risky business. Would giving an alcoholic a shot of whisky be a good idea? Would the Vice-President elect think it is unfair not to give sugar to a diabetic because he likes pastries? But ordaing such a person is "unfair" to the Church,its members,and the person being put in the occasion of sin. Prison is the place for the priest!

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 12:01 PM ET USA

    Attaboy, Uncle Di! Here's another elephant in the sacristy--one of the reasons for crummy response to the crisis is that there are some "queens" in the hierarchy too. Pray for the long life and good health of Pope Ben. We need a more of his appointments--he made a couple of early mistakes here, but since then very few. An 11% shift captures the citadel now--right now the problem is the staffers being overwhelmingly from the Bernardin era, and they still have too much power. Reinforcements needed

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 11:34 AM ET USA

    Oh, Uncle Di, I'm with Patricia Snow, incredibly depressed by all this. To the point of tears. I fall back on what a holy priest once explained to me: prayer may seem to be merely an escapist form of meditation, not really actively contributing to any kind of solution, but - in fact - it is sometimes the only productive thing to do - asking Him to please fix "this" and humbly accepting that we are not able to.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 10:32 AM ET USA

    There is always hope that our esteemed Vice-President Elect of the USCCB will do the manly, Christian, and courageous thing and offer his resignation in light of his failure to discern right from wrong, and the obvious dangers and scandal that the ordination of Fr. Daniel McCormack, now a guest of the State of Illinois, Department of Correction, caused to so many trusting and innocent boys. There is hope...but I won't bet the south forty on it.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 16, 2007 10:17 AM ET USA

    Mrs. Snow has some good observations about what she's seen re: this program. I hope she might investigate the "Touching Safety Programs" which are a component of the Bishop's strategy. She might conclude that not only are the Bishops' misguided in "retaining" the risk of homosexual clergy, but they may well be expanding the risk to be retained. btw, The Nat'l Catholic Risk Retention group has "has 67 Shareholders consisting of 66 archdioceses & dioceses (i.e. Bishops)."

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