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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

out of mind

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jun 21, 2004

The Dallas Morning News has begun a multi-part investigative series reporting on an international slime-line by which priests subject to prosecution for abusing children are quietly packed off to countries where they are beyond the reach of the law and where their history is by and large unknown.

The slime-line appears to be tactical rather than strategic in scope. It's not a co-ordinated effort at subterfuge cooked up around a table in a closed-door meeting of hierarchs, but a series of independent ad hoc decisions by which particular superiors dealt with a particular problem by shifting it overseas. Unwilling to grapple with the painful exercise of the virtue of justice, the provincial dials a travel agent and -- bingo! the problem's off in Samoa giving candy to tort-lawyer-less children. A familiar tale of complacency, deceit, and petty moral cowardice.

Of course it doesn't end there. An aphorism reads, almost all our faults are more pardonable than the methods to which we resort to hide them. And so in this case the lies and evasions tendered in disavowal of the slime-line are more iniquitous (and more heartbreaking to the faithful) than the transfer itself. We can expect denial, denial, and more denial, followed by grudging concession, followed by ambiguous apology, followed by a wholly implausible announcement that what was broken has been definitively fixed. At each stage, ridicule, acrimony, and incredulity will increase in volume. At each stage, the Church's enemies will gloat.

Since most of the priests airmailed into immunity are religious rather than diocesan, bishops play a relatively marginal role, and it's plain that the clerical culture behind the Crisis is broader than that of seminary and chancery. Those who seized on the John Jay Study's statistic that religious clergy were less likely than diocesans to offend may find their explanations somewhat premature. In any case, it's hard to find any difference in the occasion or motive of the cover-ups.

Apart from the staggering nonchalance of ecclesiastics toward grave sin by their fellows, what is most baffling is their lack of the imaginative dimension of empathy, their inability to visualize the sufferings of past victims and their families, and to visualize the people among whom the abuser will be posted as flesh-and-blood human beings at risk of pain, degradation, despair. Time and again they speak as if the abuser-priest were the chief victim of his own misconduct, and as if mention of victims were a pedantry. When the father of one of Gilbert Gauthe's victims asked the Lafayette vicar why the diocese didn't acknowledge his crimes, the vicar replied, "Think of what it would do to [Gauthe's] mother!"

The principals in the slime-line saga likewise appear incapable of speaking of the victims in terms other than detached annoyance. Had the children falsely accused innocent priests, one might expect white hot fury of indignation on the part of their colleagues; conversely, were they convinced the accusation were true, one might expect measured disgust for the perpetrator and deep sorrow for the harm to the victims. Instead we get tetchiness, which corresponds to no intelligible situation. The capacity to respond imaginatively to injustice seems lacking, in the way that some men are born without a kidney. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

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