what they didn't know and when they didn't know it
The argument is now as familiar, as depressing—and, yes, as unhealthy-- as a bout with the flu. Cardinal Mahony said that back in the 1980s he put a predatory priest back to work (and withheld evidence of the priest’s crimes) because he didn’t know then what he knows now about the problem of sexual abuse. Honestly, your Uncle Di is tired of pointing out the absurdity of that argument. So let me turn to Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today, who makes the obvious point:
Evidently a cardinal -- a title given to so-called princes of the church, the men who can elect a pope and serve as his closest advisers in governance of the worldwide church -- in 1986 couldn't reach the moral conclusion that people who molest children can't be priests.
Meanwhile across the pond, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor introduced himself to a group of Irish priests with the highly original observation that he is a “wounded healer,” who made his own mistake, failing to rein in a molester. For that failure, he recalls, “I was attacked and vilified for nearly two years.” Do those sound like the words of a man who knows that he did something seriously wrong? The cardinal answered that question just a few sentences later, discussing the results of his meetings with abuse victims:
But I also began to understand in a new way, by talking with victims, the pain and grave damage done to them.
Yup! There’s that same argument lurking behind the cardinal’s language. He didn’t understand, back then, that sexual assault causes “pain and grave damage” to young people.
It’s disheartening to think that at this late date, Catholic prelates are still telling pathetic little fibs to excuse their negligence. But it’s even worse, in a way, to think that they’re telling the absolute truth. Because if they really didn’t know that sexual abuse of children is a very serious matter, it’s frightening to think that men incapable of such rudimentary moral judgments cast votes in a papal election.
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