Boston TravestyROD DREHER
In a broad sense the defrocked Geoghan is not on trial; Bernard Cardinal Law, the Archbishop of Boston, who admits he knew about Geoghan's pedophile past as far back as 1984 and reassigned him to parish work anyway, is. And so is the American hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, whose tepid response to the priestly pedophilia scandals has cost the Church untold tens of millions of dollars in legal settlements, to say nothing of the ruined lives and shattered faith of victims and their families.
"You can't believe how destructive this is. It's open season on the
Catholic Church here," says Phil Lawler, a Boston-area Catholic who edits Catholic
World Report. "The feminists and anyone who has a grievance against the Church
are coming out of the woodwork."
Lawler's not surprised, just depressed. This
is what occasions his despair: On January 14 in Boston, Father John Geoghan, the
most notorious accused pedophile priest in American history, went on trial for
the first of two criminal cases of alleged child rape and molestation. Over 90
civil lawsuits against Geoghan and the Archdiocese of Boston stemming from Geoghan's
three decades of alleged rape and abuse of over 130 Boston-area children, have
yet to come to trial.
In a broader sense, though, the defrocked Geoghan
is not on trial; Bernard Cardinal Law, the Archbishop of Boston, who admits he
knew about Geoghan's pedophile past as far back as 1984 and reassigned him to
parish work anyway, is. And so is the American hierarchy of the Roman Catholic
Church, whose tepid response to the priestly pedophilia scandals has cost the
Church untold tens of millions of dollars in legal settlements, to say nothing
of the ruined lives and shattered faith of victims and their families.
It is about to get much worse for Law. The cardinal's lawyers failed to have thousands
of pages of internal Church documents related to the Geoghan case sealed. By court
order, on January 25, all these documents were to be released to the public. Those
familiar with the Geoghan affair expect the confidential papers to address the
questions, "What did the Church know, and when did it know it?" — and the answers
to be utterly damning to the Boston hierarchy.
Faced with the coming
disclosure, and reeling from an extraordinary Boston Globe series detailing
the suffering of Geoghan's alleged victims and the Church's role in continuing
the priest's employment, Law gave a January 10 press conference in which he said
he was "profoundly sorry" for his "tragically incorrect" decision to send Geoghan
back into parish work, where he allegedly continued to molest boys. Law announced
a "zero tolerance" policy, which will automatically remove child-molesting priests
from the archdiocese, and which directs archdiocesan employees who suspect another
of sexual abuse to inform the police.
"If all of a sudden this is the
right thing to do, why didn't he do it before?" fumes Stephen Brady, head of the
lay group Roman Catholic Faithful.
"It's obvious to me that the only reason the bishops, and Law in particular, have
reached this point is because this is going to trial. We've heard from countless
individuals about this problem all over, and the story is always the same: [Bishops]
only act when you back them into a corner."
As Lawler points out, the
Boston scandal is bringing out every left-wing Catholic malcontent and dissenter,
who will attempt to associate their causes — women's ordination, abortion rights,
and the like — with the case against the Boston hierarchy. But Stephen Brady,
a pizza-parlor owner from the small-town Midwest, is not one of these cranks —
and that could spell trouble for the bishops.
According to its mission
statement, Roman Catholic Faithful is "dedicated to promoting orthodox Catholic
teaching and fighting heterodoxy and corruption within the Catholic hierarchy."
The Petersburg, Ill.-based group, which has been around since 1996, are best known
for having revealed in 1999 the existence of "St. Sebastian's Angels," a secret
website for gay priests. The site, which is no longer in existence, featured pornographic
images and profane, sexually explicit chat among homosexual priests.
One of the most avid posters was Reginald Cawcutt, the Archbishop of Cape Town,
South Africa, who, aside from detailing his sexual fantasies, wrote that he looked
forward to the deaths of Pope John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Cawcutt
suffered no sanctions for his participation in St. Sebastian's Angels. He remains
the head of the South African Bishop's Conference.
It's this kind of
inaction against corrupt bishops and priests by the Church bureaucracy that drives
faithful Catholics like Brady crazy. Commenting on the Geoghan scandal, Brady
commended the Boston Globe, not a paper known for its support of traditional
Catholics, for its reporting on the matter. He believes the media reports, the
civil lawsuits, and the criminal charges "aren't indictments of the Catholic Church.
They're indictments of the current [Catholic] leadership in this country."
"Our belief is that let the hierarchy be sued for everything they have if
that's what it takes to protect the children," says Brady. "When there's no more
millions of dollars to do as you please with, then you'll find the true bishops
in poverty, standing on the street corner preaching the true faith. If it takes
the total collapse of our financial system for each diocese for these guys to
get their heads screwed on straight, so be it."
You would normally expect
someone calling for the bankrupting of Catholic dioceses to be upbraided by the
vociferous Catholic League
for Religious and Civil Rights, the New York-based watchdog organization.
Not this time. Bill Donohue, the scrappy Catholic League chief who never backs
away from a battle, is leaving the Church to fight its own fight on this one.
"The Catholic League is not the Church's water boy," says Donohue. "We are
here to defend the Church from the kind of scurrilous attacks that have become
all too frequent in our society. But we will never defend the indefensible."
The Catholic laity are the first, but not the only, victims of the pedophile-priest
scandals. There are many good priests, men who would never harm a child, who suffer
terribly from loss of morale. They feel that others look upon them with suspicion.
They are terrified of leaving themselves open to a false accusation, which could
end their priesthood.
"Father D.," a young priest who serves in the
Southwest, tells NRO the abuse cases have affected relationships within his own
family. On a visit home a few years ago, his sister suggested that her six-year-old
son share the bed with Father D., "because he's a great cuddler." When the sister
saw the horrified expression on her priest brother's face, she understood that
her innocent suggestion could have been a career-killer for Father D. If the children
had told anybody that the boy had shared a bed with a priest, Father D. could
have been thrown out of the priesthood.
"I act around my nieces and nephews
the same way I act in the parish: I am never alone with a child, period, end of
story," he says. "False accusations are a reality, and these horrify me as well.
The only thing I can do is what I've done: Set up barriers and protections, and
pray for protection."
Father D. believes much progress has been made
towards preventing pedophiles from entering the priesthood, and in rooting out
those closet sex offenders already in place. However, Father D. says he and other
younger clergy are so outraged by what has been done to faithful members of the
laity and good priests by abusers and those who cover for them that they will
no longer play by the old rules.
"I'll have no qualms whatsoever going
straight to the police if I have solid reasons to believe a fellow priest has
abused a child," he says. "I'm at the point where telling the hierarchy will be
just a matter of courtesy, only after I have informed the proper secular authorities."
Father Joseph Wilson, a parish priest based in Queens, N.Y., who is known
for his fidelity to Catholic teaching, says that given the hierarchy's reaction
to these abuse cases as they've come to light, he can't blame people for concluding
that the Church doesn't take child rape seriously.
"People [in Boston]
read that, after a priest had repeatedly preyed on children in several assignments
over many years, with several instances of therapy, his archdiocese reassigned
him yet again because a therapist said that there was a 'low degree of probability'
that he would act out again. What on earth do we expect people to think about
that?" Fr. Wilson says.
The veteran priest says if a secular corporation
had received the kind of publicity the Church in Boston did in the Sunday Globe,
the Monday papers would have carried news of the CEO's resignation.
"This is how an institution restores shattered credibility, heals and moves on,"
says Fr. Wilson. "It is futile, and disrespectful towards and victim and the public,
for us to expect healing and restored credibility without personal accountability."
There is hardly a diocese in this country that hasn't been touched by clerical-sex
scandal. Father Joseph Fessio, the influential Jesuit who heads the conservative
Ignatius Press, blames the American bishops "for not only not taking action to
stop it, but for covering it up."
"The U.S. bishops are destroying their
own authority with the faithful by their unwillingness to address legitimate problems,
or by pretending they don't exist," says Fr. Fessio. "They're appeasing their
enemies and abandoning their friends, because I guess they figure that the loyal
Catholics will always remain Catholic."
RCF's Stephen Brady says the
days of conservative Catholics disapproving quietly in the face of clergy sex
scandals must end — for the good of the Church.
"The clergy hasn't stood
up to their bishops. The same thing with us laity. If faithful Catholics want
to do something, they need to be more militant," he says. "The abusive priest,
what he does is evil, but he could be mentally ill. The real evil are those who
enable these priests. Cardinal Law is the one who perpetrated this evil. Without
his authority, [Geoghan] could not have continued."
Rod Dreher. "Boston Travesty." National Review Online(February,
This article is reprinted with permission from National Review
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Rod Dreher is a senior writer with National Review Online.
Copyright © 2002 National Review Online