Lectures

SNAP National Conference - Jersey City, NJ  July 21 - 23, 2006
 
THE POWER OF POWERLESSNESS
by Richard Sipe
 

“And if the truth is demoralizing?”

“It is always less demoralizing than the most encouraging lie.”

Ignazio Silone - Vino e Pane

ABSTRACT

REPRESENTATIVES OF THE AMERICAN BISHOPS HAVE SAID THAT THE CRISIS OF CLERGY SEXUAL ABUSE IS OVER—“HISTORY”—AND AS PROOF THEY SAID, “ONLY 9 REPORTS OF ABUSE WERE REGISTERED IN THE PAST YEAR.” THAT IS DEMORALIZING BECAUSE IT IS A LIE. SNAP HAS ALWAYS AIMED TO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. THAT TRUTH MAY BE DEMORALIZING, BUT TRUTH ‘IS ALWAYS LESS DEMORALIZING THAN THE MOST ENCOURAGING LIE.’

WE ARE POWERLESS AGAINST THE CHURCH WITH ITS POWERFUL CONNECTIONS, RICHES, AND POLITICAL RESOURCES OF EVERY KIND. WE GAIN OUR POWER BY ACCEPTING OUR POWERLESSNESS AND TURNING TO A HIGHER POWER—TRUTH.

FIRST, I WILL TURN TO A GOSPEL INCIDENT FOR GUIDANCE. I ASK YOU TO LISTEN.

SECOND, IN SPITE OF THE PAIN I ASK YOU TO FACE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THE CLERGY AND THE CHURCH TO GARNER NEW INSIGHTS ABOUT WHAT GOT YOU TRAPPED BY A BISHOP OR PRIEST INTO BEING SEXUALLY ASSAULTED AND BETRAYED.

THIRD, I INVITE YOU TO EXPLORE WITH ME THE PATTERN THAT INSURES THAT CLERICAL ABUSE WILL BE PERPETUATED AND FACE THE QUESTION: WHAT ROLE CAN WE POWERLESS PEOPLE PLAY IN PROTECTING OTHERS FROM CLERICAL SEXUAL ABUSE?

YOU HAVE THE POWER TO ASK THE QUESTIONS THAT WILL EXPOSE THE MYTH AT THE VORTEX OF THE CHURCH’S CRISIS AND PERPETUATES ABUSE—THAT BISHOPS AND PRIESTS WHO DO NOT ABUSE MINORS PRACTICE CELIBACY.

INTRODUCTION

In 1988 I met three people who were concerned about children who were being sexually abused by Catholic priests: Jeanne Miller had gained some national notice when she wrote a book about how her teen-aged son was abused by their pastor. She used a pen name, and when she appeared on national TV she also disguised her real identity.

She organized a group that sponsored the first national meeting dedicated to the concerns of “victims” of clergy abuse (as they then identified themselves). It was held in Chicago during October 1992 (16-18). Three hundred people attended. Among the speakers were Tom Doyle, Jeff Anderson, Jason Berry, and Andrew Greeley.

With the inspiration of many survivors and advocates another national meeting to discuss clergy sexual abuse was organized in 1994. Ironically, as we were later to find out, it was held at a religious site that was then a hotbed of sexual abuse. (St. John’s, Collegeville, Minnesota) One bishop (Jerome Hanus) attended the meeting and wept openly when he listened to victims reporting their abuse to the group.

In the process of her efforts on behalf of survivors Jeanne sacrificed her parish community, who treated her as a traitor, and her marriage dissolved. Her lasting contribution was to give voice to the afflicted and a realization that they could declare themselves publicly in an organized way.

The two other people I met during the same time frame are well known to you, Barbara Blaine and Dave Clohessy. Their challenge to advocacy was purchased at an even higher price than a family member of a victim. They were the immediate victims of sexual betrayal by priests. They had to fight the battle of survival and have always been primarily dedicated to the healing process, one victim at a time. They have become a clear voice for thousands.

Their power has come from that personal and individual fight for truth telling. They have supported and inspired thousands of other victims to pool their experience, and declare the truth of clergy abuse and join the ranks of survivors. The fight for truth will help to prevent future abuse, but that fight, as you know, is not easy. There is always a price to pay. The forces against us are formidable. 

I invite you to join me in a struggle at an ever deeper level to understand the religious forces that oppose truth; and why they are putting up such daunting resistance. 

Part I

In all my 73 years I have never heard one sermon preached on a particular passage from scripture. Recently I have come to think that the neglect is purposeful. The words are not directed to the apostles or to the followers of Jesus. These are some of the few words addressed specifically to men holding religious and institutional power. You have all heard them. What meaning do they have for us here and now?

Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees,
Hypocrites.
You are just like white washed sepulchers.
On the outside you look beautiful,
But on the inside you are full of decay
(dead men’s bones)
And corruption.

(Matt 23:27)

ουαι υμιν γραμματεις και φαρισαιοι υποκριται οτι παρομοιαζετε ταφοις κεκονιαμενοις οιτινες εξωθεν μεν φαινονται ωραιοι εσωθεν δε γεμουσιν οστεων νεκρων και πασης ακαθαρσιας

None of the gospels say anything about the sexuality of Jesus; they do tell us that he was poor—not a place to lay his head. And that he had no worldly power—he willingly rendered to Cesar material power. He was powerless.

First off, I do not hear these words of Jesus to religious leaders as oppositional, a play for power, or as words of anger. (“Anger is the beginning of courage”—St. Augustine), but at the time Jesus was giving this instruction he was beyond anger. Neither anger nor defiance was his point. He was instructing his disciples in a lesson that they would need to know well—not to fear the powerful people; to trust the power of truth, even harsh, demoralizing truth spoken by the powerless. “Fear not to speak the truth.” (“Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known…be not afraid.” Matt 10: 26-27)

I do not even hear this passage as words of condemnation. I hear them as diagnostic words. It is like a physician telling a patient that he has cancer. Only in this case the cancer is moral and systemic. They are words of simple truth that were preceded by pointing out that the men in positions of religious power were imposing religious burdens that they were not carrying. They were not acting honestly. (The whole of chapter 10 of Matthew is applicable here.)

Christ knew what he would have to suffer for telling the truth. It is true now, and always has been, that those who speak truth to power will suffer for it. You can be sure of that.

Part II

Against that background and granting me those assumptions, I would like you to reflect for a moment on what you have already suffered at the hands of priests, bishops, their lawyers, and accomplices in the process of denial, delay, and deception in fighting the truth you have to tell.

They form a formidable army of opposition against the simple truth of the story you have to tell: some Catholic clergy are not practicing celibacy. Some priests and bishops are sexually abusing minors.

Because of your courage and efforts bishops have had to concede with great reluctance that truth, “some bishops and priests do sexually abuse minors” and the vulnerable. But they still have not learned to embrace the truth. They still persist in minimizing the problem. “It was only a few. No more than any other group.” That is a lie. (Myra L. Hidalgo in her forthcoming book Sexual Abuse & Catholicism: How Priest & Nuns Become Perpetrators puts that myth to rest.) “Abuse is all in the past. There is no current danger.” Bishops are propagating these lies.

Why?

Bishops, under tremendous public pressure, established two independent studies conducted by lay people: their self-report about the sexual abuse of minors conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and The Report of the National Review Board on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States (both published 2-27-04). These are important documents and everyone concerned with the abuse of children should read them.

(Also important are the grand jury investigation reports:

Investigation of the Diocese of Manchester New Hampshire. Report of the Department of Justice. March 3, 2002;

Suffolk County Supreme Court Grand Jury Report—The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center, New York. January 17, 2003;

Report on The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Office of the Attorney General Commonwealth of Massachusetts July 23, 2003;

The Report of the Grand Jury, Sexual Abuse of Minors by priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Criminal Trial Division. September 17, 2003;

Other grand juries have investigated the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Ohio; the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona. Etc.

Indictable evidence was registered by several investigations, but no bishop has yet been prosecuted.)

None of us can take consolation in either report or any of the grand jury reports. They all lay the blame for the crisis at the doorstep of the Bishops. Bishops discouraged victims from reporting abuse, conspired to conceal abuse, failed to report possible criminal offenses to appropriate authorities, neglected to track allegations against priests, and most important for our considerations today: Bishops failed in their duty to supervise and correct offending priests because many were compromised because of their own sexual activity. (Cf. NRB Report, P. 111)

(This among other documents is very significant as a beginning to determine the scope and importance of the truth you are telling. Over 5,000 priests and bishops have currently been named as abusers of minors. Of course this does not tell the whole story. The JJCCJ report states between 3 and 6 percent of Catholic clergy in a 50-year period have abused minors. “Overall average 5%”—P. 20.

But the full reality of the numbers is still unrefined. In 1983 11.4 percent of the priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles were sexual abusers. Seventy-five (75) percent of all the LA parishes have had at least one abusing priest on staff and 5 to 8 perpetrators served on the staff several parishes. (Thirty (30) percent of two graduating classes from St. John’s Seminary, Camarillo, California the major seminary for the LA Archdiocese, were subsequently named as abusers of minors. New Hampshire reported that 8.2 percent of its priests have abused minors; Boston recorded 7.6 percent of its priests as abusers—they are still counting and will reach 10 percent before the final tally is in.)

I have no evidence that bishops are even now listening to what documents are telling us about abuse. Bishops have not listened, and are not listening to those concerned with the problem of clerical sex abuse. The pattern Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk set is still operative. He was president of the National Conference of Bishops in 1992 and wrote that the Conference and the American Bishops knew everything that was presented in the 1985 Doyle-Mouton-Peterson Report. It held no information they did not know. (Cf. Doyle, Sipe & Wall Pp. 313-15)

In light of that bit of arrogance it is fascinating to read deposition after deposition of bishops who claim that they never knew, suspected, or heard of priests abusing minors. Are those lies?

I have reviewed the documents. You have tried for decades to get bishops to listen to your stories of violation and take remedial action. Your main concern was always validation about the horrible truth of assault you suffered and to insure that your abuser would not abuse others.

Church authorities still have not really heard you. They have learned to “deal” with you. They have increased their public relation efforts and skills. Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times said, “It doesn’t always mean they [bishops] shed more light. Sometimes it just means they’re more slick.” The PR firm working for the LA cardinal likewise is famous, clever, and expensive—the same firm that handled public relations for the tobacco industry and Enron. (A source that spoke on the condition of anonymity estimated that LA spends at least 3 million a year for its PR.) Why is the church spending all this time, money, and energy fighting the truth and resisting what you have to teach them? (Cf. Tom Carney, “Crisis leads to more media savvy. NCR 7-14-06)

What has happened is that others have listened. Other victims have found the courage to come forward because of your example. Together you have mobilized—rather inspired—the media to speak up in spite of their own reasons to fear adverse pressure from the church. You have reminded law enforcement of the child protective legislation in this country; you have enlisted the help of courageous lawyers in the cause of prevention.

I have reviewed hundreds of your stories. I have waded through several thousand depositions in abuse cases. I have some idea of the price you have to pay to tell your stories to bishops’ lawyers who insult, accuse, discredit, and demean you, re-abusing you through the process. (In all my years, I have never met a more compromised group of men and women than the lawyers working for bishops who like Pilot wash their hands and take no responsibility for the ordeal they put you through. They write off their pastoral duties as, “That’s what lawyers do.”

The recorded testimony of some of the bishops and cardinals patently avoids the truth, and utilizes forgetfulness that verges on perjury. No intelligent person can miss the truth behind the denials and protestations of innocence and ignorance. (Cf. the depositions of Cardinal Law made public and also dramatized in the play “Sin: A Cardinal Deposed.” also see actual footage of Cardinal Mahony’s 2004 deposition in Amy Berg’s 2006 prizewinning documentary “Deliver Us From Evil.”)   

If possible, I would like you to enter into all the pain that you have suffered. (Close your mind and ears and don’t try to do it if you can’t.) But many of you have been subjected to examinations that are harrowing. The answers church authorities and lawyers demand from you to “prove” your case often border on voyeurism.  “Where, how, when did he touch you? Was it on the skin? How did you feel? Did you enjoy it?” They demand details and specifics far beyond what any reasonable person needs to assess the validity of an allegation.

Why?

In fact, you are presumed to be the villains, as one bishop put it, “street wise” youth seducing na´ve priests. If they cannot establish that you are at fault, they blame “sexually saturated culture,” or negligent parents. Even in their apologies bishops fail to take responsibility for the causes of abuse. “Psychiatrists” misled them. “Lawyers” gave them bad advice. And they are sorry for “your suffering” and apologize generically, but not for their part in neglect, denials, deception, and delays experienced in coming to terms with the problem of clergy.

Why?

Church authority still vigorously opposes the truth you are telling. The bishops of this country are spending millions of dollars to fight the truth. One example: the Cardinal of Los Angeles employs a staff of very competent, clever, and well-paid lawyers. (One official source that spoke on condition of anonymity reported that LA’s legal expenses run to 15 million a year.) They have vigorously resisted every attempt by both the National Review Board and the civil authorities of LA to get to the bottom of sexual violations in California. The words of Governor Frank Keating that the church “operates like Cosa Nostra” addressed specifically to Cardinal Mahony are broadly applicable to the American bishops.

Why?

Part III

There are two related questions that emerge from exploring the history and continued resistance of bishops to dealing realistically and proactively about the problem of sexual abuse of minors.

Two questions have to do with you:

Why did you trust the priest who abused you? Why did your parents allow you to be with the priest who abused you?

When you really think about it, isn’t it because you never suspected that a priest would be sexually active? Isn’t it because it never crossed your parents’ minds that a priest would be sexual with you or with any minor, or with anyone for that matter? Wasn’t it because you were taught not even to think that a priest or a nun could be sexually active? Weren’t you taught that priests and nuns deserved the highest respect? they represented the highest good and God? You could trust them precisely because you were told they were celibate.

How did this belief come about? How has it persisted in the light of the reality known to all bishops all along that some priests do sexually abuse minors, (and in proportions that exceed other professional groups)? Why do bishops continue to spend your resources to deny that truth?

The church has not only propagated this myth of a practicing celibate (sexless) clergy, but is also fighting with all its might and money to reestablish that belief. They have now partially and however reluctantly, accepted as fact that some priests and bishops sexually abuse minors, the campaign goes on: “The problem is over. Don’t worry. You can trust us now. All the offending clerics are no longer active in the priesthood.”

Other questions (and its answers) have to do with the bishops:

Why have the bishops handled the abuse crisis as they have—with tolerance for abusers, secrecy, resistance, and continuing denial?  Why are bishops so eager to have everybody think the crisis is over and everyone can go back to business as usual?  What makes them or anyone else think that the systemic roots of clergy have been eradicated?

In part it is to squelch the question that holds the key to the crisis: What is the sexual life of bishops like?

The public relations officers of the USCCB and certainly William Donohue will attack anyone who asks that question. But asking that question is not “anti-Catholic, anti-priest, or anti-religion.” In fact this is the question that needs to be asked, because it is the vortex of the sexual storm engulfing the Catholic Church. (In the image so common today, that question is the elephant in the sanctuary.)

Fear not. Already you have given testimony to one undeniable truth: some bishops, priests, nuns, and brothers abuse minors. You have suffered for your witness. But what about the priests and bishops who have not abused minors? Are we now to presume that none of them, that no bishops are sexually active?

The foremost reason that clergy abuse of minors has come to prominence is because it is illegal. The threat of legal and financial reprisals, not moral or pastoral concerns have driven the action/reaction to the crisis of clergy abuse.

The sexual activity of most bishops is not illegal. It is not illegal to have an ongoing sexual liaison with a consenting adult woman or man. It is not illegal even to have casual sex with a consenting adult. It is not illegal to masturbate.

Have some bishops had—do some bishops have sexual lives?

You are the people who have earned the right to ask those questions. The church and its lawyers have conditioned you well; they have educated you by what they have put you through. Your experiences so horrifying have christened you as the legitimate emissaries to explore the causes of sexual abuse of minors at the deepest level.

Understanding and exposing the hidden sex lives of bishops are not idle or prurient quests.  (Many facts are known, but not yet public. That will be the next step in solving the crisis of abuse.) The sexual activities of cardinals and bishops have had severe repercussions on clergy sexual abuse of minors  in the United States (on your sexual abuse). How can men who are themselves sexually active in defiance their public profession and desired image investigate, monitor, supervise, and regulate the celibate and sexual practices of men under them?

Already several grand juries have come to the conclusion that “bishops are not capable” of dealing with the problem of sexual abuse of minors in their own dioceses.

I would like to address the words of Jesus to religious authority
 with the same tone and in the same spirit and meaning
 he had when he first uttered them to instruct his disciples
to trust truth and
not to fear power.
  
Cardinals and Bishops
You are hypocrites.
You are impressive in your red and purple robes.
You appear grand in your flowing vestments and gold pectorals.
But your actions have given away what you are like
On the inside.
You denied knowing about sexual abuse
When you really knew.
You have delayed justice to victims of abuse
Whenever and however you could.
You deceived us
Misusing public relations and legal maneuvers
However you could.
You have defied the Gospel message;
Cooperated in the destruction of souls;
Persisted in self-serving.
You have pretended to care.
You are corrupt.