The Economic/Moral Interface of Clergy Sex Abuse


Curmudgeon, my fellow KC blogger is on a mission. He targets the legal advocates of sex abuse victims, but he does suggest a Catholic alternative might exist to his position?

(W)hatever horrible things the shepherds have done, and whatever justice might be their due, there’s no justification for ravishing the flock because of it. That’s exactly what’s happening as contingent-fee personal injury lawyers line up, claiming to “pursue justice and healing” for their victims by pocketing assets held in trust by the bishops, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole church.

On the latest “rant” thread, he states more succinctly from his lengthy post, which I confess, I did not read from beginning to end (pausing in the middle when it seemed like more of his earlier posts on the topic):

(Since) you refuse to believe that the Enemy is using these litigious victims and their lawyers, as much as he’s using the perverts who violated them, in his attempt to destroy the Church, I’ll paraphrase my points:

(1) we must approach the problem and its solution with the reason God gave us, so that emotions don’t cause us to act rashly and facilitate a greater harm to society by crippling the Church and

(2) we should and we DO help those who are suffering, but when the Church herself, and not just the perps, are attac(k)ed, we must run to her defense.

As I’ve quoted and linked before, Catechism 2478 states:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

My KC friend names a particular lawyer here, but does not report his effort in attempting favorable interpretation of her employment, then attempting a loving correction of her methods, then attempting other suitable approaches. I’m very cautious about associating demonic motives to people, especially before other avenues of understanding have been exhausted.

I agree with his point one, that reason is an important tool to curb emotional responses that get us in trouble. Yet it seems that targeting lawyers is a fruitless tack, one more likely to draw attention away from the problem: victims, their abusers, and the enablers of abuse. We might suspect a victim’s ally has ulterior motives for seeking substantial damages which damage the Church in turn. But lacking evidence, the “good Christian” approach is to hold our tongue when tempted to go on the attack.

For the record, I’m a bit alarmed at the direction the bankruptcy strategy has turned out. Most dioceses have enough property assets outside of parishes so that it doesn’t seem likely lots of parishes will be affected. But still, small and unstable parishes might be asked to close, and the doubts might surface in some minds: is this because of the abuse settlements or is it because of the changing demographics in cities and rural areas? Again, we might think the bishop is doing wrong, but CCC 2478 comes into play again.

I remember when the Brown family won the civil suit against OJ and he had to cough up many personal possessions. Would it help to have bishops and priest-abusers turn in their personal liturgical items: chalices, vestments, etc.? After their main or vacation residences were sold off? Or their automobiles, libraries, or other possessions? That might give some a certain visceral satisfaction. And maybe it would be justice. But I might wonder about the “feeling” it would generate. Like Curmudgeon, I’m distrustful of aggressive pleasures.

Had bishops come clean with victims and their families these past several decades, I doubt there would be much argument if the Church approached these people with a sincere apology, with action taken to isolate the predator, and a question of what could be done to make amends. I doubt the acts of satisfaction would have mounted to anywhere near the sums being asked for in civil suits. The bishops misjudged the situation, and by civil law, someone must pay.

I don’t think sex abuse victims will find full solace in cash awards. Our society encourages people to play the victim card, and I think Curmudgeon is right to point it out, but I think he also falls into the trap of adopting the victim mentality on behalf of the Church and its donors.

The job of the Church and its pastors is to demonstrate reconciliation: offer it, facilitate it, model it, and mean it sincerely. Seems to me that greater riches are being squandered than mere bricks and mortar and land around a bankrupt diocese.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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