Preconciliar Bishops Knew

… but did they take the threat seriously?

NCR reveals prelates and a pope heard from the founder of a religious order whose apostolate was working with “problem priests.”

It’s one instance, but given Father Fitzgerald’s extensive work with many priests from many dioceses, it shows the Church had a serious problem before the Pill, Vatican II, the Summer of Love, the explosion of homosexuality, and other convenient scapegoats.

It’s all about addiction to power, and the addicts seeking out and victimizing the weak. Sex is just a tool to achieve that end. Other addicts in the Church and the culture  at large have other tools of choice.

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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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30 Responses to Preconciliar Bishops Knew

  1. Cardinal Roger Mahony : “We have said repeatedly that … our understanding of this problem and the way it’s dealt with today evolved, and that in those years ago, decades ago, people didn’t realize how serious this was, and so, rather than pulling people out of ministry directly and fully, they were moved.” Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    “The floor of hell is covered with the skulls of bishops”

  2. “it shows the Church had a serious problem before the Pill, . . the Summer of Love, the explosion of homosexuality, and other convenient scapegoats.”

    They’re not scapegoats. Obviously there were problems before with those corruptions listed being as much effects of prior corruption as they are causes of further corruption.

    ______________

    “It’s all about addiction to power, and the addicts seeking out and victimizing the weak. Sex is just a tool to achieve that end”

    Nonsense. That is total crap. Perverts don’t lust for power, they lust to satiate their perverted appetites.

  3. Fran says:

    As someone who has experienced and been largely healed (thanks be to God) from sexual abuse, not from a priest, I agree wholeheartedly about the power and addiction points.

    Any simple study of sexual crimes knows that power is at the source of them. Any simple study of addiction will reveal that power and control are major issues.

    I think that there is something else at work over the long history of this topic in the church. It has to do with an Augustinian worldview that does little to integrate the body in a healthy way.

    For the record, my abuser was a married heterosexual male, which is one of the many reasons I object to making any of this about homosexual celibates. That ties back to what the convenient scapegoats are.

    All of which brings us back in some way to the current idea of just who is welcome at the table and who gets pushed away. The complete lack of moral authority about this has a great deal to do with we are are today.

  4. Todd says:

    ltg, you’ll get enough traction attacking Cardinal Mahony on this site. Like Law and George, a talented guy with an unfortunate predilection for being an autocrat. But he’s not the only offender in the hierarchy, not by a long shot.

    Your view of sexual addiction is pretty innocent, my friend. One reason why the bishops have stumbled so is viewing it as a moral failing akin to ordinary sinful sexual behavior they hear in the box. That serial sexual sins are so difficult to reform is not necessarily due to some moral defect in the sinner, but that the sexual drive has been hooked in to the human proclivity to addiction.

    The only difference between you and the bishops, my friend, is that the bishops saw the clergy as brothers in their club, and wishfully thought they could be cured of perversion.

    Once we see these forms of sexual addiction for what they are, we can also begin to understand why and how the bishops became codependent in the whole dysfunctional system.

    Passing it off as simple “perversion” is akin to the bishops’ own naive approach.

  5. Todd writes : “serial sexual sins are so difficult to reform is not necessarily due to some moral defect in the sinner, but that the sexual drive has been hooked in to the human proclivity to addiction.”

    Its not a moral defect, it’s a material defect. The addictive capacity of each vice is relative to the material soul of each person. The material cause, i.e. the proclivity, to a particular sin causes the habit to be that much more difficult to break. As St. Paul writes, there are two laws within us, the one we have by nature, and the one we have by fallen nature. That second law binds all men with some men being more likely to become habituated one vice versus another with the sexual vices standing out simply because they are simply more visible.

    It’s also why it’s so sad when people attempt to excuse objectively sexual sins as natural because they don’t understand that just because there’s a material cause doesn’t make the act a good act. All sinful acts have a material cause as well as a willed cause in so far as the objectively sinful act is also willed.

    ____________________

    Todd writes : “Passing it off as simple “perversion” is akin to the bishops’ own naive approach.”

    It is a perversion, and saying so is not naive, but to name it for what it is. All All organizations have a proclivity to give the benefit of the doubt to their own, and protect their own. This proclivity can blind those within the organization to the errors of its members.

    The Bishops treated, and do treat, the Church as if it was some kind of service organization of priests and administrators serving some other group of people. They don’t and didn’t see the people in the pews as their own, and so protected their own at the expense of those who are in the pews.

    There are few things that really tick me off, but putting known sexual perverts among the faithful is one them. As Christ said of each one of those wolves in sheep’s clothing, which also includes the Bishops for their failure to guard their flock, “it would be better for him to have a millstone tied about his neck” And if it was one of my children who was molested, I’d gladly kick it off the dock into the bottomless depths.

    But none of this changes the fact that it’s not about ‘power’ but giving into the sexual appetites which can appear to be about power because sexual perversions tend to become sadistic as they become more vicious.

    ______________

  6. Let me add, that the sadistic element is an outward expression of self hatred for the committing of the sin. Which in turn causes the sinner to become even more sadistic. The sinner takes out his self hatred on the person he is using.

  7. Todd says:

    The flaw in your argument, ltg, is here:

    “It’s also why it’s so sad when people attempt to excuse objectively sexual sins as natural because they don’t understand that just because there’s a material cause doesn’t make the act a good act.”

    Because I didn’t call it “sexual” you assume I’ve excused the behavior.

    It is a perversion in the same sense that alcoholism is. The thing is, if we’re talking only sexual misbehavior, why then, are so many bishops guilty of covering up what would seem, at the surface, a simple case of sexual sin?

    To diagnose this problem accurately, one must consider the addictive element, including the behaviors of grooming (victims, superiors, parishioners all), the high rates of recidivism, and the active irrational denial of many involved.

    It is easy to pass it all off as sexual perversion and take credit for ourselves being free of sexual sin. It is more difficult to see how otherwise decent and moral people have been coopted by the perps and aspects of a system that exaggerates the secrecy that addicts so crave.

  8. Todd writes : “Because I didn’t call it “sexual” you assume I’ve excused the behavior.”

    No, I thought, and still think, you think it is an appetite for power using sex as an instrumental cause. Where as I think it’s an effect of vice mistaken for a different vice.
    _________________

    Todd writes : “To diagnose this problem accurately, one must consider the addictive element, including the behaviors of grooming (victims, superiors, parishioners all), the high rates of recidivism, and the active irrational denial of many involved.”

    There are two different error here. The error of the sinner who is committing the sexual sin. And the sin of those who allow the sinner to prey upon his victims.

    The first can be understood according to the nature vice and virtue as habits.

    The second has to do with as you say “brothers in the club”. With the more erudite or intellectual the club the more likely for condescension to the rabble beneath them where they see those beneath them as other than themselves.

    Or it could be that they are NOT “otherwise decent and moral people have been coopted by the perps and aspects of a system that exaggerates the secrecy that addicts so crave”, but are part of the problem because they also have the same sexual proclivities. Which I suspect not an uncommon reason. Which makes it a different sort of ‘club’. A club of perverts.

  9. Todd says:

    “No, I thought, and still think, you think it is an appetite for power using sex as an instrumental cause.”

    You misunderstand, ltg. Addiction is much, much more than an appetite. It is a pathological rewiring of human behavior that damages everyone connected to it.

    As for your so-called “club of perverts,” it has yet to be shown that the papacy and episcopacy as a whole are in deep sin over this. We underestimate the ability of the addict’s grooming methods at our own risk.

    So, yes, certainly the behaviors of addicts and codependents are two different sins, but they are interrelated. And recognizing the abuse and cover-up scandal as a unified whole avoids our tendency to absolve ourselves of our own addictive and enabling behaviors with addicts.

    You’re going to need a lot more evidence before you can credibly accuse bishops of sexual addiction. I’d recommend reading on sex addictions and codependency if my own brief comments have made no impact. Patrick Carnes had good material in the 90’s, and if others care to comment with any other suggestions, they are welcome to do so.

  10. Todd writes : “You misunderstand, ltg. Addiction is much, much more than an appetite. It is a pathological rewiring”

    It can’t be much more than an appetite because its the appetites which are effected by fallen nature.

    Which has its cause in either the appetites of the material soul or in the Will, which is also an appetite.

    A pathological rewiring so to speak either has its cause in the material soul per se, or has its cause in the Will choosing the lower appetite’s good over the Will’s proper good. Or its cause is a combination of the two.

    _________________

    Todd writes : “You’re going to need a lot more evidence before you can credibly accuse bishops of sexual addiction.”

    It’s a supposition which may never be known with certitude, but it makes much more sense than a supposition of addiction to power.

  11. Clarification: pathological rewiring is the ‘its’ above where I write : Which has its cause in either the appetites of the material soul or in the Will, which is also an appetite.

  12. Todd says:

    “… but it makes much more sense than a supposition of addiction to power.”

    Not at all. Power can be interpreted as an “appetite,” and given the way human beings embrace politics, is very likely.

    Bishops who sheltered predator clergy because they themselves were guilty of the same sin: not only can’t you prove they were themselves guilty, but nobody has yet to make the connection.

    An addictive system is the better model for describing the cover-up scandal. Offending priests were able to “con” their bishops in a similar way to their victims.

    Why is addiction much more serious than a simple compulsive appetite? Because of the interpersonal dynamics that suck innocent bystanders into the behavior.

    Let’s be clear here that labelling the sex abuse crisis as an addiction and the hierarchy’s cover-up as codependent in no way absolves anyone from culpability. One key to recovery is the admission of committing personal wrongs, confessing these, and making amends where appropriate. The 12-Step approach is eminently sacramental. Plus, it ferrets out any false attempts to put oneself beyond the immorality. A bishop claiming, “I didn’t know,” is just denial. Those eager to pin labels like “perverts” on others may well find themselves confronting addictions to food, booze, emotions, or other things later on.

  13. Todd writes : “Why is addiction much more serious than a simple compulsive appetite? Because of the interpersonal dynamics that suck innocent bystanders into the behavior.”

    Of course it’s more serious. Because an addiction is a habit where as a compulsive appetite is a material inclination.

    The first is objectively sinful where as the second is not.

    Addiction as you use it is an act of the Will, i.e. a vice. Where as a compulsive appetite has its source in the material soul.
    _________________

    Todd writes : “Those eager to pin labels like “perverts” on others may well find themselves confronting addictions to food, booze, emotions, or other things later on.”

    Not all objectively sinful acts are equal.

    For instance, fornication is natural because its according to the proper order of the lower appetite but disordered because its contrary to the proper ordering of the Will. Where as child molestation is unnatural because of age, and homosexual child molestation is unnatural because of age and gender.

    Some sins cry out to heaven for vengeance. And others do not.

    1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are “sins that cry to heaven”: the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143

  14. Liam says:

    Just waitin’ for Catholic bishops and capitalists to cry to heaven for justice to people who contracted for certain benefits, provided their labor under such contracts, and then have the contractual benefits nullified after the fact. I guess I shouldn’t hold my breath.

  15. Todd writes : “Power can be interpreted as an “appetite,” and given the way human beings embrace politics, is very likely.”

    Let me approach it this way. What power is gained for the Bishop by covering up? None, but some could be lost. So that could be a reason for the Bishop covering up.

    But what power can be gained for the Bishop from sending predator among the faithful? How does sending predators among the faithful increase the power of a Bishop? Especially when the same act can also cause a loss of power.

    Knowingly sending predator among the faithful could only increase a Bishop’s power if the Bishop desires to be in good standing among like minded predators.

  16. Lim writes : “Just waitin’ for . . . capitalists to cry to heaven for justice”

    Is that like crying out to heaven for self annihilation or crying out to be turned into a pillar of salt?

  17. Todd says:

    ltg, I have a feeling we’re just talking past each other at this point. Bishops, in their cover-up roles, are codependents. The power addiction is tied up with the sexual abuse of clergy. That many abusing clergy preyed on the weak more so than a homosexual or heterosexual preference would seem to indicate there’s more than sexual gratification alone happening here.

    My last comment is your heavy use of traditional terminology. I’m not going to argue against it per se, but add the observation that it tends to gum up a discussion, thus giving addicts and abusers an “out” from having to confront as addiction.

    As long as the “pervert” goes to confession and focuses on single acts, he (or she) is able to deny the other sinful behaviors that accompany the compulsion: the lying, the grooming, the deceit, the self-justification, the emotional damage. Keep focused on the genitals, as it were, and a lot of other sins will be conveniently avoided. Take the last word, my friend.

  18. Liam says:

    Covering up is a dramatic assertion of power in the face of vulnerability. It takes a measure of audacity. Its increase in power depends on the usual fact that other people in the power structure are aware of the problem being covered up, and the cover up is a demonstration to them that control is being asserted and confirmed.

    If I were to suggest a ground zero for this dynamic in the American church, it would be the reign of William Cardinal O’Connell of Boston, the dysfunction of whose chancery culture became replicated like a virus in subsequent generations around the US.

  19. Liam says:

    Oh, and the repeated attempts to shoehorn addiction into Aristotelian terminology is interesting but not persuasive.

    I am not one to diss Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Boneventure et al. In fact, I’ve done my bit to demonstrate to many people how the things that they’ve learned and think are entirely new can be readily traced back to earlier centuries.

    That said, Bill W knew addicts better and described their contexts better. His empirical approach has done more to remedy addiction in a few generations than centuries of scholastic musings.

  20. “My last comment is your heavy use of
    Todd writes : “The power addiction is tied up with the sexual abuse of clergy. That many abusing clergy preyed on the weak more so than a homosexual or heterosexual preference would seem to indicate there’s more than sexual gratification alone happening here.”

    We’re making progress, at least sex is not now considered only an instrumental cause. And perhaps we are talking past each other because I misunderstand what you mean by Power. Please define power.

    ____________________

    Todd writes : “My last comment is your heavy use of traditional terminology. I’m not going to argue against it per se, but add the observation that it tends to gum up a discussion”

    Or it can give it clarity because the terms are known, and the understanding of the soul is known. Modern language has a tendency to be materialist in nature where as sin is not a material act.

  21. Liam writes : “Oh, and the repeated attempts to shoehorn addiction into Aristotelian terminology is interesting but not persuasive.”

    The intent is precision. Blogs have a tendency to be far to imprecise as it is without the further problem of terms being misunderstood.

    Explaining the eucharist in modern language is at best a disaster. The same is true when attempting to understand the nature of sin.

  22. Liam says:

    But while the attempt might be precision, it distorts in the process, so it’s not more precise in substance, only form.

  23. Deacon Eric says:

    “love the girls” (???) cannot get over the sexual aspect of the clerical abuse crisis. Perhaps it is because that for so long we held out sexual sins as basically the only serious sins an average person could commit, and we let lying, theft, greed abuse, negligence and many other sins go by us merely because they were socially acceptable. We forgot there are seven deadly sins, not one. Sexual abuse of children probably falls more under the cardinal sin of pride than lust.

    But I feel Todd is somewhat off-base in comparing the abuse of children to addiction. It is something more than that. Yes, it is about power and dominance over another human being. But as we experience it in the clergy, it is the sad result of a poor twisted soul who has spent tormented years trying to ignore his sexuality. Mortally wounded in his sexual development at an early age due to the ridiculous seminary attitudes toward sexuality, his sexual development was frozen at an early age, and this combined with a certain messiah complex (The priest is all powerful, accountable to no one and the supreme master of his domain) causes him to act out in multiple dreadful ways, only one of which is the rape of children.

    Last night there was an excellent “American Experience” documentary on PBS about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. There was a guy with a real messiah complex, and he acted out on it by demanding sex from many of his followers, men and women alike. Do you think that was about lust? No, it was about pride and domination, and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Jones was a heterosexual, yet his drive for power allowed him to have sex with either gender, because it was not about the sex.

    If we insist on looking at the clerical abuse crisis as merely isolated instances of priests with sexual problems, we will never see the end of it. We must return to the idea of the priesthood as a life of serving rather than being served, and rid ourselves of this ridiculous insistence on mandatory celibacy, which destroys lives. I’d rather have a well-adjusted married priest with a sincere dedication to serving others than a maladjusted celibate who feels he can do whatever he wants without answering to anyone. And the latter is what we get in far too many cases.

    There is a cancer in the priesthood and no one wants to admit it. It is manifested in many ways; the clerical abuse crisis is only one. We see it in the debate over women priests where it becomes an issue of who has the power, when power should not be an issue. And we will see it in other crises, financial and otherwise, if we continue to believe that the paralyzing horror of the past years was only about sex.

  24. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hello Deacon Eric,

    Well-written post, sir. I disagree, however, with your blanket solution to these types of crises being an end to the celibate priesthood. As you point out very reasonably yourself, much of the issue is not simply about sexual perversion among the priesthood, but about power. I’m not certain I see the connection between a priest being married and not being tempted by the power aspects of his position.

    Also, wonderful point about the priest being a servant to his flock, and therefore should not see his role as one of wielding power over them primarily, but as serving them. Much of the feminist critique of the male priesthood, I believe, is based on a twisted understanding of the role of the priest as being one of power in the Church.

  25. Liam says:

    Celibacy as such is not the problem. As a practical matter, however, the presence of spouses and families of a priest would tend to make it harder for problems to go undetected as long as in an all-celibate culture. Yes, husbands and fathers are more than capable of adultery and sexual abuse, even incest, and wives and children can get vested in a culture of denial. But, all else being equal, wives and children tend to notice things more and be more willing vocalize them than similarly situated colleagues.

  26. Liam says:

    Also, the understanding of the role of priest as one of power is not twisted, merely incomplete. It would defy centuries of experience to deny that priests (and even more so, prelates) have been given and have exercised power in ways that most laity could at best only dream of.

  27. Deacon Eric says:

    Hi Kevin,

    Please note that I proposed ending mandatory celibacy, not celibacy. Celibacy will always be with us, and many would still choose that. However to require it of people who do not have a vocation to it is unjust to that person and ultimately detrimental to the Christian community.

  28. Deacon Eric says:

    Lam, I would agree with you to a point. But I think there is a difference between power and authority. I think perhaps you meant that priests have had authority throughout our history, which I have no quibbles with.

  29. Liam says:

    No, I meant power, not just authority. They have used their position not merely in service, but also for self-aggrandizement in material and non-material ways. Authority that is not accountable to them over whom it is exercised has a particular vulnerability in this regard (though of course even accountable authority is not free from that temptation).

  30. Jimmy Mac says:

    “One of the attributes of power is that it gives those who have it the ability to define reality and the power to make others believe their definition.”

    William Sloan Coffin

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