See Where The Silence Leads

I have a positive regard for silence as a virtue of the liturgy and the spiritual life. Silence has a shadow outside of those disciplines.

My wife texted me from the public library the other day. Check the Kansas City Star online, she advised. The three-part series begins here and ended yesterday. I don’t think my wife knew Msgr Tom O’Brien, but I did. I was aware of the rough details of this situation:

(T)he diocese said it had received a complaint in September 1983 accusing O’Brien of sexual misconduct with a different teenage boy and that O’Brien denied any wrongdoing when confronted. O’Brien was removed from his assignment as pastor of Nativity of Mary parish the following month, the diocese said, and sent for psychological evaluation and treatment in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.

After treatment, O’Brien was allowed to serve as a part-time hospital chaplain until 2002, when then-Bishop Raymond J. Boland restricted him from presenting himself as a priest.

During those years as a hospital chaplain, he was in residence at the parish I served from 2002 until 2008. The pastor told me that single credible complaint was the only one against him. When the firestorm of 2002 hit, that old complaint resurfaced, somehow. Parents at the parish complained bitterly about Msgr O’Brien hearing the confessions of children and presiding at the occasional school Mass. My new boss conceded he had “lost all credibility” with parishioners for giving a friend a rectory to live in and a limited pastoral role in the parish.

It really is no wonder that my friends and former parishioners are fuming over Bishop Finn, questioning what other secrets are being kept. Msgr O’Brien quickly disappeared from the rectory in 2002. He would visit frequently, and I know he had friends in the parish. But his profile was almost zero by the start of that first school year.

Enough internet commentators are focusing on the horrors of sexual abuse and the institutional cover-up. David Gibson has a devastating post up at dotCommonweal about Bishop Finn. Readers here know of my own concerns about the Ratigan case. Until the big news on him broke earlier this year, my daughter still considered him her favorite priest. His picture was quickly removed from the family’s “favorite priest” section on the fridge. The young miss overheard my wife and I talking about Bishop Finn the other week. “Haven’t they fired him yet?” my daughter asked. Good question.

I wonder about her faith. Are the changes I see more the typical adolescent rebellion/boredom/testing boundaries? In the back of my mind, I do wonder if something happened. The young miss is usually talkative about a lot of things. Very little though about NCYC, which her mother had hoped would spark a new sense of faith.

My daughter came to Mass with me Sunday night this past weekend. I was playing, so we didn’t sit together. In fact, I didn’t see her at all till after liturgy. She mentioned that she went to the balcony and only came down for Communion. She went back after receiving the Eucharist. “I like it up there,” she reported. At least she’s in the door. For the moment.

One mother quoted in the Star, whose son committed suicide back in the 80’s, and who has recently met with another of the altar servers who was abused:

I needed support. I thought, ‘I’ll go to Harrisonville. It’ll be quiet time for me.’ But I could not make myself go in the parking lot of that church.

Do bishops have a clear sense of the antigospel they perpetrate on the world by their silence? And yet, victims have also remained silent. In my own house there is silence. Is there a time to push for people to speak out? I appreciate the bravery of victims who come forward. I know there are others who have never spoken out. They have gotten the message:
If you ever tell, you’ll be kicked out of the Catholic Church, your parents will disown you, and you’ll die and go to hell.

… or something similar.

If a victim tells, he or she should be reassured to no end they will never be kicked out. The only unforgivable sin, it seems, is ordaining a woman or attending such a liturgy. The only people who will be mad will be the hyperorthodox defenders of the faith. But no worries: there will be somebody to get mad at tomorrow, if not later tonight. And while it’s true everybody dies, bad shepherds are the ones who have the millstone around their necks.

Bishop Finn may be lawyered up on the diocesan dime, but does he realize the peril of his situation?

Meanwhile, the rest of us struggle to find meaning in the silence.

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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.
This entry was posted in Church News, Commentary, My Family. Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to See Where The Silence Leads

  1. FrMichael says:

    “Do bishops have a clear sense of the antigospel they perpetrate on the world by their silence?”

    My two cents: No.

    Throwing bishops, vicars general, and vicars for priests in jail for coverup and not following mandatory reporting laws: that will do the ticket.

    Of course, in Cali we now have a bit of an overreaction: priest is accused, bishop not only calls the cops (which is very good!) but can’t be bothered at the press conference to mouth the piety that in the US defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. I suppose he might know more than what is being reported in the press (allegation by a single teenage girl) but a simple statement that the diocese wants the wheels of justice and due process to win out would do wonders. Well, we can all pray that the truth prevail in these situations.

  2. Carla Kendall says:

    The most insightful think in your article is that you say about your daughter, “I wonder about her faith.”

    Kids aren’t stupid. They will be able to see proof on the Internet that the Catholic church raped thousands and thousand of children in the U.S alone (from the Catholic John Jay report of 2004), and they will know that thousands of others never came forward.

    They will know that the Catholic church moved known pedophiles. They will know that the Catholic church lied about these pedophiles. They will know that Finn had 4 lawyers to help him tell the truth, the whole truth, ….

    Your child and a generation like her will hear about the Catholic church and will turn away as soon as they leave your house. This is because the current Catholic bishops and priests are “false idols”, lying to save money, even though God specifically said not to lie and God never said to save money.

    God gave us the Internet to prove they were “false idols”, and the congregation can tolerate it by following the false idols, (which they are doing), and will lose the next generation of Catholics. By the way, your daughter won’t be honest with you about it – she learned how to be dishonest in the Catholic church.

  3. Todd says:

    “By the way, your daughter won’t be honest with you about it …”

    That might be true if the Church were her primary means of formation as a Christian and as a person. But it wasn’t. Fortunately, in her home both adults and children have an experience of making mistakes, of apologizing and having offenses forgiven, and of talking about things, generally. If my daughter chooses to be thoughtful and consider her words carefully–which has been her history–I can remain patient.

    I’ve been on the advocacy side of victims exclusively over the lying and money-saving side, and if it takes awhile for some people to perceive that, even my daughter, I’m not going anywhere and I’m not changing the message.

    That said, Carla, your input should give bishops plenty to consider.

    • Carla Kendall says:

      Bishops don’t care, the Catholic church doesn’t care, and most of the congregation doesn’t care.

      It’s tough to make a teenager maintain all of the sacrifices that the Catholic church wants them to make, and when they see what the Catholic church has done, how they’ve lied, and how they continue to treat victims, no teenager with a heart, a soul, and Internet access (to the truth) will stay with them. The “false idols” have destroyed the Catholic church, brilliantly, with the passive help of the congregation.

      • Todd says:

        Carla, I see you’ve picked up on some of Mr O’Malley’s themes here, as well as his tone.

        If you were to say that most of the human race doesn’t care, you would be correct. Sex abuse and cover-up is something most people–even survivors–would prefer to avoid. Singling out “most of the congregation” strikes me as somewhat self-serving. Maintaining one’s anger about injustice, even real injustice, involves inventing new enemies once the sheen rubs off from the old ones.

        It’s also important to distinguish between various aspects the Church presents to its members, to society, and before God. I’m unwilling to cede that the bishops and/or other high-profile sinners equal the Church.

        I also think that many people, even teens, can distinguish between the social sin of organizations and the positives they take from the larger settings of their peers, mentors, ministers, and the like.

        I appreciate your own strong feelings on this topic. However, those feelings do not give you license to preach without others providing an appropriate caveat to what you say.

        That said, your reasonable comments are always welcome here. I’m sure you won’t mind if I and others provide needed corrections where appropriate.

  4. E-bro says:

    This post is excellent food for thought for us Catholic parents. My wife and I read your blog regularly (she posts, rarely, under “SAF”) , and believe it- we know what it is to wonder how deeply the roots of faith may be ‘planted’ in our children. (Ours are 10, 9 and 2.) There’s a great deal more to say re/ Carla’s posts, and your points also, but it’s late evening here. Right now, just know that your daughter is remembered with our own in prayers tonight. Sorry if that sounds “pious”… not a tone I like…but this post bothered me as a parent with the same concerns. You and your wife aren’t alone, for what little that may be worth.

  5. Molly Roach says:

    Ezekiel 34 says it all for me. The shepherds are not God and their failures are noted. With regard to silence, I don’t think that what we have now is silence. There are many journalistic accounts of what has happened, there are grand jury reports, there are depositions of hierarchs, there are long threads on many blogs and there is talk across countless kitchen tables. I think what we have now is minimization on the part of hierarchs and dread on the part of many who are at a complete loss in the face of such corruption. So this may be loss and grief.

  6. Marilyn says:

    Not much to be said when every priest in KC I’ve talked laments that SNAP and the Star are simply out to persecute the local church. This was even the centerpoint of the Cathedral rector’s homily Sunday evening…lest I offend, I’m trying to keep quiet. I never would have imagined such hypocrisy and immorality would occur and be condoned in the heirarchy…which it is condoned every time it is spoken of and not condemned.

    That we have a plan in place and safeguards is strictly theory until it actually safeguards anyone but the diocesan leadership. Wish I could assume that no news is good news.

  7. Karen says:

    Todd, read the series again with a bit of healthy skepticism and ask yourself this question, based on your professional experience:

    Is there enough time in the minutes before Mass, after the servers have done all they need to do to prepare and have gathered in the sacristy for Mass to begin for the priest to come in, pin them against the wall, and force all four to perform sex acts on him and on each other? On “several occasions”?

    We also have the Myth of the All-Powerful Priest. So cowed were they by his threats of eternal damnation, so brainwashed were they do do everything any priest told them to do immediately, that they of course did what Msgr. O’Brien told them to do and performed sex acts, probably for the first time, without either hesitation and without making any sound that would alert a church full of people right outside, rather than bolting through a door secured only by a wooden doorstop.

    • Todd says:

      Three things:

      By the standards of thirty years ago, this priest already had what my boss conceded was “one credible incident” that was enough to remove him from this parish, send him to treatment for nine months, and render him in the judgment of the bishop unfit for parish ministry.

      I’m not familiar with the set-up at Nativity. An hour for a daily Mass without music is twice as long as is usually needed. Four people can easily set up for Mass in ten minutes. And obedient children aren’t going to run out on a guy who can kick them out of school.

      A sexual act can take a minute or less.

      It can happen.

      • Kevin Kelly says:

        The sexual act described in the lawsuit is oral sex. Can a grown man force four boys to peform oral sex on him and each other in “a minute or less.” Apparently for the first times in all their lives? Then they all go out and celebrate Mass, and nobody is aware of the trauma — that would apparently later directly lead one to suicide — a thing about it?

        Remeber, Todd, two of the altar boys are still alive. One remembers in vivid detail, one was driven to a “troubled life” by it until he was killed in a car crash. One committed suicide over it. The only other one has “no memory” of it. Before you pull the repressed memory card, remember these boys are 11 and 12 years old. Psychologists will tell you that the problem with people suffering such a traumatic experience would be the opposite of repressed memory — it’s that they CAN’T forget it. We are to believe that three of them couldn’t repress the memory, only the one single living witness who could corroborate the story.

        Remember also that Thomas reviewed every other lawsuit filed against O’Brien. She couldn’t find a single case of O’Brien rounding up altar boys before Mass like this. And yet we are told this happened several times to these four boys.

        So what we have is one guy’s word, the plaintiff in a lawsuit, against the defendant’s, with absolutely nothing to corroborate it. And this is worth a three-day series in the Kansas City Star?

        Whatever else O’Brien is guilty of, the Kansas City Star failed miserably to prove he did this. Except to some people willing to believe any story as long as it bashes the Catholic Church.

        P.S. Before you say the Teemans believe him, so it must be true, those people have suffered enough — and they have no direct knowledge of this incident and didn’t even suspect it happened for 30 years.

      • Patrick OMalley says:

        If those kids are telling the truth, I’d hate to be Kevin Kelly using his argument before God.

        If God were smart, and Kevin were wrong, what if God made Kevin one of those victims for his entire afterlife? That would make God pretty smart and pretty just.

  8. Todd says:

    “Before you say ….”

    I plan to say or write nothing of the sort. I’m passing on the story as an illustration of salt in the open wound of a reeling diocese where I used to live and work. Plus I know some of the people involved.

    The apparent connection of a suicide and a family’s alienation to a priest who is a conceded molester (on one occasion) is wrenching and probably worth an in-depth story.

    As for how long it takes a molester to perform oral sex on four boys, unfortunately, my imagination tells me about four minutes.

    You know, the Star may well be fishing on this piece. Too bad it has the whiff of credibility. Fr O’Brien was moved out of my old parish pretty darn quick in 2002.

  9. Kevin Kelly says:

    Are you certain that whiff you are smelling is credibility?

    • Todd says:

      Unfortunately, yes.

      I also remember 2002, but I don’t think that involved any new offenses of Fr O’Brien, just the concession from Bishop Boland that the old arrangement was somehow deemed inadequate.

      That doesn’t strike me as particularly fair. But then again, perhaps it touched on the inadequacy of the original arrangement.

  10. Kevin Kelly says:

    Do you also remember what happened in 2002 in Dallas that might have prompted Bishop Boland to remove him from all ministry as a priest?

  11. Patrick OMalley says:

    Here’s what matters, and your Catholic leaders haven’t talked about it.

    God knows the truth, and He knows what you should have done to find the truth and protect His children. He knows what you should have done to help the victims, and he knows if you should have fought them and doubted them.

    So do you.

    God made it simple, and your eternity depends on what you do.

    Now, did you do everything you could possibly do to find out the truth, or did you just trust priests and bishops in the Catholic church, after you KNOW they raped tens of thousands of children worldwide and lied about it.

    If you don’t think its worth fighting for the children, and the victims are all lying, then maybe God lets you into heaven. That’s certainly the easiest path.

    If those children are truly victims, and you didn’t think they were worth fighting for, or you followed the false idols that told you to ignore them and protect church money, maybe God lets you get raped for eternity. Maybe after you get raped in the afterlife, nobody cares about you, and you get raped again. Maybe that is your hell.

    That is certainly hell on earth for the thousands of known victims of Catholic child rape, and if you didn’t think that was a big deal here on earth, wouldn’t God be just and right and smart to let you deal with being a victim for eternity?

    Don’t even think about arguing with me. Prepare your argument for God. Prepare the rest of your life for that argument.

    • Todd says:

      “Don’t even think about arguing with me.”

      This was one of the first things that caught my eye in your response. It looks like the same kind of hubris we see in the bishops who cover up abuse. It communicates that one person has the answers, the right answers. And by disputing or even by discussing those answers, the objector is placing herself or himself outside of the communion of God.

      * * *

      While I appreciate Mr O’Malley’s passion on this issue, my regard mostly ends there. Note how the anger has spread not only to the perpetrators of injustice but also to those who don’t align perfectly with his own personal views. This is the seed of mob mentality. Don’t be fooled by it. Don’t allow yourself to color your life according to your passions.

      • Patrick OMalley says:

        I love that the first thing that caught your eye was the last paragraph. You wouldn’t listen to the truth no matter how much God puts it in your face. The anit-christ is to easy to follow. They rape children, lie about it, and fight the victims so they can keep their riches, and they show you that a persistent sin is still forgiven in a 5 minute confession.

      • Todd says:

        Actually, Patrick, my sense is that you love to argue. I suspect that you get a more of a charge from conflict, and if you can manufacture it on a site that is unstintingly critical of bishops, it’s some sort of a feather in your cap.

        But you’re still welcome to continue to post here. You can send Ms Kendall, too. I just wish you would make a better case for supporting survivors. They deserve our best effort, not the continuing rain of anger and self-purpose.

      • Patrick OMalley says:

        Love to argue? Why an’t Catholics see truth right in front of their face?

        I hate child rape. Let’s try to make it that clear. I hate child rape, I hate child rapists, I hate people who hide it, and I hate people who make excuses for people that hide it. All of them are satanic, all to different degrees.

        My sense is that you think it’s ok if they wear the right outfits and live in the right buildings.

      • Todd says:

        Patrick, may I ask how you get the idea that I do any of this? Why are you so hateful toward a fellow critic of bishops? Do you have any idea how you come off with your posts here? I’m going to continue to give you the rope, my friend. I just wish you were a better spokesman for the cause instead of getting caught up in the anger. Is a victim really helped by this? Is an abuse survivor really edified? This whole line of thinking has made it more about you than about the cause.

      • And I wish you weren’t so passive about the whole thing. We’re talking about organized coverup of child rape, and even radical Catholics are acting like someone cheated at a bingo game.

        Regardkess, it all boils down to how comfortable you’ll be before God about what you did or didn’t do.

      • Todd says:

        Ah! So you admit it’s more about the way I don’t censor my commentariat and less about my own personal stance on the issue. Good to have that clarified.

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  13. Marilyn says:

    Kevin …every newspaper has it’s bias and…well, the Star is out to sell newspapers. The Key has its obvious agenda but could actually do a better job of engaging the diocese in solidarity. For instance, what relevance is a banjo playing clergyman when parish priests are struggling with filling server slots these days, and families disengaging? How credible is the ministerial contribution of the BAA when we aren’t even informed that our Bishop is attending a pre-trial hearing this Thursday, December 15, no longer hear the term ‘zero-tolerance’ and play the blame-game with local media?

    It was one middle-aged woman without an alb altar serving at the Cathedral last Sunday evening and that just said it all. It seems that this generation of K.C. clergy has unintentionally done the most to effectively ensure reliance on women at the altar. When it comes to my teenage boys…best to be safe than sorry. I’d sooner serve than subject my kids to questionable authority figures!

  14. Kevin Kelly says:

    Marilyn, couldn’t there be other reasons besides the sexual abuse scandal that makes it difficult to fill server slots on a particular Sunday evening Mass at a parish without a school?

    As for “banjo-playing clergyman” the priest to whom you obviously refer is a friend and, in my biased opinion, one of the best priests and homilists you will find anywhere.

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