New Sex Abuse Scandals Plague Catholic Institutions -- Will the Church Ever Change?
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A second article about the Philadelphia case on Friday examined whether this spreading scandal proved that the work many American ecclesiastical authorities had put in establishing their own review protocols was in vain, if such internal reviews simply couldn’t pick up on the abuse. Supposedly, a new “zero tolerance” era had been launched after the Boston Diocese debacle at the beginning of this decade. But the fact that these review boards have no legal subpoena power and can only use documents and evidence that is voluntarily handed to them of course, is a huge part of the problem.
On Friday another case came to a close. This time it was a less recent one--a Jesuit order in the Northwest settled a longstanding case for $166 million against a group of nearly 500 abuse victims, mostly from the disadvantaged and vulnerable group of Alaskan and American natives, many of whom were orphans. The abuse took place decades ago. It has been strongly implied by victim’s advocate groups, the Times reported, that the remoteness of some of the parishes and schools and the socially isolated position of the students and families there meant that “problem priests” were shipped to the area to be out of people’s way, with little regard to the potential victims awaiting them there.
Attorney Blaine Tamaki gave a sharp statement to reporters, pointing out that the financial payout and the number of victims makes this a record-setting settlement--hardly a memorable milestone for the church.
"The $166.1 million is the largest settlement by a religious order in the history of the world. Over 450 Native American children ... were sexually abused repeatedly, from rape to sodomy, for decades throughout the Northwest,” Tamaki told the press, according to CNN. “Instead of teaching these children how to read and write, Jesuit priests were teaching them distrust and shame. Instead of teaching the Native American children the love of God, these Jesuit pedophile priests were molesting these young children.”
In the last decade, many have speculated that the Catholic attitude toward sex (only for procreation, not for pleasure), sin and repentance and the celibacy requirement for clergy are a source of the problem. But it’s impossible to generalize or to pinpoint the cause. Instead what can be said is that in order for abuses of power to end, conceptions and distribution of power needs to change--particularly in a system which is hierarchical and authority-based and the ultimate authority is theoretically derived from a divine source. It's no coincidence that many of the abuse victims were poor or alone or unable in some way to fight back, and that their abusers had a vast network of resources behind them.
This heartfelt search for answers from Maureen Martinez, a Catholic woman in Philadelphia goes over all the doctrinal possibilities, the issue of celibacy, of mentally ill men hoping to find shelter in the church as priests, and settles at last on the core problem of power:
“And this is the heart of the issue with the church: Offenders feel they are invincible. And their higher-ups who covered up the crimes also feel they are invincible. In fact, one could argue that the bishops and cardinals who knowingly shuffled sex offenders from one parish to another are even more at fault. They are not mentally ill.”
Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.