Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pope tries to atone for priest sex crimes

On his visit to America, Pope Benedict has met with victims of molestation by priests, attempting to heal wounds that had been inflicted repeatedly for years. While it's refreshing to see that the church has finally formally acknowledged the wrongdoing of its priests, the prescription of prayer and trying to keep pedophiles and homosexuals out of the priesthood doesn't feel like enough. First, homosexual does not equal pedophile. Second, prayer is not a proven method to prevent problems. Third, pedophiles are by necessity crafty and duplicitous, and are rarely filtered out through a preemptive strike. There's a reason so many pedophiles become teachers, clergymen, or marry into other families, because they know that in those positions, they will be trusted by children and parents. The Catholic Church has just about as much hope as the rest of the world of rooting out pedophiles in their community, and prayer and their "holy" status will not help.
The sex abuse scandal that the church claims has ruined their reputation could have been prevented. It all started in Boston back in the 1960s, with Father John Geoghan. The despicable way his case was handled singlehandedly opened the vault on how the church responds to scandal. When parents told church officials about Geoghan, instead of turning him over to the police, Bishop (later Cardinal) Bernard Law sent Geoghan to another parish after undergoing church-approved "counseling," where, of course, Geoghan victimized more children. This time, when parents voiced their outrage, Law sent the priest in for another round of counseling and moved him to another parish. This continued for 30 years, until the Boston Globe broke the story, and Geoghan and later Cardinal Law were forced out of the church. Still, with all the evidence, although Geoghan was eventually put in prison on a dubious charge which had apologists rallying to his side despite what he had done in the past, another priest interviewed for an American Justice episode about Geoghan said he preferred to remember Geoghan as a "saint" and martyr. Geoghan was not sent to prison and defrocked just because of his beliefs, he was a pedophile who used his status to prey on innocent children entrusted to his care. If Geoghan had gone through the proper justice channels the first time around, many children would have been spared, the Catholic Church would have been applauded for appropriately dealing with a criminal who had snaked into their ranks, lifelong Catholics wouldn't have had crises of faith and formed their own factions or abandoned the church altogether, and the church's attitude toward the sex crimes of priests would not be called into question as they are now. Of course, this is assuming the church and Geoghan didn't try to circumvent the rules, and there would be repercussions from something like this no matter how it was handled. One thing probably would have happened whenever Geoghan went to prison; he was murdered by an inmate who didn't want to be in the presence of a child molester.
As everyone in DC knows, the pope had a mass in Nationals Stadium today. That meant crowds of the faithful, curiosity seekers who just want to see an iconic presence without thinking about what it means, and men of the cloth clogged the metro, and probably will until the end of the day. I saw a monk, in a brown robe, getting off at the Takoma station. When do you ever see monks, except around old churches in Europe? As far as I know, there aren't any monasteries in the Takoma/Silver Spring area. And on my way to work, for two stops, I was surrounded by six priests. I was tempted to take out the copy of Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian, but, after thinking about it, I decided I didn't want to create an incident or, worse, cause a descent of priests desperate to "save" another immortal soul.