Sunday, June 24, 2012

Word of the Day: ABUSE

I admit I had mixed feelings about the split verdict in the trial against Monsignor William Lynn, the Catholic priest on trial in Philadelphia for child sex abuse. Msgr. William Lynn case

He was convicted two days ago (June 22, 2012) on one of the two child endangerment charges against him and was found not guilty of conspiracy to protect another priest accused of abuse.  His position in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was that of Secretary from the early 1990's to the early 2000's.  His co-defendant, the Reverend James Brennan, was acquitted of his two charges: child endangerment and statutory rape of an altar boy.  (Four years ago, Brennan did admit he let the fourteen-year-old boy view pornography in his room and sleep in the same bed as he.)

As a side note, later that evening of the same day that the verdict was read in the Msgr. Lynn case, the verdict in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case was also read.  He was convicted on forty-five of the forty-eight counts against him.  Jerry Sandusky case

Both of these cases dealt with abuse.  Specifically, child abuse, yes, but also abuse of power/position/status.  Shameful, immoral, unethical cowards using their positions as shields.  Mr. Sandusky hiding behind his reputation as a football coach and the reputation of Penn State University; Msgr. Lynn hiding behind his reputation as a priest and the reputation of the Catholic Church.  That is abuse of the victims and abuse of power.  It is about the Msgr. Lynn case to which I want to address my comments today.

I am not a lawyer and I was not on the jury, thus I do not know all of the details of the evidence the prosecution presented -- so take this part with a grain of salt, if you will -- but the acquittal in the conspiracy seems odd to me.  Let me be clear up front, if the evidence presented did not paint a clear enough picture of conspiracy, then the acquittal is correct.  Msgr. Lynn's defense included that the then-Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, under whom Lynn served most of his time as Secretary, made the final decisions of what did or did not happen within the Archdiocese.  While that is likely true, a conspiracy requires at least two persons; you cannot have a conspiracy of one.  If Cardinal Bevilacqua wanted this covered up, which appeared to be the case, then Msgr. Lynn, as Secretary, would be involved with (if not in charge of) facilitating it.  That might not fit a motion picture-styled "let the towers crumble" conspiracy, but that is a conspiracy nonetheless.

This case hit a deep nerve with me because I was abused by a Catholic priest in my late teens.  It was the final straw that led to my leaving the Catholic Church.  My mother felt, and probably still feels, that it was the sole reason for my leaving.  The incident was at the end of a building up of theological discontent with the church for a number of years.

As with most who are abused by priests, and anyone, for that matter, in an authoritative position, I told no one about the incident.  I initially felt shock.  Did that really happen?  How could he have done that?  I felt no one would believe me if I did speak up -- my word against the word of a priest -- so I didn't.  Who's going to believe me?  As a little time passed, I felt that I could no longer be part of a church with which I disagreed theologically, but also in which someone in authority, someone I trusted, could do what he did.  

About a dozen or so years later, my mother called me up just as I was walking in the door of my apartment from work.  Her voice wasn't frantic, but clearly heightened.  She asked if I had bought a copy of our local newspaper that day; I said I hadn't.  (It was my pre-internet era.)  She then began to tell me about the priest who had molested me, Fr. Joseph H. McGarvey, being squealed on by a former youth who had also been molested by him.  As she relayed the story to me, during every time she paused for just a moment, I would reply, "It doesn't surprise me."  After about two or three times of my saying that, my mother paused and asked why I was saying that.  It was then that I told her for the first time what had happened to me all those years ago.  (No, I did not feel even my parents would believe me.)  My mother's shock turned to anger.  Read about Fr. Joseph H. McGarvey

The first time I'd ever heard about this kind of thing happening was back on an episode of 'The Phil Donahue Show' (just titled 'Donahue' then) that dealt with priests molesting young boys.  (Some females, but almost always boys.)  I had been researching my past -- I was adopted -- and tried to contact the priest whose name appeared on my baptismal certificate.  When I contacted the church to where he was supposedly assigned at that time, the church secretary said he was on leave.  She did offer to forward my letter to him if I sent a copy of it to her.  I did, and she did.  He did write back a couple of times, but it was hard for him to piece together many details after so many years had passed.  On 'Donahue', one of the audience members (who was either molested or a son was molested, I forget which) mentioned the priest to whom I had written as an abuser...even to the point of naming the county where he was, which was the same one I was living in!  I was stunned.

People put faith in the Church.  People put faith and trust in priests, as well as other clergy.  When that trust is broken, especially in the way it has been for decades (at least), it no longer falls under the getting-over-a-breakup umbrella.  The fullest extent of this is not merely that the victims just need to get over it and that's it, but rather it should have never happened in the first place.  And when it happens, there needs to be no cover-up involved.  If the Catholic Church is so worried about what's best for the Catholic Church, then bringing this out in the open right away and dealing with it head-on, instead of shuffling priests around (which merely gives them carte blanche to choose from a new group of youth), would be what's best for the church.

It is an abuse of power.  It is an abuse of the victims.  It is an abuse of the faithful and trusting churchgoers.  And it is, by extension, and abuse of faith and trust themselves.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Greetings, Dear Reader!  Welcome to The Keyboard Commentarian, my new blog page!  By means of brief introduction, no, I do not think I bring anything necessarily unique to the blogosphere, save for my own voice.  I just thought it would be cool to have a place to air my opinions, to praise or to vent, to get things off my chest, etc.  While not a daily blog, each new entry will be headlined with a Word of the Day or a Phrase of the Day.  (As you can see, today's entry is a Phrase of the Day, and that phrase is Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right.)

I recently became aware of a story out of Texas in which a teacher at a University City elementary school addressed the issue of bullying.  The school is Salinas Elementary School, located within the Judson Independent School District, near San Antonio.  Specifically, the teacher's action was in response to one student.  Apparently, the student, Aiden, was known to be a bully, but the school never bothered to notify his mother that there was ever any problem.  (In my book, if there's a bully, then there's a problem.)  The teacher took matters into her own hands.

Actually, she put the matter into Aiden's classmates' hands...

The teacher thought it was appropriate to have Aiden's classmates line up and hit him one at a time.  The school claims that seven or eight children had hit Aiden; his mother says it was more like all twenty-four classmates, some (or all) hitting him more than once...some being told to do so even though they did not want to.  Here's an article about this story:  Related story

The incident took place in May and Aiden's mother is now speaking out publicly, even filing charges with the local police.  It is easy to say that her wish to have that teacher's certificate revoked is harsh in these extremely difficult economic times.  (Believe me, I know, first hand, how hard these times are!)  However, to allow her to continue in the capacity of a teacher is giving her the opportunity to repeat this behavior, not to mention sending a subliminal message that what she did was appropriate.  

When one student stands up to another, provided the bullied student doesn't retaliate in a manner even more violent than the bully's actions, we call that comeuppance and we are glad to see the bullied student standing up for him/herself.  One need look no further than literature, movies, television, and even YouTube to see examples of such.  What that Salinas Elementary School teacher did was, in my opinion, orchestrated child abuse.

There's an even larger issue in play here, and maybe it's easier to see with all of the press bullying has received in that past several years.  The phrase that comes to mind is "Violence begets violence."  There's a mention of the idea in the Bible: "Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'" [Matthew 26:51-52; NRSV]  (This also gives rise to the adage: Whoever lives by the sword, dies by the sword.)  In 1958, speaking about the racial divide in this country, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness.  We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love."  

More to my point, the teacher is teaching the value of violence.  Not the idea of self-defense -- being violent in response to being violated can be valuable in saving your life -- which six-year-olds probably wouldn't grasp fully anyway, but the idea that the appropriate response to violence is...more violence.  It also teaches -- although this, too, might miss the mark with the children -- the idea of gang warfare...just overpower someone by sheer numbers, imbalanced numbers, and you are in the right.  How being outnumbered 24:1 is correct, fair, just, and warranted, quite frankly, escapes me.

Isn't that also one of the tenets of warfare?

Maybe Aiden is a bully; his mother says he's not.  We do not know if that's a mother simply sticking up for her child (oblivious to reality or not) or if Aiden is, indeed, not a bully.  If he is, then there are far better ways for this teacher (and, for that matter, his mother and the school in general) to have dealt with that.  As I said, I do not want to see anyone lose their job just for the sake of losing their job.  If, however, she is allowed to continue to teach, then what will be said if this happens again?  That's what needs to be weighed in this situation.
The teacher probably saw bullying as wrong.  If so, I could not agree more!  What the teacher did to deal with the issue was also wrong.  In this instance, as is usually the case, two wrongs don't make a right.