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.


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