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Divinity Abuse

The Catholic Church may be portrayed as ground zero for child abuse, but the facts show otherwise.



Child abuse is a horrendous, unforgiveable crime.

Revulsion at those who commit child abuse is universal, and those who cover up those abuses are equally guilty. The Roman Catholic Church is still reeling from incidences of child abuse that began in the 1950s and peaked in the 1970s at the hands of a small percentage of priests and the bishops who covered up those crimes. The 2002 revelations of abuse from that dark period started an avalanche of sensationalistic headlines that drove many faithful Catholics from the church and led to a heyday of malicious venom spewed by secular adversaries, Jack Chick tracts and shoddy journalists eager to trash a church whose maddeningly unfashionable theology and sweeping social influence seemed so out-of-step with their visions of today's culture.

While enormous strides have been made by the American Catholic church during the past 10 years in preventing similar incidents, recent revelations of priestly abuse overseas threaten the very universality of the church, with attempts by the non-Catholic and anti-Catholic media to implicate the Pope himself.

Make no mistake, there's no excuse for what happened, and in no way can these actions be justified. Whatever the cause, bishops at the time failed to identify the problem as a global one, treating each case as singular, shuffling the guilty from parish to parish, believing the pop psychologists who mistakenly assured them the perpetrators could be rehabilitated.

As long as there's been a Catholic Church there's been anti-Catholicism, and while the prejudice is not as lethal as what early Christians faced it can be just as insidious, as seen in the perspective of the abuse crisis. Newsweek religion writer Lisa Miller and televangelist Pat Robertson claim without a shred of documentation that insular groups of men and those living a celibate lifestyle are ultimately prone to sexual deviancy. Because celibate simply means unmarried, to unwittingly portray all unmarried people, especially single men, as prone to sexual abnormalities is a “Minority Report” style of pre-crime allegation to which a large percentage of those single people should take offense.

These critics and detractors — and many poorly catechized Catholics themselves — fail to distinguish the divinity of the church from the humanity of the church. The teachings of the church in no way condone or justify the horrific actions of an admitted small minority of priests, who acted outside their sworn duty to serve their Catholic communities in direct conflict with their vows, handed down from the original 12 apostles.

The ruthless condemnations by the media and critics are offset by the hypocrisy of their howls of empty outrage against the religious leaders' crimes. Critics rightfully decry the sexual mistreatment of children by a few Catholic priests yet they remain silent, even supportive, of filmmaker Roman Polanski, who fled the United States into European exile in 1978 after admitting to forcible sex with a 13-year-old girl. Polanski is revered as a gifted yet misread artist, defended and forgiven by his supporters of a crime that happened so long ago. They are silent in the sexualization of children by Hollywood, the media and even the makers of pre-teen Halloween costumes.

These detractors blithely ignore Planned Parenthood's protection of statutory rapists of pregnant underage girls who seek guidance at their clinics, instead holding up their anti-family practices as a business model to be admired and worthy of our federal tax dollars under the guise of choice. They are fully supportive of that organization's ultimate form of child abuse: abortion.

Poorly investigated journalistic hit pieces try to portray the Catholic Church hierarchy as ground zero of a child abuse epidemic, ignoring statistical evidence that shows the majority of child abuse in America takes place inside the home, with most abusers not unmarried priests but heterosexual, often married men, who are relatives, live-in boyfriends or stepfathers of their victims.

The media doesn't widely report that a documented 291,000 abuse cases occurred within the American public school system between 1991 and 2000, committed by teachers and employees, married and unmarried, men and women alike. According to Hofstra University scholar Charol Shakeshaft, “the physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests.”

How deep the National Education Association is willing to bury this report remains to be seen, but there's been little call for shuttering public schools and firing teachers as result of this study, and the anti-Catholic critics and supposedly objective journalists remain curiously oblivious of its staggering conclusions.

In the face of the crisis many detractors claim that women should be given more leadership roles, including priestly ordination; that their presence would mitigate the clerical culture that somehow in their opinion fosters child abuse. It is true that women should continue to have stronger leadership and governing roles in the church, and it should be noted that women's responsibilities have expanded dramatically since the pre-Vatican II days, with women filling critical roles as Catholic school teachers, religious education instructors, lectors, eucharistic ministers, altar servers and administrators — all previously male-dominated positions. And while the male-only priesthood remains a thorny sticking point to non-Catholics, it should be noted that male-only priestly ordination is a strict doctrine of the church, a dogma that has been with us since the 10th century that not even the Pope himself can change.

There's probably no safer place in the United States for children than in the Roman Catholic Church. Religious and lay people with even fleeting access to children and teenagers go through strict background screenings and attend classes on dealing with children before they make first contact.

Everyone — including Catholics — should rightly condemn the horrible human acts of three percent of their leaders from years past but embrace the 97 percent who perform in accordance with their holy orders. And every single one of us, Catholic and otherwise, should work tirelessly to stop child abuse and exploitation in all forms, in all areas of American society. S

Dale Brumfield, who is Catholic, is a payroll services broker and writer who lives in Doswell. Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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