Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trying for perspective in the light of on-going scandal

Over on his blog, The Catholic Story, which is the companion website for his book, which he co-authored with Vince Tomkovicz, Ascend: The Catholic Faith for a New Generation, my brother deacon and dear friend, Eric Stoltz, shares a reminiscence of a pedophile priest who taught in his Catholic school in Southern California in the 1980s: one Richard Coughlin. Coughlin (who I refuse to refer to as "Father") was a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, one of those priests who Cardinal Law sent away to another diocese without bothering to inform the gaining the diocese about the crimes Coughlin committed against children in Boston. In Coughlin's case it was the Diocese of Orange in California.

So this doesn't remain abstract, along with Eric, I draw your attention to the memorial website for one of Coughlin's victims, Eric Zapala, who committed suicide in 2006, may he rest eternally in the peace that was stolen from him by Coughlin and his enablers.

UPDATED: I ask my readers to hold me accountable and I am always truly grateful when they do. To that end, a reader correctly pointed out that Murphy's case went to Rome prior to the time in 2001 when the CDF took over universal jurisdiction in all cases of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy (see the comments to this post). Nonetheless, it was the CDF, under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, that was involved in the Murphy case. Rachel Donadio's article in the New York Times, Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys, in addition to reporting the facts involved, provides links to many of the relevant documents. So, the point that Murphy's case went to Rome before all such cases were given over to the CDF is a narrow point and one that does not change the fact that it was an appeal made directly to then-Cardinal Ratzinger by Murphy himself that spared him canonical sanction. The gross misrepresentation the mainstream media is accused of amounts to no more than a little confusion on my part, but not confusing Murphy's case with other cases.

Indeed, the current controversy surrounding the Holy Father revolves around the cases of Lawrence Murphy, a priest who molested deaf boys in Wisconsin, and the more troubling case of Peter Hullerman a child rapist who committed gross crimes in the Diocese of Essen and later in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.  In all honesty the Murphy case, like that of master deceiver Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, does not bother me that much, given the circumstances, as by that time Murphy was in no position to victimize anybody else. This strikes me as a fairly prudent decision with a tinge of mercy for a dying man who had much to answer for at the divine judgment bar. I feel the same about Maciel's case.

I saw a lawyer for some of Murphy's victims on the News Hour last night. Of course, he now wants to sue to the Holy See for refusing to bring to a canonical trial a dying man who, by virtue of his health, was unable to engage in any kind of ministry or pose a further threat to anyone. This kind of charlatianism and money-grubbing on the part of attorneys, who circle whenever they smell blood in the water, and who disguise the wolf of greed in the fleece of the lamb of justice, along with sensationalistic reporting, needs to be acknowledged and eschewed.

However, the case of Hullerman continues to bother me. He was given permission by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who was archbishop of Munich and Freising at the time, to come to Munich from Essen to receive psychiatric care. It is of obvious significance that Hullerman admitted to child rape while in Essen. In fact, his diocese clearly spelled out in requesting him to come to Munich that he was dangerous, unlike Cardinal Law's setting up the dioceses to which he transferred troubled priests, most notably Coughlin and Shanley. Before Ratzinger left to go to Rome in 1981, Hullerman was already exercising pastoral ministry in his archdiocese. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger's vicar general notified him of this via a memo. Now, in fairness, it is unclear whether the then-archbishop ever read the memo. What is troubling, unlike Murphy, who at the point his case reached Rome, was no longer a threat to anyone, Hullerman went on to commit further crimes against children. He remained in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising after Ratzinger left for Rome. In 1986 Hullerman was tried and convicted in a German court of crimes against children. Even this was not enough to begin canonical proceedings against him. In fact, Hullerman remained in ministry until very recently.

I quite agree with Eric's well-stated position that the problem continues to be misdiagnosed. It is of course fallacious to mistake one or two instances for the whole, but Coughlin does not strike me as unusual. As the John Jay College on-going and comprehensive study into the scope and causes of these gross sins committed in the Church in the U.S. shows, the vast majority of abusers were pre-Vatican II priests. Most of them deeply crippled and malformed psychologically and lacking a healthy appreciation of human sexuality, which is to say they lacked what is called affective maturity, or the ability to recognize and maintain healthy boundaries in relationships. However, one of Coughlin's fellow Boston exiles, Paul Shanley, would've have been the polar opposite of Coughlin's trdaitionalism, and John Geoghan fell somewhere in between.

As the Catechism teaches: "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept [her/]his sexual identity" (par. 2333). Further, the Church teaches that "[c]hastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being" (par. 2337). Hence, affective maturity with regards to one's sexuality is necessary for Christian maturity. For many people, regardless of sexual orientation or proclivities, this is a struggle, an agon, a battle for which much grace is needed in order to prevail; grace coming in the form of contrition, forgiveness, and on-going conversion.

In addition to accepting one's own sexual identity, affective maturity first and foremost means acknowledging that being sexual is part and parcel of being human and a good part at that! According to his Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, a post synodal exhortation promulgated in 1992 after the 1990 ordinary general synod of bishops considering the formation of priests in the present day, Pope John Paul II stated: "[s]ince the charism of celibacy, even when it is genuine and has proved itself, leaves one's affections and instinctive impulses intact, candidates to the priesthood need an affective maturity which is prudent, able to renounce anything that is a threat to it, vigilant over both body and spirit, and capable of esteem and respect in interpersonal relationships between men and women" (par. 44).

So, in the end, it is not so much about sexual orientation, which spans a fairly broad range, but about knowing one's self, which, in addition to knowing your sexual identity and seeing it as a gift, also means knowing where you are broken and vulnerable, plus having the ability to be honest about this to your spiritual director, your confessor, and/or other confidantes, who care for you and who strengthen you in your resolve to be chaste.

I have to say that a sincerely offered mea culpa goes a long way towards healing. I have long been an admirer of Fr Cantalamessa, preacher of the Papal household, and continue to be, but I was stunned beyond belief by his Good Friday homily in which he likened the press reports on these matters to anti-Semitism. It is important to note that Fr. Cantalamessa has apologized for making this analogy. It is also necessary to point out that both as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as Pope that Benedict XVI/Ratzinger has done more than anybody at the highest levels of the Church to effectively eradicate this evil from our midst.

Finally, allow me to make an attempt at an analogy having to do with the Jewish people: as John Paul II called for with regards to our troubled relations with the Jewish people at the turn of the millennium, purification of memory begins with an honest recalling of what happened and true contrition for the sins committed, those of omission and comission. Circling the wagons and shooting at the media is neither an effective nor a particularly Christian response. The CL statement, Greater Than Sin, remains the best response to all of this, putting forward Who really matters and how He works in the world through the Church, like St. Paul, sometimes most profoundly through our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Christos Anesti


  1. Hey, Dcn. Scott. I think you've inadvertently mixed the Murphy case with the two from Arizona. Murphy's was remanded to the CDF for graviora delicta in 1996 for solicitation in the sacrament of penance. This would've been several years before the CDF had jurisdiction over all cases. However, the Murphy story is sure a prime example of how the MSM have grossly misrepresented the facts. See Jimmy Akin's coverage on the above case.

  2. Let's stop side-stepping the important points. You are correct Murphy's case reached Rome prior to all such cases being handed over to the CDF. I will make the necessary correction, but Murphy's case was indeed dealt with by the CDF. The New York Times story produces the relevant documentation.

    The MSM have not grossly misrepresented the facts. Of course, their coverage is not above correction, but it is some in the Church who are grossly misrepresenting the truth, preferring to play lawyer ball instead. As I stated, I think the Murphy case, give the circumstances, was handled just fine.

  3. No society, no law, no community, has yet found the answer for dealing with sexual offenses. The Catholic Church has reacted no better (or worse) than others who have tried to find the answer. At it's crux is the questions: what is justice? what is compassion? Unfortunately these questions and the greater issue of providing safety to the community, continue to get lost in the politics, personal agendas, and myths. I have been a victim and I have worked as a counselor for sex offenders. I don't claim to have the answer as to how a peoples should handle the issues. I do know that both victim and offender are human beings, deserving respect. These scandals dehumanize both.


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