I have lived in my bucolic Boston suburb for twenty years. Not much happens. The police report in the weekly newspaper features OUIs and shoplifting charges. People worry about zoning changes and the naming of schools. Everyone gets along.
It turns out that the two worst people who have lived in my town in recent memory were priests at the Catholic church just down the street from me.
One of them, who doesn’t merit a Wikipedia article, was the pastor of the church; he is currently serving a life sentence in prison for sexual abuse of minors.
The other priest, the infamous John Geoghan, was strangled and stomped to death in prison.
In both cases, there is strong evidence that the Archdiocese of Boston knew what was going on and hid the information from the police and potential victims. But no one in a position of power in the archdiocese was ever charged with a crime. Cardinal Bernard Law was pulled back to safety in Rome, where he remains influential. Reports suggest he was behind the recent crackdown on American nuns who were too interested in stuff like, you know, social justice and helping the poor.
But now we have this:
In the first conviction of a high-level Roman Catholic official in the nationwide priest sexual abuse scandal, a monsignor in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was found guilty Friday of child endangerment for covering up allegations of abuse of children.
Msgr. William J. Lynn, who supervised priests for the archdiocese, was accused of reassigning pedophile priests in an attempt to protect the church’s reputation and avoid lawsuits. A jury acquitted him, however, of conspiracy and another endangerment charge.
The Sandusky trial and conviction had a higher profile, but he’s just a guy, and Penn State is just a place. Lynn is a representative of one of the most powerful institutions in the world. His conviction matters.
After the Church sex abuse scandal exploded in the early 2000s, we took the kids to New York City and popped into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to take a look. Turns out Mass was being celebrated, and the priest was giving a homily about the scandal. And of course he blamed the media. WTF? Hollywood has been glamorizing pedophilia? But he’s not alone. Here is Pope Benedict’s insightful analysis of the problem:
But in his festive speech – which he traditionally uses to impart key messages to senior Vatican figures – he insisted the abuse scandal should be placed in a wider social context. “We cannot remain silent about the context of these times in which these events have come to light,” he said, citing child pornography, “that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society.”
Sexual tourism in the third world was “threatening an entire generation”, he added.
Returning to a theme he had discussed in the past, Benedict said the modern world’s moral relativism was at fault. “In the 1970s, paedophilia was seen as a natural thing for men and children,” he said, arguing that the Catholic church had the task of taking on and defeating relativism.
In what universe is child pornography considered “more and more normal by society”?
I enjoy disputations about theology and science, but let’s face it: religion isn’t going away anytime soon. But can’t we hope for a religion that is better than this? The depressing thing is that Bernard Law once represented that kind of religion:
Law was a civil rights activist. He was a member of the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council. For his civil rights activities and his strong positions on civil rights in the Mississippi Register, of which he was editor, he received death threats. The newspaper lost many subscribers for whom his civil rights stance was repugnant.
Charles Evers, activist and brother of Medger Evers (activist assassinated in 1963), praised Law and said he acted “not for the Negro, but for justice and what is right.”
If we had more priests like that, it would be harder to make the case for atheism.