Sep 18, 2012

The bewildering denseness of an archbishop

There's an insistent denseness to the American Catholic hierarchy that I don't understand. It's baffling.  

How is it that an archbishop can, one moment, be completely cavalier about how the church knowingly put children under the care and supervision of predators, and then, the next moment, earnestly insist on the church's concern for those who were abused?

Charles Chaput, the archbishop of Philadelphia, did exactly this in an interview last week, when he spoke with the National Catholic Reporter after a "tumultuous first year on the job."

Archbishop Charles Chaput
The published interview opens with a question about the Monsignor William Lynn, who was convicted of covering up sex abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese. Lynn is the first-ever member of the Catholic hierarchy convicted for the cover-up of abuse. He was sentenced for three to six years.

The National Catholic Reporter asked if Lynn got a fair trial.

Chaput responded:
"People will draw their own conclusions. Lawyers in this community who watched the trial, and other objective observers in the courtroom, have raised questions about the fairness of the trial and its outcome.  I do want to say this: I don’t understand the penalty that was imposed on Monsignor Lynn, and it seems wrong."
In a follow-up, Chaput was asked how the monsignor, who was recently denied bail, is doing. The archbishop said:
"I think he’s doing well considering the circumstances. To me, he seemed peaceful. He was able to articulate what he’s going through from the perspective of a person of faith. Of course, he feels that his sentence was not appropriate for what he did, so he’s suffering under that burden. I think it was very important for Monsignor to know that he has the love and spiritual support of his brother priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and he knows he has the love and support of his family and many friends. By the way, you haven’t asked, but I need to stress this: I also very much want to be available to support victims of sexual abuse by any of our clergy. I’m very aware of their suffering and my responsibility to help them. They should never be overlooked or made to feel ignored."
The deep weirdness and self-contraction and total lack of self-awareness exhibited here completely confounds. How can a man, in the space of a single paragraph, assert that the he and the Catholic Church support and sympathize with someone who protected child predators and also assert that he's "very aware" of the suffering of the abused?

If the archbishop is curious as to why the victims of sexual abuse might have been made to feel ignored, he need look no further than his own statement.

Chaput apparently does not believe cover-up sex abuse is a serious enough offense to merit three to six years in prison, and is not appalled by the idea that the monsignor's "sentence was not appropriate for what he did."

To be clear, "what he did" was essentially guard the door while priests abused children.

Monsignor William J. Lynn
What he did was place men like Father Edward V. Avery Father John P. Schmeer, Father David C. Sicolil, Father John H. Mulholland, Father Thomas J. Wisniewski, Father Robert L. Brennan, Father Nicholas V. Cudemo, and many, many others, in the proximity of children, even though he knew there were credible charges they had routinely abused children. What he did was serve his church and his archbishop -- one of Chaput's predecessors -- by consistently covering up for pedophile priests, making concerns about scandal, exposure, and legal liability a priority over everything else.

The question for Chaput is, what don't you understand?

Lynn's defense, according to the New York Times, was that he was following the orders of his superiors.

Which is true.

And which is apparently not a principle Chaput is interested in repudiating.

As explained by Richard Sipe, a sociologist and psychotherapist who has specialized in the mental health problems of Catholic priests and professionally testified as an expert witness in more than 50 lawsuits against the church, for the church hierarchy:
"The only virtue is obedience ... You are not beholden to charity or truth or anything else. Everything can be sacrificed to obedience."
Perhaps it's not surprising that the archbishop of Philadelphia would take this position. How he manages in his own mind to downplay and even dismiss the seriousness of covering up clerical abuse of children, though, and, at the same time, casually claim himself to be "very much" "available to support victims of sexual abuse by any of our clergy" -- it just bewilders and boggles.