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Blame Church Arrogance, Not Oversexed Society

Commentary

The Catholic clergy might be best served by reciting the wisdom of Pogo: 'We have met the enemy and he is us.'

April 30, 2002|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer writes a syndicated column.

While it might appear to be sweet revenge for the Inquisition, it is best to resist the impulse to burn some Catholic priests--and the cardinals who covered up their criminal activities--at the stake. Be thankful that we live in a secular, pluralistic society in which the heavy hand of the sanctimonious is restrained.

But it would be helpful if the church's leaders, from the pope on down, for once would assume accountability for their lengthy history of covering up scandals rather than shifting the blame to homosexuality or a too-permissive secular society.

The church's recent equation of homosexuality with pedophilia or any other sex crime is a slander against a subset of the national population that shows no greater inclination to sexually criminal behavior than the heterosexual population. Even within the cloistered Catholic priesthood there are plenty of charges that priests are molesting women, such as in the case of an Iowa priest accused of groping a female parishioner after an evening Mass. The woman sued the priest, the bishop and other church officials for concealing the priest's history of sexual abuse. This same priest was later accused of sexual advances toward a 13-year-old girl at a Catholic school, but the case was dropped when he resigned.

The larger problem is one of arrogance. The church presumes to act as the guardian of our morals by telling the rest of us--including non-Catholics--how to live, as if the attainment of a healthy sexuality is a simple matter of shunning the texts and images the church finds objectionable and has so often managed to have banned.

D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover," which was banned in this country until 1959, could not possibly have led priests to pedophilia since that is hardly the focus of this or most erotic works. Nor could the "sacrilegious" art at the Brooklyn Museum--so viciously attacked by Catholic leaders--in any way explain the degenerate behavior of priests who were not allowed to view the paintings.

To indulge the wrath of the censor is to deny that sex crimes such as pedophilia are the result of mental illness, a terrifying disorder that strikes Catholics as well as atheists, the married and the celibate, heterosexuals and gays. Indeed, the loudest moral censors often are hiding severely destructive compulsions.

A decade ago, it was Father Bruce Ritter, director of the massive Catholic Church-supported Covenant House for runaway children, whose alleged sexual abuse was covered up by the church but eventually exposed to the world.

Ritter, who had served on the Reagan administration's Commission on Pornography, was hailed as an "unsung hero" by President Reagan in his 1984 State of the Union address and in 1990 was visited by President George Bush.

Those ringing endorsements should give pause to those who now celebrate faith-based charities as the panacea for a troubled social order.

Months after meeting with Bush, Ritter stood accused of having had sex with a young male in a New Orleans hotel during a break in the pornography commission hearings. Two other men connected with Ritter's program also came forth to accuse him of having sex with them when they were minors, and an investigation by Covenant House's board of directors turned up extensive evidence of sexual misconduct. Ritter, who had run what the Los Angeles Times called "the largest child-care agency in the country," was forced to resign in disgrace from Covenant House.

As one searches for an explanation for why so many priests have been exposed as child molesters recently, there is no indication that pornography or other manifestations of a permissive secular world pushed any of those men of God into their insanity. Indeed, the more plausible explanation is that they led a life too cloistered from the ordinary sources of adult sexual stimulation and satisfaction.

As the stories of the Bible amply testify, sexual perversion was a feature of the human experience long before the advent of modern communications technology. Certainly the history of the Catholic Church is replete with tales of decadence on the part of priests long before the allures of the silver screen, cable TV and the Internet.

Rather than scapegoat gay men--or sex outside marriage, pornography, masturbation, short skirts, precocious children, Hollywood films and so on--the Roman Catholic Church might be best served by reciting the wisdom of Pogo at every vespers: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Pedophilia is a serious crime, irrevocably damaging young lives. The problem here is not that the church had sick priests but rather that their evil ways were permitted to fester by the indifference of corrupt cardinals and bishops who then and now blame everyone but themselves for the terrible harm that has been done.

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