Secrets of the Fathers

Revolutionary Worker #1150, May 12, 2002, posted at

"He called it `special duties.' This was for the good kids. When he pulled us out he would separate us. One would go to the bathroom, another would go to the rectory, another would go to the confession room. I remember standing in the bathroom having my pants pulled down and he'd stare at me. The bathroom light would be off. You could see his silhouette in the doorway. He had his arms spread out. It was like he was trying to play God. And I remember he would walk over to me really slowly...I remember him telling me that if I told anybody nobody would believe me, and he was right. Everyone thought he was a saint."

--Paul Busa, describing years of abuse
by Father Paul R. Shanley

The curtains are being slowly pulled back. Week after week, since the beginning of the year, hundreds of stories have tumbled out--in the angry voices of the victims, from the hidden file folders of Church records.

Many of those abused by Catholic priests have stepped forward to demand justice. And the world at large, including the furious and horrified community of Catholic believers, are getting a glimpse of a secret world--this corrupt boys' club of powerful men.

These are stories of awful intimacy--where men with great authority zero in on children and teenagers. Altar boys--numb, confused, frightened, threatened--led into dark rooms by men who pretend to be the doorway of salvation. Seminary students hoping to become holy, taken by their mentors, instructed to strip and touch--often told that these are rituals designed to tame their "sinful" thoughts and doubts.

The Catholic Church hierarchy has fought politically to impose a harsh, oppressive, reactionary morality--especially on women and the youth. It has condemned divorce, birth control, masturbation, same sex intimacy, and control by women over their own bodies and reproduction. It has claimed both infallibility and holiness--saying its dogmas and demands represent the will of an infinite god.

And now it stands with its pants down, for all to see, exposed as a manipulative fraternity of hypocrites, predators, money-counters and hard-hearted machine politicians.

Let Us Prey

This wave of exposure started in January--when the Boston Globe documented that Father Geoghan had been carefully moved from parish to parish over many years, while he relentlessly abused nearly 200 boys. In response, many more victims came forward to describe how they had been molested by priests.

Among these sexual predators who came to light was Father Paul R. Shanley--who is accused of molesting at least 26 boys during the 30 years he was a priest in the Boston Archdiocese. All during that time, charges repeatedly surfaced against Shanley--and Shanley was shifted from assignment to assignment, and allowed continuing access to young boys.

Church files on Shanley contain a 1977 speech in which he insisted that that no sexual act in and of itself causes damage to children, not even incest or bestiality. In 1979, while serving as a priest, he attended the founding convention of an organization advocating the legalization of "man-boy love."

Shortly afterward, he was shifted from a "street ministry"--where he preyed on young runaways--to a suburban parish in Newton, Massachusetts, where he was soon molesting boys as young as six years old. Several of them now allege he molested them weekly over many years.

In 1984 as this was going on, Cardinal Bernard Law gave Shanley a promotion and personally praised him: "I am confident that you will have a zealous and fruitful ministry in your new appointment."

After dozens of allegations were given to the church officials, Shanley was sent to San Diego in 1990, again with praise and recommendations from the Boston hierarchy.

Mysteries of the Church

Church files reveal that in the 1970s, when Shanley's early victims raised charges against him, Shanley simply threatened to go public with what he knew about sexual practices within the Church. It has now become clearer what was being protected. Over the last two months, men have stepped forward in Boston to say that when they were young altar boys and teenagers, they were molested by priests in the mansion of late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros.

Garry M. Garland was a star athlete at a local Catholic high school during these years. Garland says that a priest got him drunk, took him to Cardinal Medeiros' residence, raped him and posed him for pornographic pictures. Garland says that Cardinal Medeiros was also involved in groping him sexually.

Cardinal Medeiros died in 1983. The current cardinal, Bernard Law, claims he did not know about Shanley nor did he protect child molesters. He claims Shanley was able to rape boys for 30 years because the Boston church supposedly did not pay close enough attention to recordkeeping. It is a lie.

One Boston man, Thomas Blanchette, has come forward and described how he personally went up to Bernard Law in 1989, to tell him that his priest, Father Joseph Birmingham, had molested him and his four brothers hundreds of times. According to the Boston Globe,Blanchette said: "He [Cardinal Law] laid his hands on my head for two or three minutes. And then he said this: `I bind you by the power of the confessional never to speak about this to anyone else.' " Blanchette added: "And that just burned me big time.... I didn't ask him to hear my confession. I went there to inform him." Cardinal Law's spokeswoman says Law acknowledges "a vague recollection of such an encounter."

In the last 10 years, the archdiocese of Boston paid off child molestation claims against at least 70 priests. Typically the settlements included a clause forbidding the victims or their families from publicly discussing their experiences.

Damage Controland Counter-Attack

"What kind of church is this? It's soulless."

--Michael Garabedian,
lawyer for 86 victims of Father Geoghan

Week after week, this scandal has spread. Each revelation encouraged more people to step forward.

At least 177 priests have been removed from their duties in 28 states since the scandal broke in January. Facing a storm of outrage, some bishops in the U.S. have admitted that they have files on over 260 priests who have been accused of molestation.

Cardinal Law is under intense fire to resign. So is New York's powerful arch-conservative Cardinal Egan who protected at least three accused child molesters when he headed the church in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell was forced to resign from his Palm Beach post, when it was revealed that he engaged in molesting students while serving as director of their seminary. O'Connell became bishop after his predecessor Bishop Keith Symons disappeared after being exposed as a serial child molester.

In April, as this scandal grew, the Pope called eleven U.S. cardinals and two leading bishops to the Vatican for a conference. Some members of the Church and families of the victims hoped the "Holy Father" would set things right. These hopes were quickly dashed. The Pope issued a statement vaguely calling child molestation a "crime." He talked about the sins of a few priests, but not the actions taken by his Church hierarchy in protecting child molesters--or (as the Pope put it) the way Church leaders "are perceived to have acted."

The cardinals came back to the U.S. with orders to carry out damage control and a fierce, unapologetic defense of conservative traditions.

Cardinal Bernard Law, a close ally and confidant of the Pope, was clearly instructed to resist calls to resign. When Catholic laity in his archdiocese tried to organize an association of parish councils, Law (with the backing of the Vatican) made it clear that the Catholic believers are not allowed to organize themselves to influence church policy.

A week after he returned from Rome, Law's lawyer filed papers in a court case around abuse by Father Shanley, saying "negligence" by the 6-year-old victim and his parents has been involved in the abuse and the Church should not be held responsible for that "negligence."

Shortly afterward, on May 4, the Boston Archdiocese announced it was backing out of a multi- million dollar settlement with 86 people victimized by Father Geoghan, who is now in prison.

The American Cardinals initially proposed that only serial abusers should be removed from the priesthood--as if dabbling in abuse was acceptable. Chicago's Cardinal George triggered new outrage when he argued that priests who "take comfort" with 15-year-old girls should not be treated like priests who abuse young boys. His remarks glistened with the arrogance of power, fraternal empathy for the abusers, and a profound sense of male sexual entitlement.

Tradition's Chains

"I have come to understand--through joining in the battle against the unspeakably unjust divisions among humanity, and by searching out their underlying cause--that no version of Christianity (or for that matter any other religion) can illuminate the way to the abolition of the agony and alienation that such divisions mean for the great majority of humanity. That the `Judeo-Christian tradition' and the `traditional' values rooted in it represent tradition's chains --upholding, among other things: slavery, the subordination and degradation of women, brutality against children, the slaughter and plunder of rival nations and people of different religions."

Bob Avakian, Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones

The core defense of the Church hierarchy is a profound reversal of right and wrong. The child molestation, they say, is not a product of their conservative Christian morality--but of the immorality of their critics and modern secular society.

The barely contained rage of the Vatican over this scandal is palpable. They are involved in a bitter struggle over who will succeed the failing pope and whether his die-hard conservatism will continue to dominate the Church. You get the clear feeling that if this was still the Middle Ages, heads would roll, and it wouldn't be the heads of the child molesters. The newspapers exposing the priests--especially the Boston Globe --are accused of airing the Church's "dirty linen" to serve an "anti- Catholic agenda." The Catholics calling for Cardinal Law's removal are accused of insufficient discipline and faith.

The only change considered in the Vatican is an all-out purge--not against Church leaders who protect child molesters--but against gay men in the priesthood and the seminaries (as if homosexuality is the cause of child molestation).

Conservative Church mouthpieces claim that priests have "fallen" because of a spread of "moral laxity" rooted in "`60s values." Perhaps if the Church succeeded in suppressing rebel art, rock music and abortion, their priests wouldn't be tormenting little altar boys?

The Church answer is exactly the opposite of the truth: This is not the isolated action of a few "fallen" priests. We are glimpsing an old, venerated culture of ritual abuse and organized hypocrisy involving the "Princes of the Church" at the highest levels.

This Church's doctrine holds that men who are intimate with women cannot commune with their god. Women, in their view, are the doorway of sin. Obedience to the "fathers" and silent suffering by the oppressed are presented as the road to righteousness. So this Church hierarchy, who are so harsh when women want to control their bodies, rush to the defense when "brother priests" brutalize the defenseless.

All of it is naked patriarchy--the defense of male domination over women and children. It is patriarchy when men with priestly authority seek sexual power over the defenseless. It is patriarchy when they are defended by the oldest "Old Boy Network." It is patriarchy when "Holy Fathers" insist that the solution (to their own depredations!) is more obedience to their hateful traditions and values.

The courage of thousands has torn at the silence and awe surrounding this Church. People can see what was once routinely hidden. Those who touched the children are no longer untouchable. The vision is horrible, the clarity is long overdue.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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