Mea Maxima Culpa: Piety does not trump criminality

My wife and I watched last night one of the most disturbing film documentaries we have ever seen, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” Alex Gibney directed the documentary which talks with many witnesses in many countries about how priests routinely molested young boys for years with impunity. That is disturbing in its own right. Yet, the evidence is very compelling that the actions of these priests have been known for years at the highest levels in the Vatican, and efforts to take action were actually thwarted from Rome.

It is now available on-demand through HBO and I encourage each of you to watch Mea Maxima Culpa (which means through my very great fault). If you are raised a Catholic like my wife, the documentary will both break your heart and trust as well as making you furious that pious people would let this happen and then cover it up. If you are a parent, this documentary will break your heart even more. You see, in addition to raping hearing children, the priests preyed on deaf children who could not easily communicate with others what was wrong.

This is how the story of the molestations broke, as deaf boys, who attended St. John’s School of the Deaf in Milwaukee, had been molested for years by a priest named Father Lawrence Murphy. As adults, when no one would heed their pleas including the police, other priests, bishops, archbishops and even a Cardinal, they began putting wanted posters on car windshields with the Father’s picture and name on them. This was in 1972. People used to believe this was isolated to America, but Ireland had a huge scandal over priest molestation and the church handled it so poorly, the Irish government in a very Catholic country had to call the church on the carpet for tolerating pedophiles. Even in the shadows of the Vatican, a deaf school in Italy had the same issues as St. John’s in Milwaukee. And, stories of molestation have been and are being reported in many other countries and in the US, such as what is transpiring on Los Angeles and over time in Boston, where a significant sum of money was used to settle cases.

Yet, what the documentary reveals as even more troubling, is the Vatican has known about pedophile priests for years with some evidence going back to Spain in the year 400. And, to make it even worse, the current Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had all pedophile cases reporting into him. So, for some time, Ratzinger has had full awareness of the priests who were molesting children and led in the cover-up and attempted rehabilitation of the priests. You see, the problem was so significant, the church had a program to try to rehabilitate priests who were molesting children. Yet, the leader of the program wrote that it was his belief you cannot change pedophiles from preying on children and they need to be removed from their duties. His opinion was overruled by higher-ups in the Vatican and the rehabilitated priests were sent back to their parishes or to other parishes to molest again.

What also was revealed in the investigative stories is a contradiction that the US Archbishops did nothing. While they could have done much, much more and deserve a lot of blame, some begged Rome to let them take action and did so in writing. Yet, the Vatican would not let them do so out of good faith to a fellow priest. The troubling part to many of the reporters who were interviewed, some of whom follow the Vatican closely, was how certain church leaders focused more on the priests and saving the image of the church rather than the kids. The Archbishop in Ireland was caught on camera saying he is very busy in response to why he has not gone to see the victims and their families.

The Catholic Church has done an amazing amount of good for many in the world. We should not lose sight of that. The people who make up the church have donated time, energy and money/ goods to help those in need. And, for the number of priests who have done these evil things, there are countless others who do so much good.  Yet, these good-hearted Catholics deserve more than this from their leaders. I feel for the nuns and priests who have devoted their lives to the church to have their leaders breach the trust and faith of so many. I feel for those many parishioners who have the constancy of faith to keep them going to see them now have to question their spiritual guides. The position of priest is so important in the church, when the incumbent shames the role, they need to be reviewed and appropriate action taken. In these cases, piety does not trump criminality.

These pedophile priests are criminals and need to be prosecuted. They are actually worse than normal pedophiles as they betrayed the lofty trust placed in them and abused their authority as well as the rights of the victims. There are some who have called for Ratzinger (I cannot refer to him as pope at this point) to be tried for his crimes of cover-up. To know priests have done these horrible things and to not have taken action is criminal. One of the victims in Milwaukee has actually sued the Vatican without much success, yet he did bring suit against them. However, he gave up on his suit and recently joined with some other cases to get restitution for other victims and to prevent it from happening to future victims.

Unfortunately, it continues to happen. While these issues are of such great concern, the church continues to grow in South America and other parts of the world. A reporter who was chastised for her role in breaking the story, noted these countries are where America was on this issue back in the 1960’s. The victims dare not accuse a priest as they would not be a good Catholic. Their communities would quiet them just as the boys in Milwaukee were not heeded, even after they became adults.

I encourage you to watch this film. It will disturb you. We cannot tolerate letting people, but especially leaders, prey on children. And, it is even more paramount if the leaders are religious ones. They have a level of trust that makes it worse when it is breached. If we suspect something, we need to go to the police. To do otherwise, lets a pedophile harm another. To apprise the church would likely lead to more cover-up and denial than action. And, it does a disservice to all the wonderful priests who earn people’s trust every day. Most importantly, do it for the children. If we always remember that, we know the path, while hard, is the more righteous one.

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17 thoughts on “Mea Maxima Culpa: Piety does not trump criminality

  1. In Massachusetts, about 50 years ago, and continuing into the ’80’s, there was one priest who is currently on trial in Vt, who routinely molested young boys, even two family members, but the churches continued to just pass him on to the next parish, never a word about his history. He was finally sent for rehabilitation and directed to never serve with children again, but begged his bishop to allow him back, that he had been rehabilitated. And the Bishop agreed!

    Of course he just picked up where he left off, and was not defrocked for many years later. I hear tell that the churches have spent over $70 million in defense and settlements, and the cases go on.

    The priests were despicable enough. The bishops, cardinals, (Mahoney in LA is a prime example) were disgusting, and as far as I’m concerned, criminal in their behavior. Priest, bishops and cardinals should be in jail, not sitting in retirement villas.

    • Agreed on the last part. You provide a perfect example of how this happens. The priest goes on for years and final the tipping point (for the church) occurs and action is taken. Then he says he is rehabilitated and is given another chance. The term cognitive distortion was used in the film. The priests think they are doing so much good, that these indiscretions are OK. Thanks for commenting. BTG

  2. Perhaps this is just what one should expect from men who spend so much time studying the Greek and Roman Classics and none studying women. Pederasty seems almost ubiquitous historically, in one form or another. …[“Historically, pederasty has existed as a variety of customs and practices within different cultures. The status of pederasty has changed over the course of history, at times considered an ideal and at other times a crime.”]… [Wikipedia]

    Then of course there is that old Churchill business… […when Winston was at the Admiralty, the Board objected to some suggestion of his on the grounds that it would not be in accord with naval tradition. ‘Naval tradition? Naval tradition?’ said Winston. ‘Monstrous. Nothing but rum, sodomy, prayers and the lash.’]

    It’s our old friend “culture” that seems to provide us with our values… not any thing, or, action in and of itself Old Boy. What?

    • In some way, these priests felt since they did good, they were allowed these indulgences. The two things that bother me most is they took advantage of children because they could and that people we would hope would take action to stop these atrocities did not. History shows us humans can be evil to one another. But, people who preach doing the right thing failed to do so and actually did more harm by perpetuating it. Thanks for your comments, BTG

      • It’s such a complicated “thing” BTG. How would it be if you found yourself wired to only find sexual gratification in a way that was, in the time and place you were alive, found to be abhorrent by the majority of citizens? It’s easy to say you would follow rules that made no sense to you and deprive yourself of any and all sexual satisfaction… for life… but, I submit few could carry out that promise.

        Like it or not… this is one of those conundrums that comes along with what it means to be human. If you are predisposed to find sexual gratification with children you will, more likely than not, become active in Scouting, youth ministry, the priesthood, childhood education…

        The sad thing is that you can test for these kinds of things with a hand full of slides, a projector and a simple galvanic skin testing apparatus. But, that would indicate a lack of belief in free will. Heavens to Betsy… We can’t have that now can we? Much easier to just condemn people for being who and what they are and sacrifice a few children now and again.

      • Mrs. N, your points are always interesting, sometime on the bizarre side. Sexual preference is one thing, preying on another who cannot fight you off is another. We cannot condone adults preying on another. If I saw a priest, boy scout leader do this, I personally would take action and if in the act, it might be physical to thwart it. And, we cannot tolerate people in leadership letting it happen. As a parent, I expect that of the leadership of these groups.

        This morning the Pope resigned which is probably the most honorable thing he could do, as it will allow the church to address this issue out of respect for those kids and the many good servants of the church. Thanks for writing, as always. BTG

      • Certainly action should be taken BTG… but, curiously enough, nobody is, or, seems to be at all interested in taking action “before” the fact. I find that most curious. In effect we are saying to pedophiles and pederasts… “We won’t ask and you shouldn’t tell”… So, if you get a job as a scout master or youth minister just don’t act on your sexual desires…. OK?
        And we expect that to work?

        Yet one more example of a failing culture.

        With regard to The Pope… He had to know this all along. He’s infallible.

      • You’d think we would have robust background checks on these things. In the human services agency whose Board I sit on, we do background checks with our volunteers and staff since we work with children and families. To your other point, the evidence is pretty compelling the pope knew and more of this will come out in the next few days and weeks after the kind farewell comments are made. Thanks for your comments, BTG

  3. Pingback: I must confess Saint Popes don’t excite me | musingsofanoldfart

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