Protecting institutions must start with accountability

With the parade of accusers testifying at the trial of Larry Nassar, the US Olympic gymnastic physician who sexually assaulted hundreds of young females, the finger is now being pointed back at Michigan State University, his employer. The university leadership allegedly did not take seriously previous accusations. It is alleged MSU brushed it under the rug to protect the institution.

The same could be said about Barry Bennell, an elite youth soccer (football) coach in the UK who sexually abused young boys for decades and yet no one did anything about it. Or, Penn State University where the University President and legendary football coach turned a blind eye toward Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys and men. And, by far the worst example is the Catholic Church which long knew of sexual assault in their ranks and chose to hide it, move priests around or, in a horrible failure, try to train the sexual proclivity out of the predatory priest.

Now, the #metoo movement is providing support, encouragement and a window for women and men to come forward. And, they need that support. Harvey Weinstein is more than an individual predator, he represents a business, as do Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, etc. These men represent institutions that have revenue streams and reputations that are bigger than that of the individuals.

What happens to the victims who dare come forward are they run up against institutions that first and foremost think of protecting their reputations and/ or revenue streams. Weinstein had a mountain of people helping him threaten and pay off victims who accused him. The movie “Spotlight” on the investigative work of The Boston Globe (about sexual abuse by priests) revealed how there was a secret list of about ninety priests in the Boston area who were known by the church as to having sexually abused young boys as the church settled the cases.

The first step to addressing these issues must be for the institutions to be accountable. They must investigate these accusations with accountability, responsibility and due diligence. If they find fault, they need to admit it and take action. If they do not, the institution betrays the trust of people who support that institution. Leaving a predator in place is beyond poor stewardship, it is criminal.

The movie that angers me more than any other is called “Mea Maxima Culpa,” about the sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in a Milwaukee home for deaf boys in the 1960s. It is revealed later that some church leadership knew of the abuse and did not act. Sadly, there was a similar home for deaf boys near The Vatican that had the same kind of abuse. What would Jesus do? – he would not let a predator prey on more children.

Sexual assaulters prey on people. They use their power of control to abuse, silence, deny, defame and refute their victims. And, if needed, they pay off the victims asking for silence in return. Institutions must stand up more for their victims and less for the assaulters they employ. Believing the predator will stop after a settlement has been proven time and again to be a pipe dream.

To close, I am reminded of the true story of the Irish singer Sinead O’Connor, who effectively ended her soaring career when she tore up a picture of the Pope on live TV in protest over the silence of church leadership on sexual abuse by Irish priests and other failures. She was booed off every stage after that and unjustly ridiculed. Twenty years later after the Irish priest scandal broke, she was proven correct. Yet, how many more boys were sexually abused in those twenty years?

This story is why it is important. How can these institutions and companies allow these predators to abuse more children and adults after they know? Again, that is criminal, in my mind. Sadly, these kinds of sexual assaults occur too often in everyday organizations affecting everyday workers. We must shine spotlights on these activities and efforts to mask them from the public if not remedied.

I must confess Saint Popes don’t excite me

There has been a significant amount of hoopla over beatifying two recent, long serving popes as saints. It is the first time two popes have been so honored at one time and also in front of two living popes. This may not happen again. I must confess I am not too excited about this event for a key reason. While I think Pope Francis is a wonderful new leader of a church that had lost its way and is focusing on helping those in need and the two new saints were good men, the new saints failed to do something significant that was harmful to many. To me, it is hard to call men saints when they let pedophilia of the worst kind continue unchecked under their watch when they had an awareness of its repeated occurrences.

You will note I have not mentioned their names as they are getting enough wonderful treatment for all of the good things they have done. And, they did. Yet, if you have not seen the documentary movie “Mea Maxima Culpa” I would encourage you to watch it. This movie will highlight that these popes did have an awareness of the pedophilia going on under their tutelage and failed to act to stop it. In essence, their actions showed they were more concerned about the church and priests, than the countless children who were raped time and time again. A link to a post I wrote a few months back on this movie follows:

I am certain pedophilia has been going on in the church for a long time, but what makes the last sixty years different, is the practice was becoming more apparent. One of the violated children from a school for the deaf in Milwaukee eventually sued the Catholic Church. In “Mea Maxima Culpa,” you learn that his repeated rape was known for ten years before the lawsuit was filed and no action was taken. When a religious figure violates his oath to serve others and harms innocent (and in this case deaf) children who do not have a loud enough voice to fight back during or after the rape, it offends me in the greatest way. I should add there is a similar school for deaf children in Italy near the Vatican, where the same kinds of atrocities occurred.

So, yes these popes did wonderful things. Yet, to call them saints, when they did not act to help many children who needed them, does not seem appropriate.


Holy Smoke – Cardinals atop a burning platform

There is an old business saying it is easier to make organizational changes if the organization is on top of a burning platform. The thesis is it is much harder to change an organization that is running OK and it is far easier when the deck is ablaze as you know you must do something. The black smoke/ white smoke analogy of letting people know about the status of the Cardinals’ decision to elect a new Pope is apropos. Yet, I do not believe the Cardinals are cognizant of the burning platform they are sitting on. Nor do the American Catholics, at least per the surveys that have been recently conducted. I presume the Americans are not outliers on this issue either.

From my vantage point, the Catholic Church is very close to being in a death spiral. Per the post I wrote a two months ago before the Pope’s decision to resign called “Mea Maxima Culpa – Piety does not trump Criminality” I referenced the movie “Mea Maxima Culpa” which breaks your heart and trust in the church leadership. This breach of trust by the leadership of the church (which went to the very top) is the greatest issue facing the church. The only thing that can save the church is its membership and leaders who care about its members more so than the preserving a dinosaur of an institution.

But, this is not just my opinion. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University of American Catholics said largely the same thing. The survey spokesperson said “Looking at adult Catholics, we see a conflicted group.”  As will be noted below, these Catholics disagree with the church leadership on a number of issues. And, the response of the church to say “we do things the way we do, as we have always done them that way” is not necessarily true.

It would be judicious of the Cardinals to vote for someone who can make sweeping changes, but that is unlikely to occur. To be frank, a number of the red-clad voters are less than pristine in their personal conduct and leadership. What should be changed to stave off the death spiral must include addressing the following issues.

Pedophilia – the Church leadership must address this issue in a much more abrupt way. It is past time. When the incumbents dishonor the role and are harmful to its members, you must take action. These are criminals. The church brand has been greatly harmed by the leadership’s failure to act. I believe it is a New York Times/ CBS survey that said 78% of Catholics disapprove of the church’s handling of this issue.

Married Priests – one way to address this going forward is to allow priests to be married. This will open up the market for more candidates for priests. I also think they would be better advisors if they were married. When the church says we have always done it this way, that is not true. Priests were married well into the 15th century and this is after it the marriages were made invalid in 1123 by Pope Calixtus II. I find it interesting, there was a caveat that said the priest could remain married provided he signed over his estate to the church and not his children. I will let you render your own judgment on that caveat. The Quinnipiac survey noted that 62% of American Catholics agree and believe priests should be married.

Women Priests – this issue is way overdue. Being a man, who said that priests would be better if they were male? Of course, a group of old men in red suits said that. Women are well deserving of being priests and would bring a different and good perspective of stewardship and outreach to those in need. It is not incoincidental that the “Nuns on the Bus” are criticized by the church leadership for “being too focused on helping the poor, while remaining silent on abortion.”  On CBS News last night, Victoria Fleming, a cantor for Our Lady of the Brook Church in Northbrook, Illinois said “I think women are highly capable and able to manage the emotional and practical needs of the organization.” The Quinnipiac survey said 62% of American Catholics agree and support female priests.

Birth Control – Dr. Everett Koop, who just passed away, as Surgeon General of the US set his personal feelings aside, and made a campaign for the use of condoms and other birth control. He said he is doctor first and saw this as a means to save lives.To be frank, the Church’s position on birth control has actually resulted in more deaths around the world. The posturing has prevented the wide-spread distribution of condoms and AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases have gone up when the Pope has made this an issue. This is important in its own right, but most people support the use of birth control and many Catholics ignore the church on this. The Quinnipiac survey said 64% of American Catholics believe the church should overturn in its ban on birth control. I would like to see the demographic breakdown on this issue, as I would guess it is much higher with women in child-bearing ages.

Inclusion – This is my pet peeve for all religions to do better at. Religions have to be inclusive and not exclusive. They have to embrace the diversity of others. Of all churches, the Catholic church should understand this. If you look at the racial and ethnic diversity of its global membership, it is very impressive. Yet, they need to not push people away with postures that do not jive with the membership. They need to embrace all and not shun people away because of their sexual preferences or other contrarian beliefs to those of the church.

Lack of Transparency – This final issue would get at some other major problems. The church has done itself a disservice by being so opaque in its dealings. They come across as Machiavellian more so than St. Peteresque. More transparency would do this organization wonders and would let some of the bad eggs be weeded out. And, from what we have witnessed, there are some bad eggs voting on the new Pope.

So, I hope the Cardinals can come to a conclusion that will help them make the changes necessary for them to survive. If they choose someone like the retired pope who embraced the history and institution more than the members, then they will continue the approaching death spiral. As the church membership does so much good for many, I pray they come to a decision that will anoint a change agent. And, he will need a lot of water to put out the burning platform.

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.