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The Catholic Church Still Doesn’t Get it When it Comes to Sexual Abuse

bernard law

Cardinal Bernard Law died on Wednesday at the age of eighty-six. At the very moment Law breathed his last breath, I believe I heard countless Catholic sex abuse victims and their relatives say, with one voice, good riddance. May you rot in hell. Alas, as this story will show, Law not only escaped hell, it is likely he escaped purgatory too.

Law was Archbishop emeritus of Boston and an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. Law is best known for having extensive knowledge of sex abuse perpetrated by priests and doing nothing about it. Worse yet, Law often moved sexual predators to new parishes where they continued to rape and assault children in the name of God. According to Wikipedia:

One priest alone was alleged to have raped or molested 130 children over decades, while Law and other local officials moved him among churches rather than going to the authorities.

Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston in 2002, only to be appointed two years later by pedophile-sympathetic Pope John Paul II to a cushy position as Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

At no time did Law admit that his behavior was sinful or criminal. In a statement made after his resignation, Law asked for prayer and forgiveness, acknowledging that he had shortcomings and made mistakes. Shortcomings and mistakes? How about owning destroying the lives of hundreds and hundreds of Catholic children and their families? How about telling the Pope you that can no longer in good conscience be a priest, and that you intend to spend the remaining days of your life atoning for your support of men who raped and molested their way through numerous Catholic parishes?

Pope Francis is generally considered a great guy, a man who understands the people and sincerely desires to help the poor and afflicted. Pope Francis damaged his good-guy reputation this week by allowing Law to have a funeral befitting a Cardinal in St. Peter’s Basilica. Nothing was said about Law’s abhorrent behavior and his complicity in decades of criminal sexual abuse. Instead, Law’s many “good” deeds were memorialized, reminding anyone who was paying attention that Pope Francis and the Catholic Church still don’t get it when it comes to sexual abuse. Even the choice of Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano to conduct Law’s funeral Mass reeks of stupefying indifference towards victims of sexual abuse. Sodano, according to John Allen, Jr, writing for The Crux:

Sodano . . . has a checkered history when it comes to the Church’s abuse scandals. Among other things, Sodano was a principal patron of the late Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ, whose own pattern of sexual abuse and misconduct was eventually acknowledged by his own order after a Vatican finding of guilt.

Emma Green of The Atlantic says it best when she writes:

Even in death, he [Law] was given a ceremonious exit: a funeral mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, attended by a coterie of cardinals and complete with a blessing from Pope Francis. The Church has taken steps to move past its legacy of clergy sex abuse over the last decade, but it still betrays moments of ambivalence like this, caught between the moral imperative to eliminate abuse and its reticence about sacrificing decorum or showing disloyalty to powerful clerics.

Moments of ambivalence indeed — a poignant reminder that Pope Francis and the Church still, to this day, do not understand how the massive Catholic sex abuse scandal is viewed by the public, nor, it seems, do they understand how memorializing a pedophile enabler such as Law rips open the psychological scars of countless sex abuse victims.

Here’s what Pope Francis should have done. Standing before the world, the Pope should have, one last time, exposed Law’s behavior, asking his victims to forgive the Church for its crass indifference towards their plight; and, in a gesture of contrition, ordered Law’s body to be buried among the heathen. In doing so, Pope Francis would be saying to pedophile priests and their enablers that sexual abuse is a mortal sin worthy of banishment on this side of the grave and hell on the other.

Jesus said in Mathew 18:5,6:

 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

Instead of a millstone around his neck, Law received the praise and blessings of the Pope and his fellow Cardinals. In giving Law such magnanimous send-off, these “godly” men, once again, showed that when it comes to sexual abuse they simply don’t get it.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Avatar

    I agree with all you say here, Bruce, except where you suggest that the current Pope should ask Law’s victims to forgive the Church. Why the hell should they? How can he dare to even ask them, having just allowed this man to have a grand and pompous funeral in the heart of the Vatican? Asking them (and i think he already HAS asked, some time ago, as did Pope Benedict, another protector of clerics who rape children) is to place spiritual abuse on top of all the other abuse they have suffered.

    And no to what Emma Green has over-tactfully written: the CC does not show ” moments of ambivalence”, it has shown and continues to show (this funeral being a stark example) a total disregard for the damage that child- molesters do. Concentrating on Laws’s good works (whatever they were), giving him the job within the Vatican in the first place when he should have been at home in the United States being questioned about his well-known complicity in multiple cases of child abuse. Questioned, and then charged. . .knowing about rape and choosing not to report the rapists is a crime, isn’t it? Allowing this man the funeral that he had is slapping abuse victims in the face. . .again.

    I’d like to say I am shocked to hear about this funeral. Unfortunately, I’m not. What else can we reasonably expect from this morally bankrupt organisation?

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    The first abomination was moving Law to a cushy post in the Vatican, where he couldn’t be prosecuted by the US for his role in hundreds of abuse cases. Had the Catholic Church stood by the victims, they would have been paying damages in the multi-millions. Easy to move the Cardinal-home-boy back to Vatican City. But did he go home in disgrace? Hell no! He got a cushy new job. Of course Pope Frances is going to give him a funeral fit for a Cardinal. Denounce him, bury him as a heathan? You’ve got to be kidding! The-good-old-boys are going strong in the Catholic Church and Pope Frances keeps them warm and toasty-they prey on the poor, uneducated, and the innocent. Pope Frances’ good deeds can never vindicate the suffering of the Catholic Church’s victims.

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    while Law and other local officials moved him among churches rather than going to the authorities.

    And that’s the whole problem. Even now, when the Church insists it’s addressing this problem, they are still futzing around with internal Church procedures instead of doing the one thing they need to do — establish a firm rule that as soon as any evidence of child molestation comes to light, they call the police. Treat it as the crime it is and let the police handle it. Until they do that, whatever else they’re doing is worthless.

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    Perhaps it’s just me, but I always viewed sexual abuse within Catholicism as a feature, not a bug. It would be why there will never be accountability for the lives ruined.

    If anyone needed an example of ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’ the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is a prime example. Maybe I’ve just read too much history.

    Hope the holidays are filled with loved ones, good food, and a place to be warm when you sleep.

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    So true. I was very disappointed with this pope after this news broke. But it honestly didn’t surprise me, as those cardinals would not elect a radical pope, they would elect one of their own.

    Despite this popes seemingly different appearance, it is still the same old song & dance with the Catholic Church

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    I shake my head when I see people (typically non-Catholic and liberal) who hold the “people’s pope” in high esteem. Indeed Pope Francis does have the charisma to head up the Vatican’s p.r. department. He checks a lot of boxes, not looking like the Emperor from Star Wars is a good start. He even tries to live like a pauper in a palace.
    As your blog post suggests though, the Catholic church’s job one is to create an appearance of having a divine mandate with divine clergy. This con job is why there are so many problems. The priestly mandate for unnatural celibacy and good ol’ boy network to look the other way and clean up sins of the clergy is a recipe for the miasma that flows from the church.
    (Oh and when you put money in a Catholic collection plate there’s a good chance you’re paying award money for victims.)

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I’ll admit I was sucked in for awhile by Francis’ words, but his actions have proved that he is not much different from the men who came before him. Words without actions are worthless.

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    As a former catholic I find this totally unsurprising. I’m even more pissed off at your average catholic parishioner who says, “sex abuse is over in the catholic church and everything is fixed now. It was never any worse here (in the church) than it was in any other institution.” I’m appalled at such ignorance. Catholic clergy are supposed to be the divine extension of god on earth…but you know, who cares if they’re raping kids? Why are we not holding these people to a HIGHER standard (hell, even holding them to the same standard) of your average citizen? As you say Bruce, Francis talks the talk but he won’t walk the walk, and that makes him worthless. Charletans, every last f’ing one of them. I spent 41 years in this cult, and I am utterly ashamed to have been a part of this most corrupt institution.

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      Violet, I am from a similar background. The average Catholic parishioner is very much complicit in a lot of this behaviour, you are 100% right about that. They say, whiningly, “Oh, but we didn’t KNOW!” They know now, they have known for a long time (20 years, 25 years), how could they not know now? Yet they are still there, giving their time, their loyalty and their money to an organization that sees fit to hide Law away in the Vatican with a very comfortable job when he should be facing major criminal charges. At the basis of their thinking is, still, this idea that the Church is above secular law, that priests are answerable only to God and not to the judicial system and definitely not MORALLY answerable at all to any of the thousands of people they have violated and deeply damaged.

      My mother is one of these complicit people. Over the years, I have heard all the excuses going. “It has been massively exaggerated by the media which is anti-Catholic” is one of those excuses, another is “It was only a few rogues and they have been dealt with.” It was a systematic POLICY all over the world: if you (a cleric) are aware of child abuse, or suspect it, you must not in any circumstances go to the police! The more scandals that emerged, the more loyal my mother has become. She isn’t unintelligent, she isn’t senile, she doesn’t live on Mars, there is no excuse. Our relationship, never good, has completely broken down because I refuse to spend time voluntarily with someone who is actively supporting child abusers.

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        Rachel, I agree completely. Over and over I hear how the “media” is anti-catholic and trying to exaggerate the problem. Average catholics can easily brush off their part in the crime. The collective attitude of catholics, down to the lowest level parishioner, has to change.

        What bothers me the most is that *I* was one of those clueless catholics for years and years. When the scandal broke I said, “you can’t expect priests to all be perfect…they’re sinful in nature like the rest of us.” I even personally knew, supported, and gave money to our priest in 2013, who to my astonishment was found to have sexually assaulted a minor girl, was convicted, and got deported back to India. But I figured there was no way the church could be perfect, and we had to overlook it’s bad behavior for the greater good of doing god’s work.

        I don’t know what kept me blind and complicit all those years. I suppose the idea that my precious church was corrupt was too much for me to bear. I invested the bulk of my life into catholicism so I was very invested in it being the divine extension of god. Your mom is probably experiencing a similar denial. In 2015 my faith collapsed, and it was only then that the reality of the situation hit me, and it hit me with the force of a hurricane.

        As for me now, I will accept nothing less than them reporting every inkling of child abuse (even during confession) directly to the police. Anyone with a history of child abuse should be stripped of every honor ever appointed by the church. IMHO, the best case scenario is that the church would be dissolved completely, because they will NEVER truly “get it.”

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          I think you are probably right about my mom. Such people have invested a hell of a lot of their life and their energy in this thing; to look at it now and to disavow it rarely comes easy. And because she is a convert (she converted in 1961), she never had the Catholic school experience which has damaged so many: the psychological cruelty which was pretty much standard, often mixed in with physical and (it has become increasingly clear) sexual abuse. It also has to be said that she is monumentally naive and suggestible; exactly the kind of person that many religions are able to manipulate to the max. Also, and I do feel very sad about this, her self-esteem is low: she is a door mat who allows people (both inside and outside the church context) to treat her badly. It is part of the brainwashing that she can’t see this.

          I think it is fantastic that you have been able to “escape.” I’m not surprised the thing hit you like a hurricane: it would! Keep on speaking your truth about this, people need to hear it.

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            Thank you, Rachel, for the kind words.

            My mom is also one of those people who is extremely suggestible…this has always been her biggest weakness throughout life. While suggestibility is not my particular problem, high levels of loyalty are definitely problematic to me…and being loyal to the wrong ideas/people/institutions (like the church) can be disastrous. As you stated these kind of personality traits have been exploited by religion for centuries. Even psychological studies have shown that that certain personalities are more prone to being bulldozed by religion:

            Sometimes I fret that nothing can be done to mitigate the damage of religious belief…after all, a big percentage of the population is seriously prone to this $hit. Thankfully there is a percentage of people, such as yourself, who have a stronger grip on reality.

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    I don’t think he’s afraid to meet his maker at all. I saw an interview of an Irish catholic priest and he said having sex with boys was a way for him to “share the divine with them.” If you’ve ever had a chance to work with pedophiles, you’ll find many of them don’t really believe they’ve done anything wrong, nor do they believe they’ve really hurt their victims.

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      You’re right. Paedophiles don’t think that what they are doing is wrong. That’s why it is even more important that OTHER people do the right thing by children who are being harmed. A naive/suggestible/overtrusting person is an absolute gift to a child molester (or to anyone abusing in any other way, whether the victim is a child or an adult.)

      I think this is what lots of people really struggle with: that there are those among us who are incapable of remorse and who will not change and who, in one important sense at least, CANNOT change. Many people sent to prison CAN change; but not paedophiles. Christian ideas about redemption are very dangerous here because embedded in them is the notion that everybody, with God’s help and without exception, CAN change; those ideas have not been adjusted in the light of what we now know.

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    I agree. Out of respect for the victims, Law should have been given a quiet, modest funeral without the presence of Pope Francis and Angelo Sodano. Sodano got a lot of money from Maciel over the years, and he protected Maciel from discipline until Pope Benedict ordered Maciel into retirement. I am frustrated with the clericalism.

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Bruce Gerencser