Saturday, 8 September 2012

Bishop Finn: Fr Z and the Catholic League are distorting the facts

If there is one thing the reporting on the outcomes of the Bishop Finn case makes clear, it is that many Catholics  have yet to come to terms with the issue of child abuse and the crime of its cover up.

And the problem, it seems to me, is the sin of being a respecter of persons, on which subject my congregation was actually given an excellent sermon last week, albeit in a slightly different context.

The sin of respect of persons

St Thomas Aquinas instructs us that being a respecter of persons - that is looking at who they are rather than the justice of the particular cause in question - is a sin.

Yet on the face of it that is just what seems to be occurring in the reactions to the continuing child abuse scandal.

Because Bishop Finn is otherwise viewed as a good, conservative bishop some don't want to believe that he has failed in this particular area. 

Similarly, because Fr Groeschel is viewed by many of his EWTN fans as a living saint, they don't want to believe that he might genuinely hold the victims to blame for sexual abuse, or that he himself might have provided bad advice on the handling of priest-predator cases.

The reality is that we have to look at what people actually say and do, stick to the facts of the particular case, and leave God to judge whether the good outweights the bad!

The pernicious effects of false psychology...

Some of course, continue to view the abuse crisis as an attack on the Church and view every incident that comes up through that lens.  It has to be acknowledged that the secularists will certainly latch onto every incident and magnify it. 

The problem though is that until the Church demonstrates that it actually has learnt the lessons of the past, it continues to be vulnerable.  And that's why cases like Bishop Finn's are so damaging, because they show that the lessons haven't been learnt!

Of course, there are reasons why bishops and others continue to struggle with these issues, nicely illustrated by the case of the now-ex ABC presenter ABC Presenter charged with possession of child pornography. 

Police found thousands of images of children in underwear or swimsuits, and many showing explicit or sadistic treatment of children.  Yet a psychologist testifying on his behalf claims that he is not a paedophile and has no sexual interest in children; rather it was all about 'stress relief'!  Unsurprisingly, the prosecution has signalled that it will contest this claim.

Agreeing on the facts!

But what I find most disturbing are the attempts to gloss over or outright distort the facts of child abuse cases.

Fr Groeschel, for example, recently claimed (and has not backed away from the claim) that 'in many cases' the child was the 'seducer' of the priest. 

Quite aside from the fact that civil law does not recognise the ability of under-age children to give consent to sex, that's not a claim that is supported by any objective analysis of the cases that I can find; in fact the evidence is that in the overwhelming majority of cases the victims did not consent except under often extreme coercion, and certainly in no way could be said to have initiated the encounter!

Fr Z, the Catholic League and the actual facts

Similarly in the +Finn case Fr Zulsdorf highlights a Catholic League post which claims that no child abuse or even child pornography was actually involved in the case.  Yet what Bishop Finn was actually convicted of was failure to report suspected child abuse!

As the Waiting for Godot to act blog has pointed out, the Graves Report commissioned by the diocese of Kansas City and available on their website clearly sets out the actual facts of the case.  And those facts directly contradict most of the claims made by the Catholic League.  Read the Report for yourself and see. 

The League's claims in fact seem to reflect the flawed investigation process adopted by the diocese (the claim that the photos didn't constitute child pornography, for example, seems to have been based on a phone description of a single photo by the Vicar General to a police force mate) which the bishop has correctly apologised for and put in place steps to ensure it can never happen again.

The Catholic League's Bill Donahue says, for example:

"Let’s get rid of some myths. Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. [True.  But it was a 'misdemeanour' that could have landed him in jail for a year as well as a fine! ] The case did not involve child sexual abuse—no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan [This claim is unsafe.  In reality Fr Ratigan has been charged with producing child pornography; the Vicar General who handled the case acknowledged that the images likely contained images of children the priest had abused; and school officials were concerned at his inappropriate interactions with children.] Nor did this case involve child pornography [This is not in fact the case.  Fr Ratigan was arrested and charged under Missouri's Child Pornography laws and has pleaded guilty to these charges]..."

Some of the actual facts stipulated in the case (ie agreed by both sides), that directly contradict the Catholic League's claims, can be found here.

The hard reality is that Bishop Finn's actions put more children at risk, and that is why he was convicted.  Was the sentence, as the local Kansas city newspaper suggests, too light?  That's open to debate.

But outright denial that there was a problem with his actions and distortion of reality does not aid the Church in any way.


A Canberra Observer said...

Thanks for this post.
In this case, respecting of persons also seems connected with tribalism.

"You attack my tribe member, whatever the facts, my tribe will castigate you."

I wonder sometimes whether the US psyche (if I can make such a broad generalisation) is in some way more disposed to this than some other cultures.

A Canberra Observer said...

And I just can't believe that the Bishop, and the Vicar General in particular, were so misguided in their (lack of ) actions.

Whatever one might say about the media and its general hate for the Church, in this and similar cases it is to itself that the Church should look first.

I hope they start 'looking' soon.

Kate Edwards said...

Hmm I'm not terribly convinced about the tribalism thing.

I do suspect that there is a distinct cultural difference, Americans being much more willing to offer a perfectly proper respect for the office held (as opposed to the person holding it) than Australians (viz Tall Poppy syndrome and the over the top attacks on Julia Gillard on the basis of the claimed illigimitacy of her Government by Mr Abbott over the last few years).

But there is a reality on the US that Catholics face large-scale bigotry not just from the secularists as we do here, but also from the large and extremely anti-Catholic pentecostal/fundamentalist population.

And in even in Australia you sometimes get hints of it - I was somewhat taken aback for example by Lyle Shelton's (Chief of Staff of the Australian Christian Lobby) account of the St Thomas More Society presentation by Bishop Fisher in which he appeared to be surprised at 'Bible Christians' finding common cause with those (Bible hating? Bible rejecting?) Catholics. I know the term 'Bible Christian is shorthand for sola scriptura, but really, it is a very offensive one!

Kate Edwards said...

And on the actions of +Finn and the VG - I agree.

But I still think the scariest thing in this and other cases is the advice they relied on (in this case from a psychologist 'treating' Fr Ratigan and diocesan lawyer).

Those taking advice from experts have, I think, a duty to put it through what I like to call the 'plausibility test': they should ask the hard questions to decide whether or not to accept it on the basis of everything else they know or should reasonably know.

But the experts too have a duty to keep up in their fields and provide advice that is genuinely well-based, and not dangerous nonsense. Unfortunatley the psychological profession in particular was long ago infiltrated by the cult of political correctness and new age wackery.

A Canberra Observer said...

fair comments on mine

Re legal advice - given the serious responsibilities that bishops and their staff (eg VCs) have maybe, just maybe, they should have some modicum of 'training' - sufficient running knowledge of the law, especially those parts of it relevant to their responsibilities.

This is the case in other professions.

Mal said...

I remember reading, in the sixties and the seventies, about priests in America who sexually abused children being sent to clinics and retreat centres. If the belief then was that these priests could be ‘cured’, they were soon proved to be wrong. Now, if I was able to read about these cases how is it that those responsible for law and order in that country did nothing about it? And what did the politicians do? Surely, they would have known! And, of course, about the thousands more that happened in other institutions! I am not excusing this Bishop for his failure to report an abuser; I sincerely hope that others who behaved just as irresponsibly in schools, clinics and adoption centres are also charged. Perhaps, then we might get people acting responsibly today.

Peter said...

Mal, excellent point.

I do not object at all to Catholic priests and bishops being prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the civil law if they are guilty of not having taken all reasonable steps to prevent child abuse; what I object to is the fact that they are the virtually the ONLY ones who are ever prosecuted, or even discussed in the media, when it is widely known that the leaderds and middle managers of EVERY secular, religious and government organisation involved with children and young people were, and in many cases still are, doing the SAME thing on the advice of the SAME "expert" psychiatrists and psychologists, to the same or greater extent than any Catholic official ever did.

It's the sickeningly hypocritical SELECTIVITY that makes this an anti-Catholic witch-hunt.

Kate Edwards said...

Mal - Is that really verifiable? In reality other organisations are being prosecuted and pursued (consider for example the ADF!).

And the only people legally in a position to pursue psychologists are probably the Church and others who took their advice.

It would be a very interesting test case indeed for the Church to sue a psychologist who claimed a priest constituted no danger to children but in fact wnet on to abuse more children....

Tancred said...

This priest was given an opportunity to change his life. The Bishop stuck his neck out for him. The priest continued his disturbing pattern of behavior and the Rector decided to go to the authorities.

Interestingly, the Msgr himself was accused of sexual abuse, although that isn't part of this story.

I must also take issue with your initial statement that the Catholic Church has yet to come to grips with this issue. Considering the precipitous drop of actual sex abuse by Catholic personnel since the 80s and the various (sometimes disturbing and controversial like Virtus in the United States) programs in place to spot and arrest sexual predators when seen, can you say more about what actually needs to be done to address this problem?

Kate Edwards said...

The problem Tancred is that it wasn't up to the bishop to decide to give him another chance - there were grounds to think he had committed a crime by the law of the state, and reporting that cwas mandatory under the law.

It should have been up to police to decide a crime had been committed and the court to decide whether or not to give him a second chance.

In terms of what more? The issue isn't so much new cases (although Fr Ratigan was a new case, and new cases are still coming to light in Australia) as the handling, and particularly the investigation of them as this case illustrates.

The problem is the continuing lack of empathy for the bishops and many priests, and the feeling that we the laity cannot trust them to ensure that the protection of our children comes before notions such as 'saving someone's priesthood'.

Kate Edwards said...

PS Tancred, you are right though to highlight the issue with the Vicar General who was accused of making homosexual advances by someone, but the complaint summarily rejected:

It reflects what appears to be one of the underlying reasons why paedophilia cases, which are predominantly same sex cases, continue to be handled so badly, viz the infiltation of the priesthood, even up to senior levels, not only by those with homosexual inclinations, but those who actually continue to engage in sexual sins.

Peter said...

Kate, yes occasionally a few non-Catholic instiutions like the ADF Academy cop a bit of public criticism (though nobody tehre or in any other non-Catholic institution has ever even remotely looked like being charged with their failures to protect those in their care from predators whom they knew about.

In fact in the case of by far the most widespread arena of child abuse, viz Government schools and Government instiutions, all of Australia's parliaments have very quiety slipped through legislation (approved by all major parties) to prohibit anyone suing the Government for any of the acts and omissions of its employees. And the media and even spokesmen for victims' support organisations remain silent about this, whilst Catholic dioceses and orders are sued for millions. Do you not see the hand of Satan attacking his mortal enemy the Church by trying to starve her of funds?

And you misunderstand how things work with health professionals. Accusations of professional malpractice are tried by their peers who typically take a benign view and impose little if any penalty. And in this case, the psychologists and psychiatrists' defence is that they were merely expressing a professional opinion about the probable future course of the disease in the patient, and that professional expert opinions can sometimes turn out to be wrong in their predictions of likely future events, and that they are not to blame for this, because "medicine is not an exact science". After all you couldn't sue a doctor because he said the disease is unlikely to kill the patient at least for many years but in some cases it turns out that the patient is dead within a month. Similarly you can't sue a psychiatrist or psychologist for expressing the opinion that a pedophile was unlikely to commit fuurther abuse and it turned out to be incorrect.

Kate Edwards said...

Robert - The outcome of the ADF investigation is yet to be seen - there does seem some prospect at least of people being held accountable.

As for being sued, the reality is that in most cases the Church can't be sued for the actions of its priests because of assorted trust and other arrangements set up under State legislation, so is in effect in exactly the same position as the schools are now. The payouts have largely been voluntary not forced.

And in the end, the Church is about people not things. It will survive not because it has financial assets, but because people believe and practice their faith.

Nor am I convinced that you couldn't sue psychologists for bad advice. If a surveyer tells you a piece of land is sound but it proves not to be you can sue. If a doctor says you aren't ill but you in fact have cancer, you can sue for negligence. So why not a psychologist who claimed someone poses no risk?

On the face of it the costs of any settlements plus loss of reputation would be reasonable claims to make against them (one of the reasons professionals are required to hold insurance).

The key reasons it hasn't happened I suspect is firstly it would expose all the gory facts of the particular case to the public, and secondly we are talking about establishment mates...

Anonymous said...

Hello Kate
I do not have strong views on this issue - as I see it (disgusting though it is) it is not a specific Catholic problem. Child sexual abuse is common thoughout most societies, and it is only Western societies that take an interest in it. What annoys me is:
1. That media and govts portray it as a Catholic issue when it is not; and
2, The Church in Australia (and the rest of the world) has not appointed someone to respond collectively to the issue.

A church equivalent of a Royal Commission could address all these allegations and present some sort of unified report, rather than each diocese having to cope with each allegation as it happens. This might be too much to ask, but would be cheaper and more effective in the long term. It would also address the underlying issues, such as poor selection of seminarians and the homosexual experiment.

Mal said...

I would like to add one more point to the list that Anonymous gave, namely that ALL victims of child abuse be given the assistance they need.
Why is it that those who were/are abused in State institutions, and the perpetrators, treated differently? Why is the media allowing this farce to continue?
Recently two men were found guilty of abusing children in a state school in WA They were sent to prison. The authorities had known about the abuse but, when questioned, one of them just shook his head and said that he was sorry. Nobody took that any further.
Child abuse is the most serious social problem in this country and, fortunately, there are some caring groups like CHILD WISE and NAPCAN that are there for them.

Peter said...

Kate, I'm sure you'll find that none of the psychologists' or psychiatrist's reports ever stated absolutely that someone "poses NO risk". They merely gave their "professional opinion" in terms such as "(very) unlikely to (re)offend (in the same manner)".

So to win compensation from the health professional you would have to prove that this professional opinion was so blatantly opposed to the evidence available to him at the time, that to give such an opinion in itself constiuted professional misconduct. A high bar to jump even in a civil court. You would need his professional peers to swear that they would never have given the same advice given the same evidence to hand.

Mal said...

A client goes to a health professional for advice. The expert offers an opinion which the client accepts in good faith and acts accordingly. Later on, as times change and knowledge grows – and so, too, an opinion - this response is deemed a misdemeanour and the client is charged accordingly. The expert is excused because he has simply offered an opinion. Lucky guy!

Kate Edwards said...

Indeed Mal.

While I thinkdecision-makers do have a responsibility to run a plausiblity test across the advice they receive, I see no reason why those who gave advice which had no scientific or evidential basis whatsoever to get off scott free.

I remain convinced that there is a test case worth running here.