Years Later, the Pain Remains

A protest in Boston on Mothers Day, 2002. Reuter's photo by Jim Bourg.

By Bob Gaydos

This is going to be personal. Not just online blog personal, but in your gut, or should I say, in my gut personal. If you’re looking for politics, you won’t find it here. Our political institutions are a sham, self-serving and deceitful. This is about that other major institution you’re not supposed to talk about at polite dinner parties: religion.

Well, one religion. Catholicism. The one I was born into and eventually left. My intent here is not to offend or anger anyone who practices the faith or to challenge its teachings. In a sense, it’s not really about Catholicism at all. As religions go, I think it’s as good as any other if it fulfills one’s spiritual needs.

This is really about the people — the men — who control the Roman Catholic Church and who are, I believe, supposed to be spiritual role models. Instead, like politicians, many Church leaders, I also believe, are largely self-serving and deceitful. Driven by ego. Unlike politicians, they have the benefit of confessing their sins to each other and being forgiven.

This uncomfortable feeling about some of the good fathers of the Roman Catholic Church is not new. It has, however, been dormant. It was awakened with suddenness and surprising force for me recently as I read a story in the Middletown (N.Y.) Times Herald-Record written by my colleague, Steve Israel. It concerned two predators who had sexually abused many young boys while serving as Roman Catholic priests in local parishes in the mid-Hudson.

Steve had written about these men years ago when, no thanks to the Church, their behavior became public knowledge. Likewise, as editorial page editor of The Record at the time, I had written opinions about the priests and the manner in which the Church mishandled their cases. Yet as I read Steve’s recent article (prompted by the impending sentencing of Penn State sex predator Jerry Sandusky), I found my eyes welling up with tears and feeling a profound sadness and anger bordering on rage. I felt personally offended.

The sadness was for the victims and their families who, as they told Steve, must carry the hurt and humiliation, the angry memories, with them every day of their lives.

The rage was not for Edward Pipala or Francis Stinner, the local priests who betrayed their positions of trust. They are what they are. Pray for them, or not, as you choose. Rather, it was for their superiors, those bishops. monsignors and cardinals who knew what the priests were, what they had done, what they would continue to do if not stopped, and still let them do it, for no reason other than to protect the name of the Roman Catholic Church and, not so coincidentally, their positions of influence within it.

Thanks to someone’s merciful god, Pipala, Stinner, and dozens of other sexual predators in the priesthood around the globe, were eventually exposed. Some, including Pipala, served prison time. But this only happened after many years of the church paying millions of dollars in hush money to victims for their promise to remain silent, of moving predatory priests from one parish to another, often to positions that involved mentoring teenaged boys, and of refusing to report the sexual assaults as crimes to local police. Many years, many more victims. And many denials by Church spokesmen.

Where, in any testament or gospel or papal edict — never mind universal, common decency — is such collusion and conspiracy to conceal thousands of sexual assaults against young boys not to be considered the gravest of mortal sins as well as a crime? How in any god’s name do church leaders continue to preach against such perceived “evils” as homosexuality or contraception — both of which are widely accepted by Catholics — while they are still cleaning up the very real mess of decades of priests having sex with young boys and the Church doing nothing about it? Is hypocrisy not in the Vatican’s dictionary? Shame? Sorrow? Repentance?

I was an altar boy in my youth, but our church was of the Byzantine rite. When that church merged with the Roman Catholic, priests who were married, like ours, were allowed to remain married. Some suggest that allowing priests to marry or allowing women to become priests would reduce the number of sexual predators in the priesthood. Certainly diminish the tendency to cover up their crimes. But when the nuns who do the in-person works of faith of the Church have dared to encourage discussion of these topics, as well as same-sex marriage or contraception, they have been threatened with punishment by the Vatican. Still, the heavy veil of silence rules. The mere discussion of important social issues is seen as a threat to the Church and its all-male leadership.

One thing politicians do find out is that credibility is an invaluable commodity. Lose it and you lose the voters. The Church is losing parishioners in droves and few young men are flocking to join the priesthood. The reasons for this are right in front of their eyes, but many of the leaders of the Church continue to ignore them and to act as if all will be well if they do so.

The sex scandal will remain a sordid, unfathomable chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, certainly as long as the victims are alive and, one hopes, so long as people of good conscience are around to make sure history is not rewritten.

Sincere acts of contrition by those responsible for committing and perpetuating this crime against humanity would certainly be welcome. As for those men of the cloth who see no need for such displays of humility, fortunately, their religion is one that believes in Hell. Personally, an eternity there seems fair.


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7 Responses to “Years Later, the Pain Remains”

  1. LeeAgain Says:

    I’m a practicing Catholic and I was also a newspaper journalist for a number of years, so you can imagine how schizophrenic I felt when I read Sunday’s Times Herald Record front page story. Here we are, some eight years after the beginnings of the church scandal and we’re suddenly reading about it all over again because Jerry Sandusky, a predator who has NOTHING to do with the church, was sentenced. It must have been a slow news day.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m appalled by the fact that clergymen abused children. I’m not too proud of the Spanish Inquisition or the crusades, either. But every time a sexual predator turns up somewhere in the world, are we going to be subjected to headlines shouting “And don’t forget that the church did it, too!” I guarantee I will not forget, not tomorrow, not next year, not in another eight or eighty years, should I live that long. But if people are browbeaten repeatedly over something in the hope of making them feel outraged, sometimes the opposite effect is achieved.

  2. ernie miller Says:

    Well said. I think of other institutions that are male dominated and espouse grand ideals and morals; Boy Scouts is one. However when an institution claims a god as, or is, their ultimate authority any prevarication becomes more heinous.
    I’ve never been a fan of dominating and abusing others, perhaps being on the receiving end has biased me?
    I can’t help but mention the Taliban’s recent assassination attempt of a young girl. Offensive.

  3. Carol Montana Says:

    Thank you, Bob. So very, very well written. You brought tears to my eyes – yet again.

  4. BobGaydos Says:

    Thank you, Carol.

  5. BobGaydos Says:

    Idrea Ramaci on Facebook: I would argue that pedophilia has been an integral cultural “norm” within this institution for hundreds of years. And sadly, probably isn’t going away any time soon just because of some bad publicity.

  6. BobGaydos Says:

    Sadly, Idrea, I think you may be right..

  7. Bob, the smart one Says:

    I understand those who feel we are still bashing the Church. However, it seems to me, a priest of the 60’s, that the Church hierarchy is still missing the Gospel taught by Jesus Christ, who you remember criticized the religious leaders of his day. They are holding onto ideas that did not come from Christ, but from an institutional religion. Jesus today would ordain women, preform gay marriages or unions and definitely admit and then forgive the sins of the clergy.
    Bob Mullin

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