Friday, April 22, 2005

How can you say that you're not responsible?

A bonechilling report on Morning Edition today about the involvement of some Catholic priests in the Rwandan genocide.

It seems only fair to point out that the story also mentions how over a hundred Catholics in Holy Orders were killed for being born Tutsis, or standing up to the Hutu genocidal mobs, while it sounds like 3 or 4 priests have been legally accused of participating in the genocide. The actions of those handful had an unconscionable human cost, but it's worth keeping both numbers in mind.

What's far more worrying to me is the fact that the NPR piece starts with a familiar story. One of the priests currently standing trial in international court had been shuffled out of the country, even ministering in Europe under an assumed name. This person is accused of participating in the murder of 2,000 of his own parishoners.

The local archbishop denies that any priests were involved, in spite of the fact that some have been convicted by Rwandan and international courts.

Pope Benedict XVI does not need my advice on "where to start." There's plenty of good options. But it might not hurt to make an early acknowledgment that the members of the Church are subject to both canon law and the laws of the land. When a priest commits a crime, he needs to be subject to both ecclesiastical consequences and civil penalties. They deserve due process, of course, the presumption of innocence when possible, and even Christian charity. But we must not dare to be completely above the law.

The Berrigans did their time, as have countless other Catholics who committed civil crimes for religious conscience. It is an insult to our faith, and to the entire tradition of civil disobedience, to conflate "innocent until found guilty" with "innocent until found in Florence or Arizona."

This is how we reconcile being "a city on a hill" with "redering unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Most of us are not called to be separate, we are called to be more. We will hold up the martyrs who succeeded. We must hold accountable, in both worlds, those who have so spectacularly failed.


Blogger tommyspoon said...

(Nice use of obscure Police lyric.)

Do you think that the Catholic Church will ever come to terms with these kind of systemic problems?

2:00 PM, April 22, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

Though Henry VIII had plenty of selfish motioves for splitting with Rome, I agree with him that allowing the church to police its own rarely resulted in a "proper" outcome. (We can split straws about "proper" later on.)

Given Benedict XVI's insinuation that the clergy sexual abuse scandals in America were a planned campaign against the church, I don't hold out much hope for clergy in any instance being held to a legal as well as a religious standard.

You know what? This bugs me. I WANT the Catholic church to have a higher legal standard for her lergy, since she expects so much more of them in other areas.


3:56 PM, April 22, 2005  
Blogger John B. said...

An unfortunate occurrence in the Catholic church (hereafter referred to as 'church' as I am Catholic) sometimes seems to be mother church's inability to come out publically and say 'we were wrong'...not that the church itself is wrong, but that certain priestly members erred. Whether it be aiding in genocide, priests as pedophiles, etc., there is nothing wrong with the church admitting that its priests were wrong and that they are subject to the law like the rest of the laity of the church. Your quote from Jesus about rendering to Caesar what is Caesars is very apt in this situation.

I do know this, (and this is no excuse, only an observation, not an excuse for the bad behavior), when a Catholic priest is found guilty of pedophilia or sex crimes, it makes the front page of every paper in the country. When a school teacher or a priest from another religious denomination is guilty of the same crime, the story is buried or not front page news. Maybe Catholic priests are held to a higher standard, and if so that is as it should be. I tend to think a little anit-Catholic bias is often at work in the media.

Either way, if a priest is guilty of misconduct, he belongs in the courts like the rest of us, the church doesn't need to cover things up, it only leads to suspicion, schism and anger, within and outside the church. And worst of all, covering up the crime only makes the church morally complicit in the crime, a sin just as bad as the crime.

8:45 AM, April 23, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Tom: Nice catch on the lyric. To answer your question: yes, and no. No, because no human society has yet figured out how to insulate its judicial process from powerful people who wish to abuse it. Yes, because most human societies do seem to make progress toward that goal, and I the Church will see it as both a civil necessity and a religious principle.

Put another way: about as well as the U.S.A. has. Better than 200 years ago; not as good, I hope, as 200 years from now.

Lemming and John: I'd actually really like to see the Church make a big deal of the ecclesiastical consequences to the priests as well as the civil ones. John is right; while we strive to be better than our human nature, the fact is we're tied to it and we're going to fail.

Certainly, I see some things in the media which strike me as anti-Catholic. However, what I see most of the time is a media driven by ratings, which can sell more advertisements during soundbites of scandals than complex presentations of the good and the bad. Unfortunately "96% of priests are not sex abusers doesn't make good copy. ("Brave priests, nuns, and brothers do stand up to Rwandan genocide" actually makes very good copy, and I'm glad NPR brings up that point.)

And in point of fact, here in central Ohio we have had a number of recent sex scandals in schools which are front page news. What we don't have is a coordinated illegal conspiracy to cover all of them up.

3:53 PM, April 23, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe--thanks for putting this up. I don't get to listen to Morning Edition as much because our car radio got jacked.

John--It seems to me that the press absolutely ought to cover everything that Catholic priests or the larger church does that is wrong. That, in and of itself, is not bias, it's pluralism and accountability and democracy--all things the church still struggles with. (remember that the Pope who reigned during the French Revolution called democracy "utter madness")

To me, the bias comes when the secular press fails to cover the good things Catholics do. Sometimes, that's people in the pews like most of us in this conversation. Sometimes its men and women religious. Sometimes, it's the institutional church.

I'll give you an example: recently, at a panel on economic justice, the former editor of a local paper here spoke about the need for an increase in the minimum wage, as did someone working for the diocese. "I didn't know the church had a position," said the former editor, who'd been covering issues like this for years.

11:16 AM, April 26, 2005  

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