Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Drinking > Sexual Assault: Catholic Church Logic

I'm glad I was alone in the office when I read this. No one around here needs to hear me swearing that much this early in the day.

According to an article in today's Chicago Sun-Times, defrocked and imprisoned former priest Daniel McCormack had a known history of sexual improprieties going back to his days at Mundelein Seminary (the main seminary for the Archdiocese of Chicago).

It seems that Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon, AZ, who was the rector of Mundelein when McCormack was studying there in the 1980's, knew of these sexual incidents but thought that it would have been "grossly unfair" not to allow McCormack to be ordained.

He was indeed ordained and went on to be somewhat of a "high flyer" in the archdiocese. He also went on to molest five boys (aged eight to twelve, and there may have been more) over the period of about nine years while pastor of St. Agatha's Parish on Chicago's west side. Read the whole sordid story, as told by the Chicago Tribune last year, here.

McCormack is now in prison, having been convicted and sentenced this summer for a five year sentence.

This situation seems like a broken record, another sad chapter in the damnable story of clerical abuse in the church that now involves the entire hierarchy of the archdiocese; read about the larger implications here.

This does not make it better or excusable. Nothing ever could.

What struck me about the revelation of Bishop Kicanas, however, was what he said about the handling of the situation. He claims that he knew about the sexual improprieties while McCormack was in the seminary and allowed him to be ordained. Why, you ask?

There was a greater concern on Kicanas's mind, something that trumped these sexual misdeeds that caused then-rector Kicanas to send McCormack for treatment. What could this possibly be, that would seem more important than a possible predeliction for sexual deviance?

Kicanas said that he was more concerned about McCormack's drinking. So much so that he was sent for treatment for his supposed alcoholism.

Astounding. Simply astounding.

Now, I know that the two might be related, that a drinking problem can come along with other mental issues and that one might have led to the other. That much I get.

What I cannot understand, nor could I ever condone, is the notion that a drinking problem is somehow worse than sexual misdeeds. I also cannot fathom, furthermore, why treatment didn't possibly reveal a more full mental picture of this sick individual.

I think that two main points arise here. First, this story is proof positive of the institutional culture of cover-ups, lies, obfuscation and bullshit that plagues the Catholic Church hierarchy. These specific allegations, and others like them, have caused more than a crisis of confidence among Catholics; I'd say it has caused more than a few Catholics to become not-so-Catholic anymore.

Second, I realize that using a drinking problem to cover up sexual abuse could be a symptom of this aforementioned diseased institutional culture of the Catholic Church. I think it is interesting, however, that at least to one person, it seemed that a drinking problem was worse than sexual "misdeeds." It says a lot about our attitudes as a society when, in a taxonomy of mental pathology, alcoholism beats out sexual abuse.

To put it more bluntly, what would you rather deal with: a priest who is an alcoholic or a priest who molests kids?

Oh, and as for McCormack? Let's hope he meets the same fate that John Geoghan met.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

And Now, Choice Of Reading On COTL

Below you will find two new posts, both political in nature, but both interesting nonetheless. To wit:

  1. A piece about Tony Blair converting to Catholicism (supposedly) and what that says about Britain and how, in general, people perceive their leaders.
  2. A short lead to a political quiz who's structure I found intersting. Take it and tremble (or heave...same thing, really).

Smell that? Fresh, hot politics with a side of participation.

Aren't you lucky?

Best not answer that.

Can't Pick A Pony? No Problem.

I usually find political quizzes inane and of very little use. This stems from the fact that most of them are rather poorly designed or "loaded" to give a certain response.

This one was seemingly different and the format is interesting.

Go check out Glassbooth and see what 2008 presidential candidate most closely mirrors your stances on issues. I particularly like the "points allocation" system...kinda like a voting system used elsewhere in the world that I find fascinating (if not without some significant flaws).

My results? They won't surprise you (if you know me well enough, that is).

Click here for that non-surprise.

So go on, take the quiz and pick your guy or gal...but ask yourself that classic question that works on so many levels:

So what?

Why It Matters That Tony Blair Is A Catholic

On the surface, this might seem to the casual observer to be a bit of a non-story. It was reported today, leaked really, that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007) is just about ready to convert to Catholicism.

For those who watch British politics and politicians, this surely came as no real shock. It had been speculated for some time that Blair, who's wife Cherie and children are all Catholic, would officially convert after years of genuflecting in private.

O.K. Great, so he's a Catholic. So what?

The speculation over this matter proffered several reasons why he would not just do it when he was still resident at No. 10 Downing Street: the situation in Northern Ireland, possible constitutional problems related to the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, would be seen as an unpopular and divisive act in what is more and more a secular country.

While these reasons (and others) seem plausible if debatable, I think the real importance lies in the fact that it became such a public concern in the first place.

It does bear repeating that, on the whole, Great Britain is become a more "secular" country, a process that has been ongoing for, oh, a hundred years or more. Secular in the sense that less people profess a belief in any certain religion, attend any religious service and don't think that faith of any sort informs other parts of their lives. See this BBC story for more details on this score.

This seems strange, given that a large part of the UK (Northern Ireland) has been wracked by sectarian violence for thirty-five years (in its current form). Perhaps this is not so odd, though. If your country (or at least part of it) were inhabited by people ready to kill each other and religion was one of the reasons why, wouldn't that cause you to rethink your beliefs in general?

Northern Ireland may be the exception that proves the rule, but Northern Ireland is always treated as a sort of asterisk after any blanket statement about anything in the UK.

So, in a (largely) secular country with lived experience of the violence that religion sometimes causes between people, why is the fact that a former PM is converting to another religion a big deal?

For me, the real importance lies in the fact that this is a public concern at all. It says a lot not only about how Britons relate to their politics and society generally, but also about how history really dies hard in how it shapes perceptions.

It is a curious relation that the average Briton has to the government and institutions of society. It can best be described as a love-it-but-can't-live-without-it sort of arrangement. They complain about how useless the monarchy is, yet polling data suggests that most would keep it, given a choice. Same goes for the Church of England, which is an arm of the state (the monarch is also the head of the church).

It is this strange relationship that lies at the center of the "Tony Blair's a Catholic" foofaraw.

This leads into the second reason why this is important: the persistence of history. People like to think that history is, well, history. It is old news, forgotten, swept away in the march of progress. As most of you know, however, history retains a strange hold on people and their world views. How many of you think that the British are staid and proper, the French are snotty, the Irish are drunks, the Italians/Spainards/Greeks are passionate and violent and the Germans/Russians are authoritarian?

Probably more than a few. These perceptions are couched in historically determined conceptions of "national character," an idea that emerged from the eighteenth century. It is just this sort of thing that informs the reaction to Blair's conversion.

The British (the English in particular) seem to have a deep-seeded distrust of anything that smacks of Catholicism. For a country that went through the Reformation in the manner that England did (fits and starts and wars and most of Europe), this memory is part of the national story.

On the other side, the story of Catholics in Britain is a story, after about the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) of an underground religious culture that was distrusted and marginalized. This is not even mentioning how Catholicism developed and reacted to British domination in Ireland (which one could write about for the rest of one's life and not reach a conclusion).

This historical mistrust seemed to rear its head when, even before he left office in June of this year, there were hints at Blair being a "crypto Catholic." This mistrust of Blair's religion seemed to awaken the old demons of sectarianism and division that were supposedly laid to rest.

It could just be (and I think there is something to be said for this) that some people just didn't like Tony Blair and found any percieved difference to pounce upon. It could also be that this rise in negative feelings toward a Catholic leader is but a part of a complex interaction of perception, reality, policy and public opinion that intersect in the life of a lot of public figures (a lot of everyone, really).

I think that there is a lot at work here: perceptions of a public figure's private life; old prejudices rearing up; dislike of a controversial leader; questions over the faith of an ever more diverse people; the role of faith in public life.

These are questions that, rightly or wrongly, we will keep asking of our leaders and interpreting their answers to our liking. While the inclination to do this is strong indeed, I just hope that people for once stop and consider why they believe what they believe and see if it makes any sense given the situation.

This may be too much to ask of anyone, but I think it should be considered by everyone.

These are the "big questions" that we all must face, like it or not.