Posts Tagged ‘child abuse’

New Norms, Renewed Commitment

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Today, the Holy See issued revised rules, approved by Pope Benedict himself, that will govern how the most serious offenses under the Canon Law will be handled.  Since the most prominent of these crimes is the sexual exploitation of children, I fully expect that the secular press will fail to understand these norms and present a distorted or incomplete view of them, permit me to propose a few observations.

This new legislation reflects a great deal of knowledge that has been learned from hard experience during the “Long Lent” of the past decade, and specifically our American experience under the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

One such lesson is that the process of dealing with sexual abuse cases needed to be standardized across the Church.  The Canon Law already contained rules that, if used prudently, would have been sufficient in many cases in addressing these offenses.  But in many cases these rules were either not being used at all, or were being applied inconsistently from diocese to diocese.  These new norms do what good law should do — make the rules and procedures clear, and make it easier to come to a fair and final determination of guilt or innocence.

Another positive factor is the broadening of the kinds of sexual exploitation that will be treated as grave crimes.  The new norms include possession of child pornography and the exploitation of developmentally disabled adults among the most grave offenses that will be disciplined.  These crimes were not clearly included in the definition before, so it will be helpful to investigators and judges in the future to have this clarification.

It will also be helpful that the process has been streamlined, including easing the process of laicization, the relaxation of rules that permitted only priests to serve as canonical judges, and the ability to resolve clear cases without a trial.  While it always has been true that diocesan bishops had the authority to remove offenders from active ministry at any time, the complex and cumbersome canonical process has at times impeded efforts to bring some cases to a definitive conclusion.

What does all this mean in the big picture?  I think it shows that the Catholic Church, to the highest level, has renewed her commitment to protecting children and vulnerable adults from the wicked sin of sexual exploitation.  For those of us who work for the Church, it is yet another reminder that one of our most solemn obligations, during this time in which the the Bride of Christ has been entrusted to our care, is to ensure that we preserve Her “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

Where Is the Outrage?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

What will it take for the media to get on a real story of child abuse — not decades-old cases of clerical sex abuse, but the present involvement by the abortion industry in covering up the rape of children and lying to women about the nature of abortion?

In the last two weeks, the pro-life group LiveAction, headed by the intrepid Lila Rose, has put out two undercover videos of her experiences in abortion clinics.

The first found her in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin.  Posing as a young girl seeking an abortion, she was told by a Planned Parenthood employee that her 6 to 8 week-ole baby had “no arms, no legs, no heart no head, no brain”, and that an unborn child at that age has no “identifiable parts” and is just “fetal matter.”  The clinic employee discouraged her from adoption, and urged her to have an abortion right as soon as possible.  View the video for yourself, and you’ll feel your blood pressure go up, especially if you have a daughter.  Yes, that’s really “pro-choice” — lying to women and pressing them to destroy their children.

The next video is the worst.  Lila goes into an abortion clinic in Kentucky, claiming to be a 14-year-old girl who is 14 to 15 weeks pregnant.  The clinic worker coldly explains to her how she can evade the state’s parental notification laws by obtaining a “judicial bypass”, with the help of a local attorney.  So much for informed choice, if the girls’ parents won’t even know about the abortion.

That was bad enough, but what happened next is stomach-turning.  The worker asks Lila how old her “boyfriend” is, and Lila tells her outright that he is 31 years old.  The clinic worker doesn’t bat an eye, and just tells her that this won’t be a problem for the “judicial bypass”.

Think about that for a nauseating second — a 31-year-old adult, having sex with a 14-year-old.  That is rape, and it should be reported to the authorities instantly.  View the video for yourself and be sickened at the callousness of the clinic worker, who clearly just doesn’t care — after all, what’s  little rape when you’re in the murder business?

In a day when technical flaws in cars are the subject of endless headlines, and where deception and fraud on Wall Street produces Presidential addresses, what does it say when child-rape and deception aren’t even newsworthy?

It says to me that the conscience of our society has been deadened by indifference to and cooperation in the worst kind of child abuse — the killing of unborn children.  And until we recapture our reverence for human life at its earliest stages, all sorts of horrors are possible — and may even be inevitable.

Sunlight is the Best Disinfecant

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, writing about the need for transparency in government as a way of ensuring responsibility and accountability, famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.  Our Church has painfully learned this lesson in dealing with the problem of child sexual abuse.

The recent news articles over the past few weeks about particular cases, both here and in Europe, have fostered wide confusion about how the Church handles sex abuse cases, and about the causes of the crisis.  I’d like to offer a few reflections to shed a little sunlight on each of these topics.

The Church, like any organization, operates according to certain rules and regulations.  These can be found in the Code of Canon Law, various papal and curial documents, and in the ordinary course of doing business in chanceries and departments of the Holy See.   The failure of Church officials to govern and discipline according to the Canon Law was one of the major problems in dealing with sex abuse cases in the years before 2002.  In those days, overlapping jurisdiction, painfully slow deliberations, communication difficulties between Rome and other nations, inconsistencies between dioceses, failure of some high-ranking officials to grasp the big picture, irresponsibility and buck-passing all created significant problems and left children at risk.  These problems exploded in 2002, and damage has not yet been healed.

The Church has learned many hard lessons from this experience.  But dwelling on the failures of the past do not really help us much in moving into the future, nor does it help heal the wounds caused by evil acts and negligent leadership.

Since the American scandal broke in 2002, things have changed significantly.  The process for removing offenders from active ministry and for resolving their cases has been regularized and streamlined, due to the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.  The Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the new canonical rules that go along with it, are a model for Church governance and for child protection.  Victims are not treated as threats and adversaries, but we are doing much more to reach out to them and help them heal.  And herculean efforts are being made to prevent sexual abuse in our institutions.

For those who are interested in knowing how cases are now actually handled (and who rightly do not trust the American press to describe it accurately), the Vatican has posted a short primer on their website, along with information about the response of the Church around the world.  For more information about how the Church in America has responded to the crisis, and has instituted significant reforms, you should visit the website of the U.S. Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.

Another major source of heat and smoke, but very little light, has been the question of the cause of child sexual abuse in the Church, particularly by clergy.

Some people have ignorantly blamed celibacy, as if living a single life necessarily disposes a person to child abuse.  Others have cited “homosexuality” as the primary cause, reasonably noting that about 80% of the victims of sexual abuse by clergy were teenaged boys.

In this inflammatory situation, we need to be very careful with our terminology. In my opinion, the problem is not “homosexuality”, as that term is ordinarily understood.

The Catechism defines “homosexuality” as “relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.” (2357)  Note the emphasis on “relations” — that is, on conduct, and not on the disordered sexual attraction alone. In the popular understanding of the word “homosexuality”, it also means that the person has accepted these feelings and actions as “normal” for them, and has organized their affectional and sexual life around them.

The real problem in the sex abuse crisis is not “homosexuality”, understood in that way.  The root of it is in the disordered sexual feelings — particularly feelings of same-sex attraction — that are experienced by men who are not well-formed in their psychological and sexual development.  On top of this is the inability or unwillingness of some men to conform their conduct to the virtue of chastity.

Merely saying “it’s a homosexual problem” finds a handy scape-goat, but doesn’t get at the real problem or the real solution — helping men who are preparing for the priesthood and who are already ordained to achieve a normal sexual and psychological development, helping them to reject any sexual feelings towards young people — again, particularly same-sex attraction — for the distortions and lies that they are, and training them spiritually to live lives of chastity and continence.

If anyone is interested in further information about homosexuality, and how it can be addressed by the Church and by mental health professionals, the best document is “Homosexuality and Hope” by the Catholic Medical Association.  The U.S. Bishops’ statement on Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination is also an excellent resource.

In the end, sunlight — the truth — is the indispensable tool if the Church, and society as a whole, is ever going to understand the causes of child sexual abuse, heal the victims, and prevent further problems.

Back to Torture Again

Friday, February 12th, 2010

There was a horrendous report of child abuse in the news today — a man has been arrested for waterboarding his 4-year-old daughter because she couldn’t recite the alphabet.

After reading this horror story, I made a comment about it in an email I send out to some of my friends.  I said, “This is where it leads when one obfuscates the moral law, and shades the truth about intrinsically evil acts…  So, it’s criminal if you do it to a child, but permissible “enhanced interrogation” when you do it to a prisoner?”

Well, one of my friends challenged me for making this argument about my “hobby horse” of torture, and I thought that the exchange would be interesting to share more generally.  In his reply, my friend noted that there is a significant difference between the way that we treat children in the law and the way we treat adults, in particular where moral and legal culpability and punishment are concerned.   For example, we are legally and morally permitted to inflict punishments on adults (e.g., imprisonment and even execution) that we would never impose upon children.  He also noted that waterboarding is similar to the training we give to soldiers, which tends to undermine the argument that it is always “torture”.

My response began by pointing out that the starting point of any discussion of morality is to remind ourselves that there are three fonts of morality — the moral object (the objective nature of the act), the intention of the actor, and the relevant circumstances. (Catechism 1750)

The problem with the debate over torture is that the focus is not on the moral object of torture, but has instead concentrated on other factors — the intention of the actors (some writers’ theme that the waterboarders are “honorable men”), or the usefulness of torture (the Jack Bauer, er, I mean Dick Cheney consequentialist argument that “it works”).  But none of those factors will render the act good, since the moral object of torture is intrinsically evil.

Remember, the moral object is not just the physical act alone.  It represents the object that is freely chosen by the actor, and thus involves not just a physical act but also an end that is chosen. (See Veritatis Splendor 78)   The distinction between the physical act and the moral object is essential.

Here’s the definition of the moral object in question: “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred” (Catechism 2297), in violation of the affirmative duty that “Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely” (Catechism 2313).  In Veritatis Splendor 80, Pope John Paul listed  torture among those acts that are “”intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances”.

Once we recognize the intrinsic evil of such an act, the intentions of the actor (honorable or otherwise) and the circumstances (the victim is a really bad person, the bomb is ticking, etc.) are irrelevant to the moral analysis — they cannot render an intrinsically evil act good or neutral.  Using the physical and moral violence of inflicting the sensation of drowning and the terror of dying upon a bound prisoner in order to extract information cannot, under any circumstances, be a good or neutral act.

Other moral objects are morally neutral or good, and are not intrinsically evil.  Thus the circumstances and intention must be consulted to see if the act is good or evil.  So, a parent’s striking a child to teach them discipline (i.e., the infliction of corporal punishment) can be a good act (but can also be evil if overdone, or done for the wrong reason).

We also have to be precise in how we define our moral objects, especially in situations where two physical acts are superficially similar.  For example, what happens in military training may resemble the physical act of waterboarding, but it is not the same moral object as waterboarding, because the end that is sought by the actor is fundamentally different.  This training is not “physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred” in violation of a duty to treat a prisoner humanely.  It is instead the consensual infliction of physical distress in order to prepare a soldier to endure mistreatment (i.e., torture) by an enemy.  It is a different moral object entirely, and cannot be used to justify torturing a prisoner.

This may seem like splitting hairs in the way we define acts, but it is essential to a comprehensive analysis of moral activity.  We must keep in mind that there are some acts that are always intrinsically evil, regardless of the circumstances or intention of the actor.