February 22, 2014 – Still On My Mind

The one event that I was paying close attention to during the Winter Olympics was hockey.  Unfortunately it’s been a rough last few days for the U.S. squads.  The women’s team had a 2-0 lead in the gold medal game only to lose in overtime.  Then the men’s team lost a tough semi-final game to Canada yesterday 1-0.  Finally, this morning the men’s ream laid a big 5-0 goose egg in the bronze medal game.  OUCH!  On the bright side, there are four St. Louis Blues players in tomorrow’s gold medal game.  and spring training is now in full go for the Cardinals, so things could certainly be worse on the sports scene.

Last week I wrote about separating the facts from the myths when it comes to the subject of clerical sexual abuse of children.  I have also written about it several times in the past.  However, I have to admit that I’m still on a bit of a guilt trip for not doing enough to defend those priests (which is the vast majority) who conduct their ministry with dignity, generosity and dedication.  Maybe it is because I am involved in a number of parish and diocesan ministries, so I see more of what is going on with our local situation – a shrinking and aging pool of priest having to take on more and more responsibility.  Maybe it is because I feel that if I would have taken the path that I had thought about in high school and attended the seminary, that I could have eased other priests’ burdens somehow.  Or maybe it is because even though I have written extensively in this, when it comes to talking about it one-on-one with someone who still has a prejudice toward the church and particularly the clergy, I don’t show as much courage as I should.

“Yeah, well your priests like little boys.”  “Do your priests still carry candy in their pockets to draw the kids to them?”  “Is this new Pope finally going to do something with the pedophiles?”  We probably have all had someone say something to this effect to us.  The priest/sex scandal card still gets played and played often.  And too often, we as Catholics cringe and duck out of the argument.  Responding to a slam on the priesthood or anything against the Catholic faith is an opportunity to witness to others.  This is not to sat that we should engage haters in their sport, but to varying degrees, we need to respond,  because the media’s dogpile on the priesthood has left many misinformed.

Sex abuse of children is epidemic throughout society.  Pedophilia among priests is extremely rare, only 0.3% of the entire clergy (Yes, 0.3% is absolutely still too much.)  This figure was cited in the book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis by a non-Catholic scholar, Philip Jenkins.

The Media Report.com has reported that:

* “Catholic priests abuse at a rate far lower than that of other males in the general population.”

*  Most of the reported cases of abuse were an historical anomaly, occurring during a narrow time period from the Sixties to the early Eighties.  The handling of those cases was a reflection of that era, not the Church.  Experts in the field at the time, believed offenders could be successfully rehabilitated. Offenders were sent for treatment, rather than reported to police, which resulted in a temporary spike in repeat offenses.

* It has been reported that sexual abuse by teachers in public schools is “more than 100 times” that by Catholic priests. Yet there is little reporting on this, but old allegations of abuse by Catholic priests keep getting rehashed.

So why does the media continue to vigorously attack the priesthood?  It would appear that there are several reasons.  Part of it is an anti-Catholic and anti-religion mindset.  Protestant faiths, even if they split from another Protestant church, ultimately broke away from the Catholic Church so that is the Church they tend to discredit in order to defend themselves.  And if one opposes Catholic teaching on contraception, homosexuality or anything else, then the priesthood is a favorite target.

Another reason for the attacks speaks to the true value of the priesthood.  Catholic priests are held in high esteem, above other denominations and occupations. An offending priest is bigger news than when anyone else in society offends.  We expect more from them.   The sensationalizing proves that priests really do hold a special place in our world.

We have greater expectations for the priesthood because it is greater.  Why else, when Hollywood makes a movie on exorcism, it is a Catholic priest that goes head to head with evil?  The Catholic priesthood represents Christ and Christianity in a bigger way than other denominations. Priests bring us the Eucharist and absolve our sins in the place of Jesus during confession.  When it comes to the priesthood, the shockwaves for wrongdoing are much fiercer because of what is represented by them. Even non-Catholics, whether they like to admit it or not, hold priests to a higher standard.

Thus far, when I’ve encountered such attacks, I try to respond with the fact that it’s well documented that there are as much or more abusers in the general population. And any priest that does abuse, behaves in stark opposition to Catholic teaching so it does not represent the Church.  It may silence some, but many times it will not.  The point is that not only should we defend our priests, but also knowing the facts makes it easier.  But aside from the facts is our witness, loyalty, and courage to our faith.  If Catholics everywhere spoke up (without getting sucked into mud slinging), more detractors would be better informed and less inclined to risk looking like an ignorant bully.

I promise that next week I will delve into a different subject, but I thought this was important enough to devote two weeks to.  Have a great week.  Peace.





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