Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

We Must Not Be A Church of Lies

 Yesterday, The Pillar published an investigative story about how the general secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had been actively using the hookup app Grindr for years even while holding positions with responsibility for forming and enforcing regulations for clergy relating to sexual abuse. The priest in question proceeded to resign, which was announced by the USCCB prior to the publication of The Pillar's report.

I would have thought that this would be a fairly straight-forward event. Goodness knows, as Catholics we have become accustomed in recent years to learning about the betrayals committed by our Catholic leaders. It seemed to me like another in a long line of sad cases in which we've learned that some prominent cleric was leading a double life -- advancing in the Church on the one hand, while frequently betraying his vows on the other.

What surprised me was that a number of people were angry not that the highest ranking non-bishop in the USCCB had been betraying his vows, but rather that a Catholic news venue had published it.

It's perhaps not totally surprising that Father James Martin, SJ immediately attacked the story as a "witch hunt" aimed at "vulnerable people working for the church".

It's rather more surprising that the integralist writers Adrian Vermeule and Sohrab Ahmari were in full agreement with him.

And then a Commonweal editor at large was playing the "you won't like where this goes" game:

I'm really kind of shocked by some of these takes.  I would have thought that after the McCarrick report, in which it was utterly clear that many, many people knew that McCarrick was constantly breaking his vows, but they all remained quiet about it because they didn't want the negative publicity and didn't know with certainty yet that he had done something which was technically illegal according to civil law -- I would have thought we as a Church were done with this conspiracy of silence. 

It would sadden but not at all shock me if it turned out that some prominent Catholic priest or bishop who's speaking or writing I like was living a double life.  I am under no illusion that sin and deception are an issue only with "progressive" clergy. And indeed, I have no idea what the politics or liturgical preferences of the former general secretary are. 

I do not understand the attitude of someone who would argue that Catholics should knowingly keep this kind of thing under wraps.  If (as some progressive Catholics seem to imply) it is impossible to populate the Church's leadership positions with people who do not flagrantly violate their vows by leading double lives, then frankly it is time that we all learned this is true.  Throw the windows open.  Let the air flow in.  For too many years the Church has tried to live on a foundation of comfortable lies.  

The problem is not that "everyone is a sinner".  Of course everyone is a sinner.  The problem is that when we have a Church that makes a habit of covering up for people who have a deeply ingrained habit of leading double lives, no one tells what they know.  Everyone believes everything is just a little bit fake.  No one knows who to trust.  And because everyone is covering up for everyone else's secrets, no one puts all the pieces together.  So the secrets of the priest with a wife and children on the side get kept.  The secrets of the priest cruising gay bars get kept.  And the secrets of the priest abusing children get kept.  No one wants their secrets revealed, and so all the secrets become a web of deception and it festers and destroys more lives.

The coverups have to stop.  The old boys network needs to stop deciding what gets shared and what gets swept quietly under the rug with a resignation or reassignment.  If the institutional church was going to police itself, it had the chance in 2018 and 2002 and so many times in the decades before.  


Bernard Franklin Brandt said...

On the one hand, Darwin, I am in entire agreement with you that such cases as the unfortunate ex-Cardinal McCarrick's should be exposed, using all proper methods of exposure, which are available in the public record, or on the basis of sworn testimony. I believe, as a matter of fact, that I have been ahead of the curve of most Catholic weblogistas in pointing out the derelictions of many RC clergy, and in calls for reform.

On the other hand, under both civil and canon law, I believe that all individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy, which it is both illegal and immoral to violate. I point out in particular Canon 220 of the Latin Code of Canon law, which reads as follows: "No one is permitted to harm illegitimately the good reputation which a person possesses nor to injure the right of any person to protect his or her own privacy."

While I applaud the efforts of private individuals and of Church Militant in making use of all legitimate means of inquiry to discover the failings of spoiled priests, I draw the line at hacking. I believe that I am supported in this distinction by both civil and canon law.

My point in writing this is that if it is found that there was an injury to this priest by the violation of his right of privacy, that redress should be found in civil and canon courts, up to and including monetary awards, and the decertification of the news service in question as 'Catholic'.

DP said...


Hear, hear!

Clerical omerta is the order of the day otherwise.

Brandon said...

What I find interesting is the assumption, involved in some (although possibly not all) of the privacy arguments, that bishops and priests are in no way public figures in a public office. The general principle of journalistic ethics with respect to privacy is that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in matters that do not directly concern public interest or public office. Bishops and priests, like everyone else, have aspects of their lives that are not concerned with either. But bishops and priests do have a public office, and repeated behavior inappropriate to that office directly concerns public interest, and once that's the case, I think the real ethical question is simply whether the evidence is adequate to go public with the story.

As you say, if people keep *not* exposing repeated inappropriate behavior relevant to public office, even where they have evidence in hand of it, the result is simply that a serious problem grows and grows without anybody knowing how serious it is.

Bernard Franklin Brandt said...

But, as the late Jerry Pournelle would have said, on the gripping hand...

If it is the case that the priest in question used a publicly available 'app' to arrange for his assignations, and someone else collected that publicly available information, then it would seem that there was no violation of the priest's privacy, and the only one he had to blame for his situation was himself.

TS said...

For sure the institutional church had myriad chances to police itself and I've come to see that transparency is the only solution. I saw where Msgr Bransfield tweeted a link to the book about the abuses of power in the church and other organizations and the author argues that transparency and accountability are keys.

Unknown said...

The most important detail of this story is that the priest in question is responsible for handling sexual abuse policy. How did McCarrick get away with so many vile acts? Because other clerics covered up for him in fear that their own vile acts might be exposed. This priest is the LAST person who should be in his position. I'm sure that he was ready to enforce the Church's moral laws to the fullest extent--NOT.
The Church seems to be just great at background checks and "training" for lay people, but apparently the bishops have to draw the line at making sure that the clergy are behaving appropriately. No, the clergy need their "privacy."
I keep praying that the filth in the hierarchy will be cleansed.

mandamum said...

As has been pointed out, this was not hacking but rather collecting publicly available information. If anything, the "privacy" lesson we should be taking is that we need to read more carefully what we agree to when installing such tracking apps.

I think the point about clergy being public figures is important.

More generally and low-tech, if we were to see and recognize a particular person at our local ... embarrassing place (adult bookstore etc etc) would you say they have a reasonable expectation of privacy there? If no, then if someone were to run into this particular person while using a questionable app, does he still have a reasonable expectation of privacy?

Personally, I am glad the Pillar is doing this kind of reporting, rather than waiting for those who want a bite out of the Church to stumble on it - after all, it is publicly available. I just wish it wasn't there to report in the first place...I guess it's time to double-down on praying for our priests and other leaders, for holiness and faith.

mandamum said...

Sorry - I guess there was an "if" in front of the "publicly available" in your "other hand" :-) I will say instead that my overwhelming understanding from the reporting was that they just gathered the publicly available (for a fee? That's what commercially available means, right?) info waiting there for the taking, with no hacking.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Darwin Catholic. The priest in question is committing grave sins; he needs to be told to stop and repent. If he's in a position of power and influence (which he was), then those sins need to be exposed to his authorities. If they don't respond to recuse him of his role of authority, then the public needs to know. I think Pillar followed all the proper ethical steps. In fact, if Pillar were to hide this information or simply let it rest with the Bishop's Conference, it would be doing something unethical, imo. A sin of omission.

Michael said...

mandamum, I think you have it exactly correct. The "seeing someone enter an adult bookstore" analogy is apt. I don't know it for a fact, but I don't believe this priest was a target of the investigation, but rather someone bought the location data and then painstakingly sifted through it to find anonymized IDs that seemed to travel to all the USCCB meeting locations. I wouldn't be surprised if they found more than one and are still putting together the other reporting.

Agnes said...

No sin of any Church leader can be as harmful as the covering up of those sins. I thought this doesn't need to be said any more, like you said. And it's not a question of whether we would enjoy finding out how deep the festering wound is (to reflect on your last quote). I'm a physician so the metaphor is really close to me. Sick people and the multitude of seemingly healthy people who have just the very insignificant symptom of... (some slight chest pain at exercise, because I'm a cardiologist, but take your pick) don't get better outcomes by not going to the doctor and not exposing their disease, therefore not asking for treatment.
So, it boils down to this: do we, all of us Catholics, really believe that this behavior is like a sickness needing treatment, or do we think we can use cosmetics for cover-up?