Crunchy Con

What Faye Gastal saw

Wednesday August 22, 2007

Categories: Religion (general)

A disturbing post on today, by an Orthodox laywoman -- indeed, the wife of an Orthodox priest -- who talks about how her professional training is in handling clerical sexual abuse. Observing the catastrophe that the Roman Catholic Church was going through, she says she approached Orthodox Church officials, warning them in detail how legal standards, among other things, concerning clergy sexual misconduct were changing, and that the various Orthodox churches had to get serious about establishing firm policies on handling these critical matters. She says that clerical and episcopal thumbs are still twiddling.

I learned the other day from a credible insider that there are real problems with sexual misconduct in the Orthodox Church that have yet to come to light, but which inevitably will be. This does not surprise me, though God knows it makes me sad and sick to my stomach. As regular readers know, my leaving the Catholic Church had a lot to do with the child sex abuse scandal and the way it was handled, though I emphatically did not become Orthodox thinking that I was going to escape this evil. Knowing how strongly the subject of child sexual abuse by clergy affects me emotionally, I made a conscious prudential decision to keep my involvement with and concern in church matters at arm's length, only to protect my own faith and my role as the spiritual leader of my family. Part of what that means, not only in terms of prottecting my own faith, but protecting my own children, is that I can never grant to clergy the same level of trust on these matters as I did before the Catholic scandal. Nothing personal, I'm just not going to do it.

You do wonder, though, if churches of all kinds have learned a thing from what happened to the Catholic Church, and is still happening. Take this story from last week involving an Episcopal priest from New York state. The priest admitted to sexually abusing four adolescent boys while serving as church rector. His bishop has suspended him for 20 years -- and given that he's now 66 years old, that effectively ends his career. But why not defrock him? Because he'd lose his pension? I dunno, you read the story, and it sounds like the bishop did act swiftly in this matter, so I don't want to crack too hard on him. And there are no criminal charges in this case. Maybe I expect too much. Still, I would have hoped that the church would have taken the strongest possible actions against this admitted abuser, given not only the abuse, but the way sexual abuse by a cleric often results in the victim losing the ability to relate to God. "Soul murder" is how one victim described it.

Bible Girl has tirelessly and exhaustively chronicled the evil machinations of Sherman Allen, a Dallas-area Pentecostal pastor, who allegedly abused many, many women in his church, and who was finally suspended by his Church of God in Christ bishop. Again and again, anybody who thinks this is just a problem for Catholics is deluding themselves.

And yet, who should have learned more about the cost of sweeping things under the rug than the Catholic Church? On the Catholic front, SNAP highlights three recent cases that show Lessons Have Not Been Learned. Regrettably, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state -- effectively the pope's No. 2 -- spoke indignantly last week about the US sex abuse crisis. Not an ounce of humility there, I'm afraid:

“The Church in the US has suffered deeply, has responded with dignity, and invites everyone to truly commit to a reversal of this situation,” said Bertone.

“While I was still at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then as the Archbishop of Genoa, I accompanied the American Church through this trial, this period, and I repeat that they faced this trial with dignity and courage.”

"Dignity and courage"? Well. Let us remember what, exactly, this scandal means on a human level. Last week, Gerard Frey, the retired Catholic bishop of Lafayette, La., died at age 92. As the Catholic World News blog noted, Frey "was among the most outrageously negligent of the abuser-shifting bishops and the first to watch his diocese get buggered into bankruptcy." The notorious Gilbert Gauthe case, which was chronicled in excruciating, heart-rending detail by the Catholic journalist Jason Berry in his magnificent book "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," happened on his watch.

Reading Jason's book hit home for me literally, as I come from south Louisiana, and I remember the Gauthe case from my teenage years. But until I read that book -- which I think I opened just before everything broke big in Boston in 2002 -- I had no idea at all the kind of human damage inflicted on children and their families. I offer this passage to you from Jason's book as evidence. It was sent to me by a Catholic priest who is as disgusted by the Church's handling of the matter as I am. I put it after the jump because it is graphic. Please don't click on it if you are sensitive about these things. I believe it is extremely important that the reality of what this scandal means be faced squarely, and not hidden behind euphemism. This is the kind of thing that any church that fails to take this evil seriously is enabling by its disregard.

[From Jason Berry, Lead Us Not into Temptation (Doubleday, 1992), p. 154; this concerns a trial in Feb 1986 centering around multiple-offender pedophile Fr. Gilbert Gauthe, whom Frey and his predecessor moved from parish to parish in spite of repeated offenses and repeated promises that the problem would be addressed. The passage below cites the questioning of one victim's mother by the plaintiff's attorney, J. Minos Simon.]

Then, with the faintest hint of suggestiveness, Simon said, "When you look at Bishop Frey here, what goes through your mind?'

Staring at the bishop, voice rising, hitting words for emphasis, she [Faye Gastal. victim's mother] said, "When I look at Monsignor Mouton and Bishop Frey, I think of Gauthe sticking his penis in my child's mouth, ejaculating in his mouth, putting his penis in his rectum -- that's what I think about!"

Monsignor Mouton looked down. The bailiff saw the bishop go white as her words hit like hammer strokes in the stunned room.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone looks at the scandal and sees a church that reacted with "dignity and courage." I see what Faye Gastal saw.

Rod Dreher
August 25, 2007 10:46 PM

You know, I can't shut any thread down, but I think it would be in everybody's best interest to walk away from this one. I'm going to do that after this post. Let me say before doing so that Susan and I have different views on the scandal and one's response to it. I don't believe the only rational or respectable response is to leave the Catholic Church. I really don't. I have the greatest respect for Catholics who can look squarely at the scandal and choose to remain Catholic, with their eyes wide open. That wasn't how I ended up, but anyway, we've been over that.

I need to remind you all, though, about what Father Doyle told me in 2001: that if I was going to write about the sex abuse scandal in the Church, I needed to realize "that you are going to go to places darker than you can imagine." I had no idea how true that was going to prove to be. You think you can handle evil, and then you speak on the phone to a woman who had to clean the Vaseline off the altar in her parish in the mornings, and was warned by the priest who was responsible for it getting there the night before that it would do no good to tell the bishop, because "when you have them by their balls, their hearts follow." (That priest eventually went to jail for sex crime). You think you can handle evil, then you talk to a man whose son blew his own brains out after spending 14 years suffering horrible depression -- all this tied to the same molester priest. Five young men killed themselves, all victims of this priest. You hear from the mouth of the father of the dead boy about the runaround church officials gave them, and you just have to sit very quietly and think about how very little you understand about how the world works. And on and on.

I have on my shelf the manuscript and the galley copy of a forthcoming book about the scandal that my friend Lee Podles has written. I talked with Lee, a faithful orthodox Catholic, about this book while he was writing it a few years back. He showed me some of the evidence of what he'd uncovered. It is enough to turn your hair white. I have been staring at that MS, and now the book, for a long time, literally afraid to open it because I know some of what's in it. I cracked the book open the other day, and had to close it, because I'm still too close to this story. I'm telling you, this kind of knowledge can break a person if you hold it too close.

I don't know Susan personally, and I wish she wouldn't be so hard on the rest of you. I disagree with her conclusions. But listen, I know where she's coming from. If you've had to see and hear up close the kind of stuff she has, and I have (to a much smaller degree, I'd guess), are you entirely sure that you'd handle it dispassionately?

August 25, 2007 11:19 PM

datamyrck writes "And lost in all of this is that even the case that Rod cites happened 25 years ago when ALL of society hid this problem. It was rare that it was publicized or came out. Everything was hush-hush. Transparency and accountability were not even desired never mind the norm. Keeping it hush-hush whether it was within families or without was the standard for the police, the families, and any insitutions that were involved. If the case Rod cited happened in the last 5 to 10 years and folks hid it, then sure the book should be thrown at them.

Yes, that is how it was before confessional television came out with Opra (sp?), Sally, Phil, and others. And I think the reasons for this were not just to avoid guilt or loss of credibility. Seeing how some people react to this by going around the bend may be a part of it.

We need to confront the issue honestly and help the victims. The problem is there are so many of them in society it is almost pathetic. Not all victims are the same, some take it without any noticable problems as all. But maybe the people who are doing the direct contact have to keep a certain distance just as the mental health professionals know they have to keep a distance because all make and manner of transference to infestation are possible. It can be like a disease with microbes. Keeping this distance does not mean ignoring, but if people get start to associate too much with them and pick up their problems and illnesses.

August 27, 2007 12:39 PM

Rod, last comment -- the same excrutiating painful details and after-effects apply to the victims of the 4 to 5 million and possibly more abusers in this country. If the outrage continues to be focused at the tip of the iceberg and only the very tip, we leave millions of children at risk. It doesn't matter where the vaseline is found. The pain for the victim is real.

September 1, 2007 9:55 PM

If you add up the number of people who belong to relgions which are considered to be evangelical in belief, the number comes up to at least 30%.

Two points:

First, when asked to name their deomination, about 2% call themselves Evangelicals. So some people do indeed use this term for a "denomination". Just as some call themselves "Bible Christians".

Second, every Christian who follows the bible should be an "evangelical" - every Catholic should evangelize, and that's 50% right there.

So, the word doesn't mean anything. It's a made up word the media uses. You could get your 30% self-described "evangelicals" in the same room and they woudn't agree on anything except they are Christians, believe in the bible (but agree on little in it), and everyone claims the name.

Your "born-again" comment is different: this is a specific doctrine. Born-agains do indeed fill a known, specific catagory. Evangelicals do not. So your analogy doesn't work.

I'm going to go try and pry my eyes back from the back of my head. I think they got stuck there while I was rolling them.

You eye-rolling comment simply shows a lack of charity. Adults should be able to speak to each other without petty insults.

Suzette Tardo
November 30, 2007 10:16 PM

My larger than life father was J.Minos Simon. He was the attorney that first represented the victims of Gilbert Gauthe. I worked for my father during this era and sat in on the depositions of these monsters that represented the church. I firmly believe if it werent for my father, the catholic church to date would still be fostering these slimy pedophiles. As mighty as my father was in shaking out the liars cloaked behind a collar, predators such as Gauthe will always exist in the catholic church.

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About Crunchy Con

Rod Dreher is an editorial columnist for the Dallas Morning News, and author of "Crunchy Cons" (Crown Forum), a nonfiction book about conservatives, most of them religious, whose faith and political convictions sometimes put them at odds with mainstream conservatives. The views expressed in this blog are his own.

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