“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”
— St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezekiel
Here, I will give brief thoughts on three pieces that directly or indirectly addressed the scandals. Each piece has its merits, but two of them have their limitations.
Conservative Catholic Attack: Goodbye, Good Men
As scandals emerged but before the levy broke, Michael Rose released his bombshell ‘Goodbye, Good Men’. This book was huge at the time, finding a common audience with traditionalist and conservative Catholics alike. Finally, someone was addressing the “pink palace” culture and heterodox inquisitions in seminaries like Holy Trinity in Dallas (once an epicenter of gay seminary activity) head on and taking no prisoners.
The book is excellent and diving into the rot in seminaries and giving specific examples. Where the book falls short is that it really doesn’t address the roots of the problem. Like most conservatives, Rose can point to the pre-Vatican II days as a time when seminaries were full and blame the implementation of changes in the mid-1960s for the decline. Little to no mention or acknowledgement is made that the state of things before then was already rotting, with rings of pedophiles in places like El Paso or Davenport taking advantage of a clericalist faithful. Furthermore, later developments have made this book obsolete in some regards. Pedophilia is barely touched upon as it was originally published in 2002 before the full scope of the scandals could have been known.
Useful for its time but outdated, ‘Goodbye Good Men’ will break little new ground for a Catholic aware of the scandals aside from giving an insight to the corruption of seminary culture.
Hollywood Expose: Spotlight
I will not lie, I turned this movie on thinking it would be an all-out assault on the Catholic Church. For the 5 total minutes where characters who are non-practising Catholics (notably the one played by Mark Ruffalo) vent their frustrations at the Church it is. Beyond that, it is a very accurate retelling of how the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” story of Catholic sex abuse scandals in the archdiocese developed.
The film follows the pattern of an investigative thriller, with new developments being discovered at every turn and myriad legal obstacles to overcome to get the information required. There are pressures to stop pursuing the story, legal technicalities, a culture of “good old boy” networks to overcome (as someone unfamiliar with the culture of Boston I cannot speak to the accuracy of this element and will defer to anyone who lived in Boston during that time), and the culminating fact that the characters presented had what they needed for the story years ago. With a little tweaking and clever editing, large chunks of this film could be retooled into a Mafia film. As is, the movie is gripping, interesting, and masterfully made.
Even more to the movie’s credit is how much they get right. The methods used by perps like Geoghan, the fact that most of the predators were found to be psychologically stunted at the level of a 12-14 year-old, the devastating effects of the abuse on the victims, the hard work done by many Catholics running the ineffectual treatment centers to warn of the problem, the deafening and shameful silence of much of the laity who were in the know, and the efforts of the auxiliary bishop to stop the abuse only for him to be transferred out, all of these are detailed in a way that shows just how rampant and deep the corruption went. All of it matches up perfectly with the other sources that tackle the subject (like the one below).
The single greatest flaw of the film is how it treats (or rather fails to treat) the role of homosexuality in the abuse. The approach taken is to start with Geoghan, a known “true pedophile” who was heterosexual and targeted vulnerable fatherless young boys, and then accurately point out that homosexuality had nothing to do with it. The topic of homosexuality is never brought up again except during the interview of a very effete gay victim of abuse. The issue with this is that it deceptively tries to lead the audience to believe that homosexuality had nothing to do with any of the abuse, which is simply not true. If Geoghan of the Boston Archdiocese is the prime example of the “true pedophile”, an opportunistic sexual predator with a preference for females and the feminine attributes of small children of both sexes, then the Diocese of Dallas had Rudy Kos, a textbook example of a homosexual ephebophile pursuing post-pubescent young men for their youthful male features. To tackle so accurately one category of predator while ignoring the other category shows that the negligent filmmakers were either terrified of angering the “gay community”or were not interested in portraying anything that could cast a negative light on that particular subculture.
Overall, Spotlight is worth a watch for those genuinely interested in what went wrong so they can ensure it never happens again. It does have one or two shortcomings, but if the viewer goes into the film knowing of them then those flaws can be overlooked in favor of the many more raw facts and insights the film has to offer.
Expert Analysis of a Betrayed Catholic: Sacrilege
Leon Podles authored The Church Impotent: Feminization of Christianity to positive-to-mixed reviews. While I mostly agreed with his analysis, I found his purported link between scholasticism and the feminization to be the weakest point (and this is from someone who thinks the Western Church became too obsessed with scholasticism after Trent). I might reread it sometime to pick up on things I may have missed.
He then dropped this bomb which I believe every Catholic with the stomach for it should read. Even i one does not have the stomach to do so, the information contained here is too important to not know. One need not know the lurid horror stories of priests in Davenport taking children to look at corpses as a means of corruption to be educated on the profile of predators. The quality of information here is so vital that it makes me wonder if there is a way an edited and distilled version could be made from parts of the book to result in “The Profiles and Methods of Child Abusers”.
One admirable point of the book is the unwillingness of the author to try to lump all the criminals into one basket or stick to any narratives. Think you that priests who do the Old Mass are safer? He gives an example of a predator who said it. Think you that a more liberal church will result in less abuse? He gives an example of a priest who used his “rad approach” to build a cult in his parish that defended him even when his guilt was clear. Think you that a rare instance of an unusually masculine priest can’t be a predator? He gives an example of one such priest in rural Louisiana. Think you that pedophiles are an aberration of the post-Vatican II Church? He details the 1940s-50s rings of abusers in Davenport, Iowa and El Paso, Texas. And so on, and so on…
Pick up this book if you want to know the truth and if you think knowing the truth will be of any use. I cannot give it justice in this measly blog post, so I ask that you pick it up yourself.
Onto less depressing topics! Hopefully…