Was the sexual abuse crisis just the work of a "few bad apples" or was there something much deeper involved – a systemic failing? Tom McMahon continues his exploration of this question using as a focus the 1991 Canadian documentary, THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT.
What happens when a person gets out-of-touch with real life...
Using THE BOYS OF ST VINCENT as a base I offer a further reflection in this analytic series of clerical abuse. Going into the dark tunnel we have begun to search for the root cause of clerical sexual abuse. We are finding more than we anticipated.
Today we examine what happens when a person gets out-of-touch with real life.
My original commitment was to review the movie THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT which I had in my files for over 20 years. I have stated from the beginning that I have no intention of entering into the pandemic that now raises its ugly head throughout the world. I respectfully leave this to the experts such as Richard Sipe and Jason Berry. Along with the Penn State-Sandusky criminality a recent expose of hidden records of abusive leaders of the Boy Scouts of America has alerted me that the sexual abuse of children is part of the fabric of modern male warrior culture. There are huge amounts of money invested in sport with the notion of male dominance and a creeping demand for more violence. A tug a war, a real war with great collateral damage, has surfaced between the established male hunter-gatherer culture and the domesticated (home-centered) female gender.
Moving away from the concept of viewing women as men's property...
As we proceed let us keep in mind the awareness we have in the global village, a concept that has humanly united the world at a time when women and children are moving away from ancient and medieval concepts of the woman as property. A clear cut struggle has been underway since the days of women's suffrage in England. The married woman is taking her rightful place as a member of the human race. The dominance of the 'medieval warrior culture' is fading in real life, except on TV — that universal carrier of pseudo-life messages and values that has particularly hooked the young generation. In a broad 500-year appreciation of evolution, the power and life-sustaining role of women is fast becoming reality. The old style glorification of celibacy and vowed religious life is like a square peg trying to fit into the round hole of wholesome family life. The God I have today is intimately linked to my person and I do not need an intermediary. I view the clerical abuse situation as a catalyst in the destruction of an obsolete system.
In 1968 I experienced my first open encounter with an elderly priest in an abusive relationship with a teen. I was powerless to be of help; I did not understand human nature, nor was I ready or able to be a role model for the young. While an active Roman Catholic pastor I quietly went back to school for 15 years, eventually earning a master's degree in psychology at age 49. I still describe myself as the little boy from 15th street, San Francisco, who happened to become a priest. Today my genuine value to the people is that I have been an observant witness of my own inadequacy yet loving inside the dysfunctional roman system since early grade school days. I am a 12 year seminary man who knows the ropes/system with 58 years of pastoral skills learned on-the-job in the midst of much confusion, pain and clerical animosity.
That great Christian, Irenaeus, spoke of a Christian as one 'fully alive'. In my 15 year search for my identity as a God-created sexual male Ireneus's statement about being fully alive played a big role.
Attempting to figure out the mind of another and dealing with the murky business of clerical sexual abuse are depressive. Following on the heels of the Penn State-Sandusky criminality a recent expose of hidden records of Boy Scout abusive leaders has hit the headlines of our national newspapers. [See San Francisco Chronicle story at left.]
The secrets of Pandora's Box are spilling into the wide world, certainly not excluding clergy while exposing the pandemic in every village on the globe. Daily the "Hydra" of sexual abuse raises its ugly head.
In 2012 abuse of children has "ten thousand heads"; as we go forward into an evolutionary child protective model many heads will roll and there will be great pain throughout the land. The powerful and privileged class will not be exempt. We males have been poorly trained in the joy and beauty of human sexuality. This painful experience will prove to be greater than Europe's Black Death Plague of the 1400's. As we have so few experts a monumentus task lies ahead in educating the laity. Such education cannot be accomplished in a few hours of lectures on rules and preventative regulations Celibate church officials will be of no value. Women can be of great help.
Hydra was a sea serpent with nine heads and was killed by Hercules who found that whenever he cut off a head two more heads would grow back. Hydra also had poisonous fumes that made Hercules cover his nose. [Source: wiki.answers.com/]
Let me use the rest of this commentary on the subject of TOUCH.
Is there a reader who has not observed a new born baby? We all want to touch this beautiful creation, so tiny, so complete,with features in beautiful symmetrical order. We touch first with our eyes and a baby knows a gentle face. Then we hold and kiss the innocent skin and the baby knows love through touch. I have seen the process in my five grandchildren, now 12 months to 7 years old. We touch with a smile and await their infant response, their facial muscles relaxing indicative of the whole body is at peace. The baby cries out for contact, rooting for the maternal breast and falls into lullaby land when hunger and loneliness feelings are gone. My mentor, Alexander Lowen, N.Y. psychiatrist advocated breast feeding up to five years. The childhood honeymoon goes on, mother and father, relatives and friends cooing and touching for a few short years ... AND THEN ... bango, it disappears like water in sand! Isolation takes over and the human process of touch begins to lessen in power. The iPod and modern cell phone continues to distance human beings as one talks to a far-off non-person. I have a sense that sexual and human touch may be in serious trouble; when testosterone and progesterone meet in the young the novelty of touch is overpowering. I have often wondered how much sexual/genital life people have after they are 30 with growing children. Sexual activity for the aged can be difficult (more on this later).
When in an elevator at our Senior Center last week a woman brushed my arm and quickly said "Oh, I'm sorry". I smiled and immediately responded "I am most happy to bump into you and I am delighted to make your acquaintance. Hi, I'm Tom." Western culture is in a hideous grip of fear of being harmed by the touch of another. Everyone is the enemy, the rapist, the dirty old man. I experience it at the local train station where I am on Tuesday evenings as Amtrak volunteer host, greeting passengers so as to aid them boarding the right train. Even with official hat, proper name tag, and plastic ID hanging around my neck some do their best to avoid my question as to their being in sleeper or coach, a fair distance apart on a long train that is in station just a few minutes. There are times I think of wearing a sign that reads "I am your friend, here to help you at no cost I enjoy being in touch".
In THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT there is plenty of touching. There are young boys in a pillow fight; boys clashing with hockey sticks with Bro Hockey approving with genuine smile; an understanding policeman making contact with distraught Kevin; and healthy touches galore as would be expected in an all-boys school. Touch is the Creator's way of humans communicating. Yet hidden and secretively there is the evil touch of the predator, isolating his victim especially at bed time. Superintendent Lavin pathologically touches Kevin as if he is Kevin's deceased mother. No human being forgets his/her infant days. No mother forgets the child of her womb; no child is capable of forgetting the warmth of family touches. We all want to be recognized/identified as warn blooded persons ... unless ... unless ... the Boys of St. Vincent sense something pathological is taking place because of the secrecy and isolation. Kids are smart but powerless, especially if a representative of God is the villain. A boy with Irish upbringing in his innocence will see obedience as godly. Many was the Greenhorn who, fleeing a divested Ireland took a job with the Union Army in 1863, only to die just being obedient to orders at the murderous Battle of Shiloh.
The Irish Brigade was an infantry brigade, consisting predominantly of Irish-Americans, that served in the Union Army in the American Civil War. The designation of the first regiment in the brigade, the 69th New York Infantry, or the "Fighting 69th", continued in later wars. The Irish Brigade was known in part for its famous war cry, the "faugh a ballagh", which is an anglicization of the Irish phrase, "clear the way". According to Fox's Regimental Losses, of all Union army brigades, only the Vermont Brigade and Iron Brigade suffered more combat dead than the Irish Brigade during America's Civil War. Blind obedience can bring about tragedy.
Throughout THE BOYS OF ST. VINCENT film touch plays a major role. The brothers are "out of touch" with the innocence and immaturity of their charges. The brothers project onto the young their own feelings of sinfulness and human inadequacy. The brothers stand together for support, garbed in black as a sign of their death to the world (God's world filled with beautiful creatures). Each has a visible Cross, a reminder of a suffering Jesus with permission given to have others suffer to purify their souls. The Cross only became prominent in Catholicism at the time of the 12th Century Crusades. Such is bad theology a corrupted extended version of original sin and Luther's concept of the human body being a feted evil dung hill saved by the covering grace of Jesus. This is the theology of Cardinal Paul Cullen. It was the theology of the Christian Brothers in Newfoundland.
The entire system of a special people vowing to God their bodies in chastity, obedience, and poverty is faulty. No one is special to the Creator. All creation is sacred and needs no human stamp of approval. This is why I choose the words "smoke and mirrors" to picture the words of popes and bishops as they con people to trust the Church today. Jesus never pulled the wool over the peoples' eyes. I can remember vividly a drunken pastor saying at a Saturday night dinner of five priests "let's flip a coin to see who will give a few words to the people tomorrow". The 'pecking order' of the Roman Church safeguarded that man just because he was ordained. The Christian Brothers, although considered laymen by Church law, were so protected in Newfoundland merely because they had undergone a Church vows ceremony and wore special robes. Vatican Two gave permission to probe the private life of clergy and vowed nuns and brothers. We are taking part in a revolution that will benefit all human kind. In my spare time I reread John the 23rd's PACEM IN TERRIS. I keep in mind the Gospel saying "by their fruits you will know them". We have massive work ahead to implement this great leader's encyclical. The word laity means duty.
The other day at a funeral a woman came up to me and simply asked "are you a priest?" I was hesitant to answer wanting to remain part of the mourners with no special attention. I had abandoned privilege and title forty years ago, finding myself comfortable as a member of a Christian community with the simple name of Tom. I recall the Gospel story of Jesus taking a child unto himself and to become as little children to enter the kingdom of his Father.
Tom in San Jose, looking forward to Halloween
PS: My thanks to those who have contributed essays to Catholica and letters in Forum concerning the sexual abuse issue. I have learned from your wisdom. Forgive me if I do not mention you by name. Your contributions have been most helpful.
Continues next week...
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. This wicked tunnel is hard to explore ... discouraging... 12Oct2012
What are your thoughts on this commentary?