Patricia A. Kossmann

Revelations over these past few months are enough to dizzy one’s mind. Even more dizzying, though, are the perhaps millions of words that have been penned in the media worldwide. Have we heard enough? Have we heard more than enough? What’s to be done? Shocking...scandalous...disgraceful...sick...sinful...disgusting...secretivethe adjectives and adverbs pile up, almost tripping over one another. Yes, the church’sin this case the hierarchy’scredibility has been shaken to its foundation. But contrary to what some know-nothing wags are saying, the faith of most of the faithful remains intact.

And I am proud to report that I’m one of themalong with everyone else I have spoken with recently, whether within or outside my parish. Because we know, to use the phrase of a book title from many years back, the people are the church. Now that certainly does not mean we have taken sexual abuse by the clergy lightly. Like everyone else, we deplore not only the sins of predatory priests but the ecclesial wall of silence that, happily, has finally toppled. Worse is a sort of guilt by association with which so many of our good priests are now struggling. If anything, we should be building them up, lending support. And we should be praying for all of themeven the rotten eggs. Curiously absent from the litany of adjectives is compassionate.

When news hits home, when suddenly there’s a faceor faceswe can put on the clergy abuse scandal, things seem different. Many parishioners reportedly rallied in support of an accused priest. That’s understandable. We look at the great things that priest might have accomplished, the number of lives he touched sacramentally, the hurts he helped heal (I know that sounds ironic), his record with charitable, outreach and other endeavors. We’re human; it’s hard to come to grips with sudden revelations of misconduct that dates back decades. (The Geoghans and Shanleys of this world, as far as I’m concerned, are insidious exceptions to the kind of priest I mean here.)

Still, we need answers. What kind of childhood did that man have? Was he forced (by mother?) into the priesthood? Is he from a dysfunctional family? Is he getting back at a sexually repressive church? I’ll bet there are as many stories as there are names currently under investigation. I might remind the commentators out there, by the way, that child abuse is not a clergy thing by any means. Nor a Catholic thing. Let’s not forget that.

Admittedly, church history is replete with scandals, heresies and the like. Pope St. Gregory VII’s words, in a letter dated March 9, 1078, could well have come from a modern pen: It is the custom of the Roman Church which I unworthily serve with the help of God, to tolerate some things, to turn a blind eye to some, following the spirit of discretion rather than the rigid letter of the law. So, folks, there’s many centuries’ worth of undoing to be done! But resilient as she is, and resting on Christ’s own promise to be with her until the end of time, the church will survive. We have to summon confidence in that promise during the present crisiswhich is easier said than done, of course.

When I think back to my childhood, I recall different times. My first-grade teacher, Sister M. Petra, O.P., often asked me to accompany her shopping (the sisters had to have company on all outings). We rode a bus together into Brooklyn to some sort of nun store, and there she would buy those heavy black stockings. I thought nothing of the outings, actually. On the morning of my father’s death in 1964, my sister and I were taken out of church and brought to the convent, where both sisters and priests convened in the parlor. There was no shortage of affectionhugging, holding and the like. It is regrettable that such physical contactwhich is so very important and needed at such timesis taboo today. Now clergy and religious are fearful not only of contact, but of being alone with a youngster. And to think, it didn’t have to turn out this way.

We know whom we have to thank.

Patricia A. Kossmann is literary editor of America.

Comments

Mary Riordan, R.S.M. | 1/26/2007 - 4:34pm
I am especially proud of the manner in which the editors and writers for America have handled the clergy sex abuse matter. One issue has been more insightful than the next, but let me comment on the June 3 issue. I was most impressed with what Patricia Kossmann wrote in Of Many Things. She was so realistic in her comments—it speaks to me of what I too am hearing in my parish. Her comment “the faith of most of the faithful remains intact” is just right, and I resonate with “I too am one of them.” Her final paragraph, in which she describes her association with the sisters, is very consoling and realistic.

Every one of this week’s articles is right on target—tells the truth but also gives some direction and is rooted in Vatican II. I hope to use some of the pieces to help educate myself and our parish life teams.

Ray Hester | 6/3/2002 - 9:08am
Although not explicit in its meaning, the last line of Patricia Kossmann's, Of Many Things (6/3), seems disturbingly reminiscent of the all-encompassing excuse provided by a Flip Wilson character, "The devil made me do it." Surely, we must look beyond Satan for our short-comings in this present crisis and own up to our individual responsibility.

Rheba Cecilia Heggs | 6/1/2002 - 7:50am
I am a brand new subscriber to America, and I hope you will print this letter or at least transmit it to the author of the article claiming the need for compassion toward clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors.

The author begins her essay stating that the word "compassion" is peculiarly absent from the embarrassed and angry dialogue among the laity these days. Shortly thereafter, she then attempts to explore the childhood and motivations of ACCUSED priests; she then compassionately attributes parishioner support of an ACCUSED priest to a collective need to memorialize his good deeds, or to a state of collective denial that the accused must be guilty because, hey, he's been accused.

The author conveniently skipped over the essential issue missing from our scandal-sodden, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey public discourse: whether the priest has been merely accused or found, through non-judicial or judicial processes, to have committed sexual abuse of a minor. Accusations can be made by anyone at anytime for a variety of reasons, some not consciously known or admitted to by the accuser.

This is a facile but understandable error in logic, and, again, undeniably common, given the eight years we Americans witnessed the relentless destruction of Bill Clinton, culminating in America's first, bloodless coup d'etat (otherwise known as the 2000 election). Her characterization of the accused as guilty is, unfortunately, not Christian at all. I find it astounding that voices of the faithful--as well as clergy--speak mightily and vociferously against blaming the sexual crisis of priests on homosexuality, but in the same breath are willing--no, determined--to fail to discern the differences in the flood of revelations now coming to light and conclude that some priests may, in fact, be innocent of wrongdoing.

This aspect of the Scandal hasn't been reported. Well, here in the nation's capital, a prideful and shameful rush to judgment by its archbishop led to the libelous and scandalous destruction of a wonderful priest, Rev. Monsignor Russell Dillard. Accused by a 36 year old woman of being her "boyfriend" 24 years ago, the archbishop, without any investigation into the allegations, demanded that Father Dillard resign as pastor of his parish and publicly apologize to the accuser on Palm Sunday. Angered by overwhelming parishioner support, the prideful, ambitious archbishop then pubished and republished defamatory statements to justify his precipitous actions that forever damaged the reputation of a wonderful and dedicated servant of the gospel. Father Dillard has been forever unfairly categorized with sexual deviants, and the thousands who found God through his preaching have had something within each destroyed as well.

By the way, the accuser's allegations have been discredited by several former students similarly situated. The archbishop has no response to this; as we all know,trickle-down infallibility requires that the archbishop not admit error.

So while your author muses about the psychological and social histories of these deviants (rather than examining the hubris, sexual deviance and sinfulness of the hierarchy that protected and promoted them), I hope that she, your editorial staff and your readers see the difference between those accused and those adjudicated of the crime of sexual abuse of minors. One accusation does NOT fit all. Didn't Jesus tell us that?

Ray Hester | 6/3/2002 - 9:08am
Although not explicit in its meaning, the last line of Patricia Kossmann's, Of Many Things (6/3), seems disturbingly reminiscent of the all-encompassing excuse provided by a Flip Wilson character, "The devil made me do it." Surely, we must look beyond Satan for our short-comings in this present crisis and own up to our individual responsibility.

Rheba Cecilia Heggs | 6/1/2002 - 7:50am
I am a brand new subscriber to America, and I hope you will print this letter or at least transmit it to the author of the article claiming the need for compassion toward clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors.

The author begins her essay stating that the word "compassion" is peculiarly absent from the embarrassed and angry dialogue among the laity these days. Shortly thereafter, she then attempts to explore the childhood and motivations of ACCUSED priests; she then compassionately attributes parishioner support of an ACCUSED priest to a collective need to memorialize his good deeds, or to a state of collective denial that the accused must be guilty because, hey, he's been accused.

The author conveniently skipped over the essential issue missing from our scandal-sodden, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey public discourse: whether the priest has been merely accused or found, through non-judicial or judicial processes, to have committed sexual abuse of a minor. Accusations can be made by anyone at anytime for a variety of reasons, some not consciously known or admitted to by the accuser.

This is a facile but understandable error in logic, and, again, undeniably common, given the eight years we Americans witnessed the relentless destruction of Bill Clinton, culminating in America's first, bloodless coup d'etat (otherwise known as the 2000 election). Her characterization of the accused as guilty is, unfortunately, not Christian at all. I find it astounding that voices of the faithful--as well as clergy--speak mightily and vociferously against blaming the sexual crisis of priests on homosexuality, but in the same breath are willing--no, determined--to fail to discern the differences in the flood of revelations now coming to light and conclude that some priests may, in fact, be innocent of wrongdoing.

This aspect of the Scandal hasn't been reported. Well, here in the nation's capital, a prideful and shameful rush to judgment by its archbishop led to the libelous and scandalous destruction of a wonderful priest, Rev. Monsignor Russell Dillard. Accused by a 36 year old woman of being her "boyfriend" 24 years ago, the archbishop, without any investigation into the allegations, demanded that Father Dillard resign as pastor of his parish and publicly apologize to the accuser on Palm Sunday. Angered by overwhelming parishioner support, the prideful, ambitious archbishop then pubished and republished defamatory statements to justify his precipitous actions that forever damaged the reputation of a wonderful and dedicated servant of the gospel. Father Dillard has been forever unfairly categorized with sexual deviants, and the thousands who found God through his preaching have had something within each destroyed as well.

By the way, the accuser's allegations have been discredited by several former students similarly situated. The archbishop has no response to this; as we all know,trickle-down infallibility requires that the archbishop not admit error.

So while your author muses about the psychological and social histories of these deviants (rather than examining the hubris, sexual deviance and sinfulness of the hierarchy that protected and promoted them), I hope that she, your editorial staff and your readers see the difference between those accused and those adjudicated of the crime of sexual abuse of minors. One accusation does NOT fit all. Didn't Jesus tell us that?

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