The Roman Catholic Church is more vulnerable to the abuse of power than government and most corporations. Oversight is possible with the latter two entities; not so with the men who run things from the Vatican on down. This is one of the conclusions I gleaned from reading a recent book entitled Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime and the Era of Catholic Scandals by Michel D'Antonio, published in 2013 by St. Martin's Griffin.
D'Antonio examines pedophilia episodes by priests and how the crimes of clergy were covered-up by bishops and the church hierarchy, protection that was supported all the way up to the highest Catholic officials in Rome. He tells of how, in the mid-1980s, a dynamic young monsignor, Father Tom Doyle, assigned to the Vatican's embassy in Washington, investigated the problem of sexually abusive priests. He discovered a scandal in the making, confirmed by secret files hidden from police and covered-up for years. He warned those above his position how the Church could be devastated by the negative publicity of these crimes, and bankrupted by legal liability. They ignored him.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, a young attorney, Jeffery Anderson, listened to a new client describe an abusive sexual history with a priest that began when the lad was ten years old. His parents' complaints were downplayed by Church officials who offered them money to go away.
The sordid details of what Doyle and Anderson uncovered and the resistance they ran into form the basis of D'Antonio's sad but well-written narrative. This book is a page-turner you won't want to put down; an account that every Catholic ought to read. With knowledge comes hope that things can be changed.
D'Antonio's book underscores how the structure of the Roman Catholic Church demands subservience, resulting in a high potential for abuse of power. He writes:
"Individually, clergy were assumed to be either humble role models or dynamic leaders who moved in the world without needing romantic love, sex or family. Collectively, ordination established them as a class above regular human beings. Within this class, the hierarchy enjoyed escalating status with the Pope, at the very top, ruling with authority granted by the Almighty. The main price paid for admission to this society was the vow of celibacy. This promise deprived the clergy of many of the deepest rewards of life, including sexual relationships and parenthood. But since they shared this sacrifice, clergymen were bound together by it in a way that made them more devoted to each other" (and may I quickly add: rather than to those they serve).
For more on the unreasonable and harmful "vow of celibacy" read my post in this blog about a book by Father Albert Cutié, formerly a Roman Catholic priest and now a married clergyman in the Episcopal Church.
According to BishopAccountability.org, a website dedicated to the survivors of sexual abuse by priests, over 3,000 lawsuits have been filed against the Roman Catholic Church. From 1950-2007, the Associated Press estimates the settlement of sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church at over $1.1 billion. BishopAccountability, in 2012, puts the figure at more than $3 billion. Eight Catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy - from 2004 through 2011 - due to sexual abuse cases, according to the BishopAccountability website.
For information about and/or to order D'Antonio's book, in either print or Kindle formats, click here