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Monday, April 12, 2010

The Mortal Sin Of Permission

Since I'm a recovering Catholic, I've been following the sexual abuse scandal closely. I have to say that Andrew Sullivan has some of the best coverage out there, including the fact that history of such abuse goes back hundreds of years, that it isn't just the Catholic church and it isn't just males who have been victimized. He posted emails from readers that have ranged from fascinating historical research, psychological profiles of abusers and personal stories of victims.

The one thing I haven't heard anyone talk about is the sin of permission. Let me explain...

When someone does something wrong and gets away with it, other people see that and decide that they can do the same thing. This happens when you parent, when you teach and when you manage people. It's human nature.

When individuals and organizations try and hide things, people on the inside talk, sotto voce, to each other. They can't help it. There has to be an outlet for the craziness, so that they don't start feeling crazy themselves.

So we can safely assume, in the case of the Catholic church's sexual predators, that other priests knew and talked to each other about it. They knew about the nice place in New Mexico where the Vatican sent the bad boys for rehab. They knew that this was probably the worst thing that could happen to them, if they ever transgressed. They would never be brought before a court of law. They would never go to jail.

The Vatican's consistent inaction, or inadequate action, their now-obvious choice of maintaining the reputation of the church to the detriment and total dismissal of the victims, the many times that victims were threatened to stay quiet, not just by the predator, but by his superiors, the patriarchal attitude towards the faithful (we are the lions and you're the dumb sheep, so shut up and say another act of contrition)...all these things added up to the Vatican creating an atmosphere of permission. Ratzinger and all of his predecessors, through their actions, gave a very clear message to predator priests that they could indulge in and continue their abuse.

I'm no Catholic scholar, but I'd say this qualifies as a mortal sin.