Monday, April 23, 2007

WHEN VICTIMS GO BAD

I’d like to move beyond this matter, but things keep developing, and the whole thing is important not only for itself but as a template for other and even larger national policies – foreign as well as domestic – and as a source of reflection as to how We came to be infected in the first place .

In “Commonweal” magazine, Mark Sargent has a piece entitled “When Abuse Victims Squander Their Moral Authority”, which tells us so very much more than it intended to (http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/article.php3?id_article=1915).

Apparently there are now flying squads of members of an organization called SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). These units have taken it upon themselves to target those “about whom the diocese [of Wilmington, Delaware] found ‘credible or substantial complaints of sexual abuse of minors”. That diocese had contributed to the tribulation by releasing the names of twenty or so former priests in that category. Most of them were ‘former’ by means of having died (thus facing a Court without SNAP input and quite possibly therefore the self-declared victimery would not accept Its findings).

At least one of the twenty was still above-ground, although he had ceased serving as a priest 20 years ago or so, and lived now in another state. Apprised of his residence within their ‘jurisdiction’, that local chapter of SNAP “went door to door in his neighborhood distributing a file of documents with the title ‘Community Notification Project: Protect your children from a credibly accused sex offender’”. This last despite the fact that the gentleman has never been charged with, let alone convicted of, a sexual-abuse crime. A similar deployment in another state resulted in a priest whom the FBI and local police had investigated and declined to charge being “hounded” into resigning his pastoral duties and leaving the state.

There’s as much to say about the magazine as there is about the SNAP-squads. But first it has to be noted that nobody who lived through the era of Mao’s Cultural Revolution (the immediate progenitor of Our own unruly brood) can be surprised except by the queasy realization that “it” is most definitely happening here.

The magazine is to be commended for sticking its head up out of the media formation and actually addressing (however delicately) the heretofore sacrosanct and unask-able question of the behavior of some of these groups. Still and all, no reader aware of our modern American reality can read the article without making the necessary mental bracketing: Who has declared any member of these groups a “survivor”? On what demonstrable authority is the privilege claimed? For, after all, to ask such a question is not merely to be flint-hearted in the distribution of sympathy; these ‘victims’ apparently consider themselves above the law or beyond it – perhaps because the ‘emergency’ of priestly sexual-abuse has over-ridden the rule of law for quite a few years now.

The SNAP-pers apparently feel that ‘sexual abuse’ is such a pressing and outrageous emergency that any scruples about slander or libel are irrelevant, that concerns for ‘accuracy’ are indications of “sympathy for a devil” (to borrow a phrase), and that no DA in his/her right mind would dare to bring charges against them anyway. No doubt behind this thinking lies the old soviet presumption that members of the class of oppressors and ‘objective enemies’ by definition cannot be ‘victims’, and conversely that no class of ‘victims’ can victimize. You can’t say that the soviet system really had an appreciation of the unsleeping duality of human nature. Now the Catholic Church did and – buried beneath a few decades of smiley-faced goo-goo fluff – still does.

And of course, what is the definition of ‘sexual abuse’? This question does not represent a ploy of ‘denial’ or ‘minimization’, such as would get you a sound verbal and emotional thrashing if you raised it in group-therapy. This is the urgent and grave question of what precisely is it that is being targeted by the criminal law and its penalties, in order to assure a just and accurate conviction and a punishment proportionate to the act(s) proven to have been committed. Thoughts? Words? Deeds? What sort of deeds? How old is the ‘child’? (The ‘child’ could be a day or two from starting military recruit training).

There is a price to be paid for a lascivious use of the criminal power. For one thing, society is deprived of whatever contribution the convicted might have made or might make (especially nowadays, when having paid one’s debt to society or even having been adjudged as not having a debt to pay is no guarantee that a flying-squad of ‘victims’ will not appear to wreak a ‘service’ that in an earlier and more candid time was called ‘vigilante justice’. Further, society creates enemies for itself if it becomes lascivious in its deployment of the violence of criminal justice; and if in addition that society were to dispense with Truth, with accuracy, with Justice itself, then such Enemies thus raised up would be formidable and relentless indeed. Has that not become rather clear from Our experience on the Eastern front?

The magazine has also failed – though it is hardly alone in this – by accepting the essential premises of the Maoist script: when a bunch of Red Guards/Victims show up on its doorstep muttering and wailing, the magazine instantly adopts the submissive posture of the ‘discovered’ or ‘uncovered’ (so to speak) counter-revolutionary or ‘revisionist’ who is respectful of his heroic discoverers and now wishes only to be allowed to apologize to ‘the people’ for his errors of (fill-in-the-blank) and will gratefully accept any re-education that the heroic vanguard of the suffering masses might choose to impose.

Or – at least – the magazine is willing to accept that ‘the priests’ are guilty and join the baying chorus. Which is not quite so courageous.

This is a trahison, no matter how thickly cloaked in ‘sensitivity’, ‘contrition’ (justified or not), and ‘open-ness’. Certainly, a priest who has been proven to have had sexual relations with a child is responsible for great criminal and moral and – let’s not mince words - supernatural consequences. But in the criminal law there is no legally usable ‘class’ of such priests whose ‘members’ are instantly and indubitably certifiable by their very nature as criminally guilty. Perhaps this is why the victimists harbor a barely-hidden resentment toward any of those keepers of the criminal law who still insist on the traditional stringencies of evidence and proof to determine guilt in each individual case.

For the victimists, the civil law is an easier nut to crack in theory and has proven hugely useful in practice. Once they permitted actions to be presented as a ‘class’ action, then the courts instantly created two ‘classes’ in the public mind: the class of ‘victims’-before-the-proof and the class of perpetrators-before-the-proof. With such a boundary crossed, the conceptual possibilities of monetary remuneration increase exponentially, and if somehow the ‘class’ can be determined to have a common and large asset, then attorneys of a certain sub-specialty will join the cause.

Once the media have joined in, responding to your PR spin of an ‘outrage’, an ‘emergency’ and ‘a hidden conspiracy unmasked among us’, and with sex thrown in on top of all that … once you’ve got those conditions going, then a good old southern California wildfire and firestorm are inevitable. Nobody who has seen those tornado funnels of dark hot fire up close rising up hundreds of feet in a spiral of ferocious destructiveness can fail to appreciate the tremendous energies unleashed by the properly nurtured combination of elements properly set alight.

If then the courts yield their ancient trust and loosen up rules of evidence, statutes of limitation, and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, if indeed the courts or – worse – the legislators, grant an initial characterization of a claimant as a ‘victim’ or a ‘survivor’ before any adjudication or verification of such a claim has taken place, then several more of society’s defensive firebreaks are overrun – abandoned, actually.

And by the time all of that is ‘going good’, then only the hardiest bishop would want to risk the monstrous and dubious expense of defending each civil claim. But each such acceptance of a ‘class settlement’, though well-advised from a purely legal point of view, reinforces the completely undemonstrable assumption that each ‘claim’ thus settled was real and accurate. And it is that intensifying public misperception which thus toxifies the atmosphere for the (relatively very few) cases that come to the probing test of a criminal trial.

Not surprisingly, numbers given out by media – based on numbers given to the media by advocates and ‘experts’ – don’t seem to add up or don’t add up to percentages that stand out from the norm. This point, of course, is countered by the dual claims that a) in a church that claims its priests are so ‘good’ then any deviation at all is ‘horrific’ and b) if we base our expectations on ‘zero tolerance’ then it’s worth it if ‘only just one’ potential victim is saved. But should we invade a foreign country because the government has declared ‘zero tolerance’ for (fill in the blank)? Should we invade a foreign country in order to ‘save only one’ victim of (fill in the blank)?

And while the Church has high expectations of its priests, the Church has never lost sight of the fact that human beings can fail to live up to their calling.

Indeed, it is precisely the Church’s patience and tolerance of weakness that have been seized upon voraciously by the victimists as proof that there is a ‘cover-up’ massive in proportion and sacralegious in nature.

The bishops have not responded well, indicating that John Paul II’s great purge of the episcopacy that brought in dozens of ‘doctrinally strong’ prelates did not bring in particularly strong men. The Maoist ballet – the performance of which requires two – was greatly abetted by the cravenness of the American episcopacy, the ecclesiatchiki who yielded their priests to the victimist furor as easily as they betrayed their pope to the war-mongering of the Bushist Imperium.

The heavy burden of the Church, that She bears through the ages and will ever continue to do so, is to bear witness to Sin and Grace, sinfulness and redemption, the crooked lines with which God writes the history of humankind. For every one bishop who ‘covered up’ a monster, there were a half-a-dozen who tried – ineptly as often as not – to maintain some decent connection to a struggling soul.

Certainly, priests who err must accept the consequences. But those consequences must be proportional to the crime that has been proven to be committed. The Church owes that to Herself – to betray that is to betray Herself and Her mission. And if it is the instant retort of the victimists that the Church has clearly betrayed Her nature and mission in these sex scandals, then the Church would be the first to admit the imperfectness of Her efforts.

But in the modern Moment in which Americans consider the failures of the Church (whatever their actual proportions), We can hardly ignore the monstrous betrayals of nature and mission, of character and of integrity, that have gut-shot the whole Iraq effort, undermined the economy, and de-centered the government’s administration of Justice and Law and its adherence to Truth and Integrity of Character. We must soon face up to the fact that enacting mass-media autos-da-fe does not build the moral strength and integrity – individually or societally – that enables Us better to People the Republic and its government. In fact, the indulgence of such sustained demonstrations may well have contributed to the massive erosion of Our seriousness and competence, Our ‘gravitas’, as a People.

In the matter of all of these accused priests I would propose the following questions? Was his guilt determined by a trial and finding by a jury? What specifically was the act with which he was charged? (‘Abuse’ or ‘molestation’, those revolutionary buzzwords, therefore are not sufficient). If he was simply lumped together in some sort of civil ‘settlement’, then I would refrain from coming to any conclusion until fact was clearly established If I saw ‘numbers’ I’d pull out a pencil and do a little math for myself.

And if I found out that my priest was indeed ‘guilty’, I’d want to know whether it was of child-rape or something else altogether. On the basis of a laudable and visceral public rejection of sex with children it seems that a lot of other things have been tossed into the net to fatten up the final figures touted to the press.

It was the old soviet ploy to recoil from the foregoing type of proposal like a vampire from holy water, effecting a pose of righteous indignance and braying that such requirements would interfere with the administration of ‘justice’ against these class enemies of the people. That ploy cannot be indulged. We cannot afford it: legally, culturally, morally.

The Catholic Church in this country, it seems to me, has been the target of a Cultural Revolution masquerading as A Hundred Flowers Blooming. Its hierarchy has not performed well, its ‘elites’ are divided and fractious, and – so American – none of those involved are able to take the Long View (‘Long’ in Catholic time, not Bush-Pentagon time). Nor for that matter – again, so American – are those involved able to take the High, the Wide, and the Deep View. And there are other forces in contemporary society that do not favor a robust Catholic presence.

And yet the world and even We are in great need of a wisdom that can sustain through times of genuine mass privation and horror. The biblical lean years are coming, and will no doubt arrive long before the far more adolescent-friendly End Times. As adults or adults-to-be, each American needs all the help s/he can get to sustain a mature and robust humanity and civic competence.

The search – relentless and squinty – for ‘purity’ is, historically, not a ‘Catholic’ obsession at all, but rather a Protestant one. Just as the Catholic Inquisition was begun as an intellectual inquiry into heresy, and it was only at the time of the Reformation that witchcraft became an overriding subject of inquiry (not improbably because the Protestant Reformers simultaneously needed to maintain a usable ‘enemy’ to bolster religious fervor while avoiding too deep a concern for ‘heresy’ since they were all, pretty much by definition, liable to that charge). The Catholic ethos became the ‘primitive’ earth-besotted, emotionally and materially besotted archaic miasm out of the darkness of which the pure and dedicated Reformers and their flocks created themselves from an act of focused will in response to a new Exodus and a refined Covenant.

The Church, though male-dominated, remained committed to and rooted in a Vision of human existence that is robustly Incarnational, respecting the blending of Spirit and Matter that reflects the human reality as Created, that is patient with the human instability that etches those myriad crooked lines – some so stunningly bloody and deep – that mark our history as a species. I will not reduce matters to the current specious conundrum of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’; the Church’s Vision seems profoundly human. The world as We know it, the world as it will or might or must become, cannot afford to lose It.

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3 Comments:

Blogger David said...

The common law/equity adversarial system is a blunt instrument whose main purpose is to ensure that argument once and for all comes to an end - whether or not that end is just judgment based on true facts and applicable law.

The use of this system is dysfunctional in many circumstances such as the the one you bring to our attention where a fair jury trial has been precluded by media stampede and other extra judicial pressures.

So also as in many other adversarial proceedings (divorce, juvenile justice, mental health issues, contract disputes etc.) where mediation would more often be the more appropriate vehicle to a just resolution.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was raped by priests, plural, at age 8 & 9. They hung around together. Anal penetration and I taken to the doctors with an inflammed and irritated rectum, and VD. Lived a horrible life of chaos and didn't wake from my trauma until much later in life, a ruined life. You think kids who are raped and threatened from telling anyone will live normal lives?

Notice I posted priests. Today one is an active bishop and the others report to him. They are protected by laws and those blog writers who work hard at revictimizing. All what needs to be is to allow my case and others to go forward, but they can not in NYS. This is the unfairness that exists, remove this and allow cases to move forward and your articles are not needed anymore. Battles now are were they belong, on court.

Unfortunately, those who hammer articles against Snap are only hammering and revictimizing those like me. Change the laws and now I might get a fair break after a completely lost life. Isn't this fair to me and those like me?

Remember, prdophiles are easier to prove guilty well after the crime, more so than murder. Many victims are alive and there are "many".

5:10 PM  
Blogger publion said...

It’s not possible on the internet to get into discussions of personal history since one really doesn’t know the ‘personal’ on the other end and has no means of verification. That’s just the nature of the internet.

What one can do on the internet is discuss ideas that are – in the old argot – universally accessible and require no trips into the tortured and curious byways of personal testimony (and perhaps this is why I imagine that the fundamentalist mode of personal ‘testimony’ is either very successful or very unsuccessful on the internet: it requires that the many anonymous readers/hearers either totally accept the validity of the ‘speaker’ or retain their critical distance).

So I don’t engage personal testimonies because there is simply no way in the internet forum to ascertain the validity of the ‘personal’ or the ‘testimony’.

But this Comment strikes me as valuable for what it signifies. One’s personal emotions, based perhaps on one’s experiences, cannot be made the basis for a wide social policy without any further intervening process of assessment, deliberation, and the hard mathematics of making law and policy. “Outrage” and “pain” do not and cannot ‘trump’.

It has been the genius of the Advocacies that they have demonized not only the chosen perpetrator and erected him (always a him) into an objective class-enemy, but they have demonized the laudable and societally essential tendency to hear and examine and assess each ‘cry of pain’.

My own reflection is that such a second-tier demonization came about partially through the clear and obvious urgency brought to the surface in the Civil-Rights era (1955-1965, say) and partially through the feminist ‘deconstruction’ of Reason and skeptical, critical, thoughtful inquiry in favor of an emotive, non-rational, ‘gut’ response.

The result, in the political cauldron created by the fallout from the Civil Rights Acts of ’64 and ’65, was a political and then a legislative programme driven not by deliberation but by ‘responsiveness’, and the ‘cry of pain’ became a demand for an ever-increasing ‘satisfaction’; recently such ‘authority’ as the ‘victim’ has acquired has been purportedly baptized in the civic project of ‘preventing further harm’.

Just how that purported project is furthered by dredging up persons who have been cleared by what’s left of the law-enforcement and criminal justice procedures in these matters and trying to embarrass them and ‘whip up’ their residential communities is beyond me. A much better case could be made that such escapades are the signs of a debauching of the movement itself.

Clerics responsible for such acts as are described in the Comment have rendered themselves liable to serious judgment on many levels. It is a sign of the this-worldly origins and agenda of the Advocacies that the moral and supernatural levels are not considered ‘real’, that only criminal and media ‘judgments’ are ‘real’.

But We cannot be expected to allow Ourselves to a) accept merely the ‘word’ – however anguished – of anybody as to the suitability of some individual for the awesome burdens of the criminal power of the state. No citizen should expect that We would or should. Nor can We permit this soviet gambit of an ‘objective class of enemy’ to be developed: so, for example, to use the incidents described in the Comment: what logical connection is there between a priest accused informally but never charged in what appears to be some level of porn-possession and the priest(s) who purportedly raped the Commenter? What connection in law or reason is there between them? In what way is the discomfiture of the former an efficacious dealing with the purported crimes of the latter?

The answer is that there isn’t any connection except in the psychological realm (it feels good for the ‘sufferer’) and in the public relations realm (it keeps the organization in the news), and perhaps the group dynamics realm (it gives the members something to do). But none of these benefits justify the actions that the group has taken.

‘Emotion’ – whether pain or the ubiquitous ‘outrage’ – cannot be the basis for a societal policy. Indeed, it can scarcely be called a sufficient basis for conducting an individual life. In a sense these folks resemble nothing so much as the hippies of the 1960s, whose time and energy was spent pursuing the ever-fading ‘high’ of ‘luv’. The ‘80s-‘90s variant merely changes the emotional valence from ‘groovy happiness’ to ‘pained outrage’, but the internal dynamics are the same.

The Comment repeats what is now a mantra: to doubt my pain is to re-victimize me. How on earth can any mature deliberation take place if one party has already declared that anything short of total-acceptance of his/her position constitutes the equivalent of victimization? A family can’t function on such a basis, let alone a society.

And it escapes me how “change the laws” (I presume this refers to the laws of evidence and statutes of limitations) is going to result in “a fair break” after “a completely lost life”. I’ll say this: an Iraqi child dead from a military incursion is suffering from “a completely lost life”; someone able to complain that his/her life is “completely lost” obviously overstates the case.

And this habitual overstatement – considered, I imagine, morally justified by the ‘emergency’ of one’s ‘pain and outrage’ – is precisely the type of toxin that has perfused society and the government.

With results seen in this catastrophe in Iraq. Overstatement, mis-statement, the demand that one accepts the Administration’s assertion or else be considered ‘unpatriotic’ (the Right’s equivalent of ‘insensitive’), the subsequent stifling of public deliberation about the policy that will be formulated in light of its outrage and the ignoring of any serious assessment of consequences, the assumption that ‘the emergency’ justified unlawful activity and that the ‘evil’ of the perpetrators forfeited any and all rights … all of these awefull blunders and more reflect a degrading of Our capability to reflect, discuss, deliberate, and assess.

And all of these degradations are – who can be surprised? – precisely the gambits insisted upon by the assorted Advocacies in order to stampede public sentiment and Law in behalf of their particular agenda.

If this be ‘hammering’, let Us make the most of it.

5:51 AM  

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