One wonders what will happen next Sunday when the collection plate comes around at Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Will the faithful pony up the usual offerings or will many of them say, “Wait a minute, how much of this is going toward the $630 million payoff to victims of more than 500 clergy guilty of pedofilia and other forms of sexual abuse?”

The settlement is described by TIME magazine as “the largest ever by a Roman Catholic archdiocese since the clergy sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston in 2002.” The $630 million brings to more than $2 billion the total amount paid out by the Catholic church since 1950. The settlement, the details of which were worked out on July 16 after a weekend of negotiations, also calls for the release of confidential priest personnel files. [Associated Press, July 14, 2007]

For victims of this smarmy episode in Catholic church history, the preparation of testimony for the settlement trial opens up old wounds. Steven Sanchez, a 47-year-old financial adviser, will testify against the late Rev. Clinton Hagenbach, one of the hundreds of priests accused of sexually molesting the 503 plaintiffs. “We’re 48 hours away from starting the trial, and I’ve been spending a lot of time getting emotionally prepared to take them on, but I’m glad,” he said. “It’s been a long five years.” [ABC 7News, Los Angeles, July 14, 2007]

To settle the multimillion dollar sets of claims, the Los Angeles archdiocese plans on selling its high rise administration building and several other “nonessential” church properties. Many critics of the church believe it should also be willing to sell some of the churches located in upper class neighborhoods and then auction the land for multimillion dollar residential developments. Other archdioceses have taken the easy way out, declaring bankruptcy, which absolves them from selling churches or schools.

Speaking of absolution, it might be well to take a moment to contemplate how hundreds of sexual predators in priestly garb managed to sexually violate young boys and teenagers. Consider the fact that since first grade, Catholic students are taught to regard a priest of somewhat of a divine being. A priest can change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, forgive sins, perform marriages, administer the last rites, and participate in all manner of phantasmagorial episodes. So when “father” says, “Come here child and sit on my lap,” what free selection does the youngster have?

On one occasion the Vatican countered these depredations by suggesting that they were brought on by “lax American sexual morality,” and that the American press has exaggerated the scope of these attacks. Actually, the scope was somewhat assuaged – the molestations have not been confined to adolescent boys, but have included mature women, young women, little girls, and nuns. [The Nation, March 1, 2006]

In his book, Goodbye! Good Men, by Michael S. Rose, the author writes of militant homosexuality in what is referred to as “the gay-bar culture” of many seminaries. Gay sex, says Rose, takes place with regularity between seminarians and priest-professors. Those who oppose these practices are excluded or punished by gay power cliques: “It’s not just a few guys in a few seminaries that have an ax to grind. It is a pattern,” says Rose. “The protective network for homosexual priests begins in the seminaries.”

It would be grossly incorrect to assume that only young males are the targets of sexually errant priests. Angela Bonavoglia in The Church’s Tug of War says there is rampant sexual abuse of girls and women by Catholic priests. “Internal Church documents,” writes Bonavoglia, “revealed a pattern of sexual abuse and exploitation of nuns and other girls and women by priests in some twenty-three countries on five continents. At least a third of priests, regardless of sexual orientation, are sexually active with adults.” So much for the claim of a celibate priesthood.

Multiply the Los Angeles Archdiocese by scores of archdioceses, and multiply them by hundreds of predatory priests, and the scope of the outrage begins to become apparent. The French literary figure, Francois La Rochefoucauld, once wrote, “Some women have no affairs, but none have just one.” How illogical is it to presume that the deviant priests molested only one person?

Some ranking Catholic clergy are already seeking a way to mitigate the Church’s losses, making this a priority high above helping the victims. Earlier this year, Bishop Robert Brom of the San Diego Diocese wrote a letter to parishes regarding settlements with plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases. “Good stewardship demands that settlements not cripple the ability of the Church to accomplish its mission and ministries,” Brom said. Attorneys for the victims saw Bishop Brom’s statement as an attempt to persuade victims to accept smaller settlements or keep the lawsuits out of court altogether. [North County Times (San Diego), Feb. 24, 2007]

If judgments against various Catholic archdioceses force them to sell off property, including actual churches, it would be well to remember that it was the hierarchy of these religious districts who looked the other way, doctored the resumes of guilty priests, and passed them around like hot potatoes. Who is watching the watchers, as the saying goes. Bishops have fought tooth and nail to protect confidentiality agreements, which allowed many abusive priests to be shuffled from one parish to another with no mention of their mendacity. Once ensconced in their new environment, a fresh round of boy-love escapades began anew.

If a bishop or archbishop needs to be ousted from his opulent quarters so it can be put up for sale, so be it. A vow of Poverty is one of the conditions of life to which even the princes of the Church should aspire. Any quest for justice must be directed at the bishops as well as the offending priests. The abominable bishops who helped cover up the priest sex scandals should consider themselves fortunate to end up in a modest apartment rather than a small room with bars on the windows.

– Chase.Hamil

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