REPRESSED AND RECOVERED MEMORIES: Like a zombie, the fight about repressed and recovered memory has come back to life (see Washington Post and Baltimore Sun). The American bishops appointed Paul McHugh to the new national panel headed by Paul Keating. This panel is supposed to DO SOMETHING about the misery in the Catholic Church caused by sexual abuse by priests and by bungling (or worse) by bishops.
McHugh does not think that repressed memories exist. He thinks that psychiatrists who believe it exists are charlatans, and that repressed memory has the same scientific status as alien abductions (a Harvard professor thinks these really happen).
Repressed memory became popular in the satanic ritual abuse scare of a decade ago. Victims claimed they had been sexually abused in rituals in which otherwise respectable citizens sacrificed infants, called on the Enemy, and raped children. Some victims had less colorful memories, but they claimed that they had been sexually abused as children (often by their fathers) and that their memory had been repressed, they had no conscious memory of the abuse, until a helpful therapist (usually a feminist) helped them to remember how the fathers molested them.
Courts and psychiatrists became increasingly skeptical, and McHugh and his party have prevailed.
I have not come across any claims involving priests in which the victim claimed repressed and recovered memory. Most victims would be happy to forget the abuse, but even after 20 or 30 years it sears their hearts.
Do repressed memories exist? Perhaps. I have read a few cases in which memories that came to the surface under therapy were proved by physical evidence. One involved a seriously neurotic woman. Her father had disappeared when she was a child, leaving her mother to raise her.
Her therapist elicited memories of the night her father disappeared -- she remembered his screams, and then her mother chopping up something in the kitchen and taking it to the outhouse of their farm. She remembered going into the outhouse and seeing the head of her father staring up at her in the moonlight. The police dug up the outhouse, and found the fatherÍs bones. They were on the way to arrest the mother for murder when she committed suicide.
Perhaps such recovered memories do exist. Some things, including incest, may be so traumatic that the mind tries to forget them. This effort may succeed, but the evil energy of the memory leads to bizarre behavior. McHugh may be mistaken that repressed memories never exist, but if they exist they are rare.
Recovered memory, I suspect, was usually a claim that lawyers made to extend the statute of limitations. Someone had been abused, but was too embarrassed or too hurt to talk about it for years or even decades. Finally the victim contacted a lawyer, but statute of limitations had made criminal prosecution or civil claims impossible. Lawyers argued that the statute should not start running until the victim remembered the abuse. This was not honest, but lawyers hated to see abusers escape unpunished.
The bishops could have chosen a less abrasive doctor for the committee. McHugh has denounced recovered memory as junk science. It may be, but such memories may on rare occasions be valid, and McHugh lacks caution and tact, although he also does not want to see innocent people have their lives ruined by accusations based on bizarre theories and claims. If he shows as much zeal against pedophiles and their bishop-protectors as he has shown against charlatans like Dr. Kevorkian he will cauterize (if not heal) the wounds of the Catholic Church in the United States.
WE GET LETTERS:
Reading the incredible harping, negative comments of Leon Podles on your website has brought me to a difficult decision: I will not renew my subscription to Touchstone (and will ask others to do the same).
It just gets very old. Of course, there are problems. And it can be good to discuss them.
But too much ain't good for the soul. It saps the faith of joy.
Podles is a nay-sayer and comes across to me as incredibly self-righteous.
I will take Touchstone until my subscription runs out.
But never after that until there is a change in editorial tone.
This reader does not like the negative tone of TouchstoneÍs (and in particular, my) recent articles. The topic of the day is child abuse, and I find it hard to discover anything positive in child abuse. Perhaps the reader could suggest a lighter take on the raping of children who then commit suicide.
As Paul Fussel said, what the authorities donÍt want published is news; everything else is public relations. Some readers are comfortable in a PR universe, in which the sun is always shining and authorities never make mistakes or are corrupt. I prefer living in a real universe, which has both light and darkness.
Because of painful experiences I had in a seminary, I have thought about the problem for decades, and finally other Catholics are beginning to see the existence and seriousness of the problem. At last I have an audience, although some want to stop their ears and not think about the problems of the Church ¿ the realization that corruption has been eating at the Church like a cancer is too painful for many Catholics. I donÍt think weÍve even seen the worst yet. Malachi MartinÍs darker hints may contain some truth, although he was a con man.
Tony HillermanÍs novels are about evil and death. They are both popular detective stories and profoundly religious (as I shall show in my article on him). The stories are bittersweet, and the bitterness is stronger, because such is life in this vale of tears, in this exile. Moments of happiness, joy, peace, are all the sweeter because they are rescued from the darkness, which always threatens but never succeeds in overcoming them.
PS: Reading the Blog is not obligatory for Touchstone subscribers.
CAN THOSE WHO CLAIM TO SERVE GOD AVOID HIM?: The news is that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales, has been selected as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Evangelicals are not happy, given his admitted ordination of a homosexual, and general reputation as a liberal. Williams made a statement upon receiving the news, in the midst of which was this:
"I have to go on being a priest and a bishop. That is to celebrate God
and what God has done in Jesus and to offer in God's name whatever I
can discern of God's perspective on the world around, something which
involves both challenge and comfort."
Speaking of challenge, apparently the Archbishop of Wales is masculine-pronoun-for-God-challenged. The archbishop should understand that the archbishop cannot pass on the Faith of the Church by celebrating a God whom the archbishop cannot bring to call "He."
SINNERS OF GOOD AND BAD CHARACTER: In ñScandal Time IIIî in the August/September First Things (available on-line next month), Father Neuhaus thinks that zero tolerance ñsins against justice and mercy.î If a priest has sinned by committing a sexual crime against a child, but he has repented and lived an exemplary life for many years, Father Neuhaus thinks it wrong that he should be removed from the ministry.
To answer questions of Church discipline I often ask myself WWPT ¿ What Would Paul Think?
Paul himself sinned against God by persecuting the Church and thereby persecuting Christ. But he did it in ignorance, out of his zeal for the law of God, and therefore received mercy; he did not know what he did. He never knowingly violated the law of God.
What would Paul think about allowing a child molester to be a leader of the Christian community? He would certainly accept any repentant criminal as a member of the Church, and Corinth had an unsavory collection of them, but he held leaders to a higher standard.
When Paul described a bishop-presbyter, he emphasized that he must be of good character. The bishop-presbyter like all men is a sinner, but some sinners have good character ¿ that is, their sins are the ones that even just men fall into. He must be the husband of only one wife ¿ that is, if he has been widowed he must not have remarried because remarriage (although allowed) shows an inability to govern sexual desires. A bishop-presbyter must be respected by outsiders.
Child molestation reveals that one is not of good character, and no one, even a worldly sinner, has much respect for a child molester. A bishop publicly humiliates a priest when he removes him from active ministry for an offense of which the priest repented long ago. But if the priest is truly repentant, he knows that this humiliation is inadequate reparation for the sin he has committed against the child and against God, and will accept it willingly.
MISS MARPLE OF EBAY: My parish, the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore, has had a bad run of assistant pastors. One left to marry a divorcee; he insists on turning up at neighborhood parties and wears his clerical shirt. Another has left, announcing (according to rumor) he couldnÍt accept the churchÍs teachings on homosexuality, and shops in neighborhood supermarkets with his boy friend. The third, Thomas A. Rydzewski, caught the eye of the FBI which was trolling for pedophiles in the Candyman sting, but his nemesis was Marla Willette, who sells dolls on eBay.
The Sun article does not explain why she did it, but after selling dolls to ñskywalker-198î she talked to other doll sellers, and found out that they also had sold lifelike, high-priced "My Twin" dolls to the same buyer. Willette checked the buyer profile on eBay and found a "very disturbing" list of items - more than $6,000 in purchases that included boys' clothing, vintage advertising depicting children and videotapes about homosexual encounters involving young boys.Alarmed, Willette used a search engine and discovered that Rydzewski was a Catholic priest and that his eBay shipping address of 5300 N. Charles St. in Baltimore was the address of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. She called Baltimore police; the FBI then arrested Rydzewski.
Do doll sellers call each other to discover if any buyers have a suspicious buying pattern? They may want to run a clean business, and know their wares could attract pedophiles. Willette hasnÍt explained.
The parish knows that Rydzewski ñwas good with children.î (He was the chaplain of my scout troop, but almost never showed up. I guess 12 year olds were too mature for his tastes.) Everyone knows he spent every spare moment with the smallest kids in the parish school, and that he had a toy collection in his rectory room. No one noticed anything unusual about this (isnÍt religion mostly for kids anyway) and no one in the rectory (which Cardinal Keeler frequently uses) noticed the unusual items in RydzewskiÍs collection.
But parish officials in Baltimore tend not to notice such things. Sister Eileen Weisman, the principal of the Cathedral school where Rydzewski was checking out the students, had been a principal in a Catholic school in a working class neighborhood in south Baltimore.
The Baltimore archdiocese hired a teacher for the school, a John Joseph Merzbacher. His parents ran a strip joint, and he had been thrown out of a city school job ¿ for not finishing his college degree, according to the school system, for punching students, according to parents.
Merzbacher was great with kids. (All quotes are from the paid archives at sunspot.net)
Mr. Merzbacher quickly endeared himself to students. A pipe-smoking jokester with an easy manner and a fondness for rock 'n' roll, he brought fun and games into his classroom.
In one corner, he set up a traffic light that flashed red and yellow and green. At the back of the room, he plugged in a stereo and spun hard rock records by The Who.
The kids didnÍt learn any English but they learned a lot about sex and secrecy and fear. Merzbacher kept a gun in his desk at school. He was arrested in 1994 and charged with over 120 sex crimes.
"In the mornings, he would send me over to the utility closet to make coffee for him,'' said a 32-year-old painter who has testified before a grand jury in the case. "Then, he'd come in behind me, close the door and rape me. Day after day. For three years. After the first few times, I would just go numb.''
"If you ever tell anyone, I'll blow your f------ head off,'' she recalled the teacher saying as he held the gun inches from her face. "I'll kill you. I'll kill your family.''
Merzbacher really knew how to deal with kids. Court documents show:
a sadistic pattern of intimidation and sexual abuse, with the teacher allegedly raping girls and sodomizing boys and forcing the children to have sex with each other.
One boy said Mr. Merzbacher made him masturbate in front of fellow students. The documents say he gave the students alcohol both in and out of school.
Did the principal notice anything might be a little amiss?
Court papers show one victim alleges that the principal of the archdiocesan school entered a locked classroom after school hours while Mr. Merzbacher was engaged in a sexual act with a girl. According to criminal and civil court files, the principal, Sister Eileen Weisman, merely told the teacher not to lock his door and the girl not to stay after school.
One student said he once followed Mr. Merzbacher to the office of the principal, Sister Eileen. The student observed Mr. Merzbacher and the principal having intercourse on her desk, the documents say.
Just an ordinary day in a Baltimore parochial school, I guess, nothing to get excited about.
The principal liked MerzbacherÍs teaching style:
In 1974, according to the records, the Catholic Community principal rated Mr. Merzbacher's performance as "superior,'' the highest category, in the area of "concern for children.'' Another principal wrote of Mr. Merzbacher's "excellent rapport with students'' and that he "established an ideal classroom atmosphere which motivates learning.''
A rape victim met Sister Eileen years later, and told her about the abuse. The victim claimed ñSister Eileen told her to "'go on with your life.'''
The parents in the Cathedral school where Sister Eileen is principal liked her as much as she liked Merzbacher:
Speaking to some 200 parents at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen School, where she now serves as principal, Sister Eileen drew a standing ovation after reading a short statement, parents who attended the closed-door meeting said.
The newspaper reported she denied knowing anything about the abuse. Parents who were at the meeting told me that she would only say ñMy conscience is clear.î
She is a popular principal:
Parents from the Cathedral School on North Charles Street showered the principal with praise and condemned media accounts that they said tainted Sister Eileen's name unjustifiably.
"As a parent, I have complete confidence in her,'' Ed Goodlander, president of the Cathedral School's Parent Association, said after the meeting.
"I have confidence in the school and in the continued stability of the school and in the safety and security of the children at the school,'' said Mr. Goodlander, who has known Sister Eileen for seven years.
It would be painful to a parent to admit he had entrusted his children to a person who was at best not very observant about felonies being committed in her school. It is also inconvenient trying to find another school in a tight private school market. It is even more inconvenient to home-school children (we have home schooled our six through high school after an incident at a previous Catholic school).
Merzbacher was convicted of rape and perverted sex acts, and received four concurrent life sentences. He will be eligible for parole in 2007. The trial took a curious turn. Neither Merzbacher nor Sister Eileen was called to testify during the first trial. After the first conviction, prosecutors dropped all remaining charges, to everyoneÍs surprise, including MerzbacherÍs attorney. If MerzbacherÍs conviction is ever overturned, he probably canÍt be tried on the dismissed charges. The other victims were astonished and outraged. But at least Merzbacher is temporarily in jail.
Sister Eileen remains at the Cathedral school, where the assistant pastor Rydzewski began cultivating the children while he was buying dolls and homosexual videos showing young boys. No one at the parish noticed anything amiss, but fortunately for the children Marla Willette at eBay did.
BASKETBALL PRIEST: Last week I jockeyed cars and canoes for my scout troop in the Adirondacks, and I went to Mass at a resort town church. Upstate New York is the Burnt-Over district. All the misfits and malcontents who found the New England colonies too staid moved west. From this poisoned stock came John Brown and his murderous abolitionism, Mormonism, spelling reform (Adirondack Loj), and a host of other ills. The Catholic priest in the town had breathed in this atmosphere and gotten drunk on it.
Before mass everyone in church was yapping about their cell phones and transmission problems and prostate pains. Father Bob (as I shall call him) wandered up and down the aisles adding to the general noise. Then the cantor got up and apologized for her hoarseness. From the back Father Bob bellowed into the microphone ñDonÍt listen to her, she sings fine.î
At the sermon Father Bob interrupted the preening of the three altar girls to send them to the sacristy for props. One returned with a large wicker laundry basket, which she put on the altar rail. Another carried a basketball.
Father Bob said he was just back from coaching a basketball camp. He dribbled around the aisles and shot badly - he got only one out of four into the cavernous laundry basket. I waited for the point ¿ but there wasnÍt any. He just liked to dribble. He must have noticed the look on my face. He made an aside as he passed me about no doubt some people are thinking the church is going to hell. He then gave an OK sermon on reading scripture.
Father Bob was working hard on his personality cult, and using the mass as his tool. He may have thought that he had to break the ice to get people to listen to the Gospel. But personality cults are bad in themselves; the center of the liturgy (and of Christianity) is not the personality of the priest or minster, but the person of Jesus Christ. The new informal liturgy allows and even encourages priests to make their own personalities the center of the mass. They become MCÍs and tummlers (the comedians of the Borscht Belt in the Catskills).
Bad, bad, bad. The priest should be like a clear glass through which the Holy Spirit shines. Inevitably his faults and quirks will get in the way. But he shouldnÍt try to make his peculiar personality (and often it is very peculiar) the center of the mass.
A more popular blog (In Between Naps) picked up my May 27th comments on Father Cox. Some readers agreed with me, others attacked me personally. I had clearly touched a nerve. Not every priest who acts bizarrely during the mass in order to put the focus on his own personality is a closet pedophile, but pedophiles and other con men find the personality cult a useful tool in order to win access to childrenÍs bodies and donorsÍ pocketbooks. I found Father BobÍs remark about spending a week with the kids at basketball camp chilling ¿ probably innocent ¿ but the combination of personality cult and basketball camp made me nervous.