In a 2003 lecture, sociologist Richard Sipe said that the culture of clerical sexual secrecy — and not just homosexual secrecy — is part of what gave rise to the child-abuse cover up:
Sexual activity between an older priest and an adult seminarian or young priest sets up a pattern of institutional secrecy. When one of the parties rises to a position of power, his friends are in line also for recommendations and advancement.
The dynamic is not limited to homosexual liaisons. Priests and bishops who know about each other’s sexual affairs with women, too, are bound together by draconian links of sacred silence. A system of blackmail reaches into the highest corridors of the American hierarchy and the Vatican and thrives because of this network of sexual knowledge and relationships.
Secrecy flourishes, like mushrooms on a dank dung pile, even among good men in possession of the facts of the dynamic, but who cannot speak lest they violate the Scarlet Bond.
I have interviewed at length a man who was a sexual partner of Bishop James Rausch. This was particularly painful for me since Rausch and I were young priests together in Minnesota in the early 60s. He went on to get his social work degree and succeeded Bernardin as Secretary of the Bishops’ National Conference in DC. He became Bishop of Phoenix.
It is patently clear that he had an active sexual life. It did involve at least one minor. He was well acquainted with priests who were sexually active with minors (priests who had at least 30 minor victims each). He referred at least one of his own victims to these priests.
What was his sexual genealogy? What are the facts of his celibate/sexual development and practice? Did those who knew him know nothing of his life? Perhaps so! But he was in a spectacular power grid of bright men. He was Bernardin’s successor at the US Conference. Bishop Thomas Kelly at Louisville was his successor. Msgr. Daniel Hoye and Bishop Robert Lynch, among others, took over his job.
Let me be perfectly clear. I am not saying or implying in any way that these men were partners in “crime” with Jim Rausch. But I am saying that anyone who sets out to solve a mystery has to ask people who knew the principal, “What, if anything, did you know or observe about the alleged perpetrator?”
After all, the Church’s hardened resistance to dealing honestly with the problem of sexual abuse on their own has compelled the civil authorities to move in, ask the questions, investigate allegations. The Church in America has been its own worst enemy – creating mysteries and doubts, rather than clear answers that inspire confidence.
Even bishops innocent of sexual violations themselves, by their silence, concealment of facts and resistance to effective solutions, choose to be part of a genealogy of abuse and reinforce a culture of deceit.
One reason the work of the Boston Globe has been so effective is because they have sought out the facts. Every member of the original five-member Spotlight Investigative team is a Catholic. (Not anti-Church, not anti-Catholic, not anti-celibacy). Their agenda was a search for the data – facts – beyond emotion or prejudice.
That speech was delivered 15 years ago. Think about that.
How different would things be today if back then, Catholics and journalists had committed to telling the whole truth, without regard to whether or not it gave aid and comfort to whoever they believed to be the enemy? Remember that scene in the film Spotlight, when the anxious, shaky guy who had been abused as a kid turns out to have been a source of important information to the story — and that the reporters had to face the fact that they had dismissed him years earlier because he seemed like a weirdo?
Maybe the media should start listening to the weirdos. And maybe the more respectable insiders should start valuing the truth more than respectability. For example, what if the conservative Catholic I phoned in 2002 who had gone on that trip to Rome to warn the Vatican not to appoint McCarrick to the Washington see, because he was a pervert who forced himself sexually on seminarians — what if that man had been willing to go on the record with me instead of saying “if it were true, I wouldn’t tell you for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness”?
What good did keeping Uncle Ted’s secret do for the Catholic Church? Now it’s out, and you have a lot of Catholics who thought the scandal was behind them wondering who else in their hierarchy has a sordid secret sex life, and who’s covering up for whom?
Douthat is right: the way out of this purgatory is through it. And the only thing that cuts through the fog is the sword of truth.