Eichmann in Philly?
In the section of the magazine that last month carried a story on an average Texas high school student who ended up becoming one of the most violent drug kingpins in Mexico, the Sept 15 issue of Rolling Stone treats yet another manifestation of the “banality of evil” that most of us have come to know as the “Sex Abuse Scandal” in the Catholic Church. In a horrifying, 8-page article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely chronicles the crimes perpetrated by the leaders of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Taking a page out of Hannah Arendt, while giving plenty of gut-wrenching detail regarding the crimes committed by priests themselves, Erdely focuses on the mid-level bureaucrat charged with doing the Bishop’s dirty-work — “counseling” victims, “treating” priests, and recommending reassignments.
[I couldn't find the article posted on Rolling Stone's website, and once it is posted, I imagine it will be only available to subscribers, so I'll give a summary after the jump. Though, I would recommend picking up the issue, it will also give you an excuse to dust off those old George Harrison records, as "the quiet Beatle" graces the cover.]
The “Secret Archives files,” to which Monsignor Bill Lynn submitted reports on all of the cases that he “handled,” were handed over to the Philadelphia district attorney piece-by-subpoenaed-piece beginning in 2002. The center-piece of the City’s case is the devastating story of a 10-year old boy who was serially raped in 1998 by two priests and one teacher at St. Jerome’s parish. One of the priests had been recently placed in residence at St. Jerome’s after being reassigned to do chaplaincy work at a local hospital on the heels of undergoing treatment in response to sexual abuse allegations.
All of this, however heartbreakingly and graphically described, is all too familiar. But, the culture of secrecy that rewarded the cold efficiency with which Lynn fielded and dispensed with allegations of sexual abuse in the diocese is the most chilling part of the article. Erdely quotes former Assistant District Attorney Will Spade describing the process of extracting information from the archdiocese: “It was like trying to infiltrate a racketeering organization. Most of these guys just seemed to be in the wrong professions. They weren’t kind or understanding or any of the things a priest should be. They were just thugs.” Erdely also gives a shout-out to Ana Maria Catanzaro’s Commonweal essay describing her dismay at learning how the archdiocese had manipulated the lay review board, which was established after the first cases of abuse were made public, by only making available to them the least severe complaints. Lastly, Erdely highlights that when it came time for Cardinal Bevilacqua to side-step claims that he was responsible, he knew exactly where the footholds were: “When he testified before the grand jury in 2003, Bevilacqua conceded that any move involving the reassignment of accused priests was ‘ultimately my decision.’ But he was quick to stress who was really at fault: In every instance, he insisted, he had ‘relied on my secretary of the clergy’s [Lynn's] recommendations if anything was necessary to be done.’”
As for Lynn, like any good mob soldier, he seems poised to take the fall for the whole conspiracy. Standing before the grand jury, Erdely reports, the judge explained to Lynn that he faces a maximum sentence of 28 years, but that in exchange for testimony against the archdiocese, the prosecution may offer him a plea agreement, which would present his archdiocese-paid attorneys with a conflict of interest. After several attempts to convince Lynn that he might be better served by an independent lawyer, who could be made available to him if he wanted a second opinion, Lynn declined the offer and returned to his seat looking “flushed and unhappy.”
From Erdely’s article it seems clear, if it wasn’t already, that the Church’s institutional structure has not only enabled bureaucratized evil in the past, but continues to shelter those who have been the direct agents of such wrongdoing. According to Erdely, Cardinal Rigali, Bevilacqua’s successor, served as the Pope’s “special envoy” to the Czech Republic this past April. Under Rigali’s tenure, the archdiocese began its ”Victim Assistance Program,” which, in return for help, one victim claims, pressured him to “sign an agreement that ‘prohibited’ the archdiocese from reporting the abuse to law enforcement,” As most dotCommonweal readers will know, Rigali will be replaced by Archbishop Charles Chaput on Sept. 8, but, Erdely reports, “the Vatican insists [...] that Rigali’s resignation has nothing to do with the scandal.”
I’m not saying that it’s time to start calling the Pope “the AntiChrist,” but after reading Erdely’s article, I’m beginning to see where Luther was coming from.