Thoughts on Sex Abuse and Traditionalism

During a potluck at St F, I once had a lengthy conversation with a homeschooling mom who regaled me with tales about why the Girl Scouts were a hotbed of Marxism and secular humanism and other culture war scare stories (as an aside, I have to mention that I was a Girl Scout for ten years and if that organization was as radical as she claimed, I would have been a lot more into attending meetings). In any event, she mentioned that one of her sons went to an all-boys Catholic boarding school run by the FSSP and she would be seeing him to the airport in a few days. I didn’t think much of this information until a few years ago, when I idly Googled the school and discovered that it had closed amid a lurid sex abuse scandal:

One reason this development is of interest to me is that the response of Catholic traditionalists to clerical sexual abuse is to deny that it exists, or to blame any misconduct on “unorthodox” (i.e., gay) priests that had crept into the woodwork after Vatican II. Yet, even when I considered myself to be a traditionalist, I considered these explanations to be wanting. Being “orthodox” has nothing to do with whether one is a sexual predator; you can be the biggest ultramontane imaginable, say the rosary everyday, do First Friday or First Saturday devotions, wear the Brown Scapular 24/7, say the divine office, and still be a rapist and a predator. Piety is no guarantee against perversity. Similarly, being “progressive” doesn’t nessesarily mean that one will stick up for abuse victims or be proactive in protecting children against predator priests, as the dubious actions of Archbishop Weakland demonstrates. Simply put, people who commit sex abuse will say and do whatever it takes to get access to victims; if they are conservotrad, they’ll talk about Fatima, the Latin Mass, anti-abortion, and homeschooling, whereas liberals will talk about the “spirit of Vatican II,” woman priests, and social justice. In secular or non-Christian communities, the predators will use a different set of buzz words and memes, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the same thing, namely having access to and grooming victims.

Conservotrad Catholic blogs and message boards in general are discouraged from investigating the true extent of the sexual abuse crisis, presumably because doing so would cause them to lose respect for the institution in which they have invested so much of their identities. The secular media media that dares to report on clerical sexual abuse is condemned as “anti-Catholic,” and “orthodox” media outlets like the “National Catholic Register” never mention anything that might suggest that anything is wrong in conservotrad land. When I was regularly posting on the “Catholic Answers Forum,” the common response to people who were scandalized by the church’s less than savory activities was to tell them to ignore the “anti-Catholic” media and think happy thoughts, which is basically the same non-answer I got when I asked Fr F about Catholic antisemitism. Mature, rational-thinking adults are encouraged to turn off their critical thinking skills, lest they start questioning the foundations of their worldview.

In fact, it wasn’t until this year that I really began to read about the sex abuse scandal, and something that struck me was how the hesitant the secular media was in investigating clergy sex abuse, precisely because it didn’t want to deal with accusations of being anti-Catholic (“Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an An Age of Scandal” by David France is a particularly good account, not just of the scandal in Boston but of the reluctance of the mainstream media to touch the story for more than 20 years).

I wonder sometimes what happened to that woman from St F and her son. Obviously, I hope that he was not abused during his experiences at Saint Gregory the Great, but I fear that many traditionalists will see this scandal as just another excuse to pull their kids further into their home bunkers and blame “teh gayz” rather than use it as a learning experience to understand that predators exist in any environment and come in all shades of “orthodoxy.”