Thursday, May 25, 2006

SNAP Continues To Show Its Colors

On Tuesday of this week, reports started coming out that Cardinal George has asked a priest to step down from his parish while allegations of misconduct dating back to the 1980s are being investigated. The priest has agreed to do so and is staying at a private residence away from the parish. The Archdiocese has announced the information above to his parish.

The Archdiocese has also reported the allegations to the Cook County State's Attorney's office and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. The Archdiocese has not released the priest's name because they do not yet have enough information to even begin an investigation or to determine the credibility of the allegations.

Unfortunately, one news source revealed the parish of which he is pastor though (laudably I suppose?) not releasing his name, another went ahead and published his name. O.k. so what is the issue here?

Our mistress of suspicion, SNAP founder and president Barbara Blaine is reported to have said that the Archdiocese is still cloaking abuse allegations in secrecy. She complains that the Archdiocese did not tell the current parish or the priest's previous parishes that the allegations were of sexual abuse of a minor. Blaine said that Cardinal George should visit the priest's previous parishes to take questions and apologize for having made such a vague announcement.

Blaine, as usual, jumps to the conclusion that an allegation means that the priest is guilty. The Archdiocese has said that they do not even have enough information yet to begin an investigation. Nevertheless, SNAP thinks they should act as if he is guilty. One might even argue making this announcement as it is, is unfair to the priest (though we do not know how much information the Archdiocese has...nor do we need to know). Even if one does not trust the Archdiocese (though I contend there is little rational justification for such mistrust) there is obviously no secrecy. It has been publicly released (Blaine knows about it) and the authorities have been notified. It seems to me that Blaine's reaction reveals a pathological distrust of the Church and Church authorities that undermine her credibility and her relevance.

SNAP's paranoia and the media's fetish with the issue of suspicion about priests has gone too far. An anecdote demonstrates what over reporting can lead to: a couple of years ago, there was a Catholic conference in a small town in central Illinois. During the lunch break, a group of priests went out for a stroll through a nearby neighborhood. Unbelievably, a woman called the police reporting that priests were wandering through her neighborhood and there were children present. Even more unbelievably, the police actually came out to the conference to investigate what was going on. When it got to the mayor, cooler heads prevailed and he came to the conference to apologize. While anecdotal, but does help to show what the ramifications of the lopsided media treatment of this issue.

When the estimates are that the incidents of minor abuse is much lower among Catholic priests, even with the spike in the 70's and 80's, than in the public at large, than among Protestant clergy, and especially among public school employees, but the only systematic treatment of the problem the press has cared to look at is with the Catholic Church, one is not out of line to suspect an agenda is afoot. You even have some hacks throwing up the abuse issue amidst completely unrelated complaints, which of course reveals mushy headed thinking and/or very weak arguments supporting their main concern. This is not surprising but it is an indicator of the way that these hacks see that media coverage has affected public thinking about the Church.

It is time for the leadership of SNAP to seek professional help with their unresolved "issues" if they really want to be of service to those who have been abused at the hands of priests. However, if they continue to hyperventilate and point accusatory fingers at the most responsible of Church leaders, they will soon be seen as the reactionary skeptics that they are. Their relevance will wane when the press finally tires of this issue.