Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Archbishop Pilarczyk on "What Were the Bishops Thinking?"



I went to UD last night instead of choir practice, because I wanted to hear what the archbishop had to say from his own lips. He spoke for about thirty minutes and answered questions for about thirty minutes. I'm going to comment on both.



However, first I'm going to comment on some of the reporters' stories.



Tom Beyerlein's story for the Dayton Daily News is excellently done and has no factual errors. There are also some decent photos. I am pleased with this story.



Reid Forgrave's story for the Cincinnati Enquirer is pretty good. There's a slant, but he sticks to facts, and he strives to catch the mood. One big booboo, though, which was clearly indicated in both the program and many remarks during the talk. Forgrave describes this as "the opening lecture for a three-semester-long series at the University of Dayton addressing the abuse scandal". In fact, Pilarczyk was the third speaker in "The Wounded Body of Christ: Sexual Abuse in the Church". The first two were Anna Salter, a psychologist talking about abusers, on February 3, and Craig Martin with Lief Noll, talking about abuse victims, on February 29. (The last speaker will be Kathleen McChesney, an ex-FBI agent working for the USCCB on child protection, talking about the new reports -- on March 29, if you're interested.) Basic fact-checking or an editor with a copy of the series flyer would have prevented this.



I showed up an hour early and got a good seat on the side, close to the podium. Too bloody close, I'm afraid. I ended up getting on the TV news, apparently, which was not my plan. I may have inadvertently been sitting in some kind of victim section...but if that's what it was, it wasn't posted at all. There was a large section down in the center reserved for UD teachers and students, and I didn't sit there. Anyway, I was in the front row between a couple of people about my age who'd been abused as children, and an older couple from out in God's Country. I got the impression that one of them may have been abused, but maybe they were just sad, concerned Catholics.



A lot of people were sad; a lot of people were angry. The poor abused lady sitting next to me was both. I couldn't blame her. We talked a bit beforehand, since she was also there very early. She was very nervous and wrought up, so I also let her read one of the books I'd brought along, which all of a sudden seemed really appropriate to hand her. (A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn. I would've given it to her, but she wouldn't let me.) My old choir directors (who work at UD) were there also, to help out with the prayer service after the talk. (Mrs. Stock sang the "From Out of the Depths We Cry to You" psalm. I don't think I've ever heard her sing better, and to step up like that in such difficult circumstances....) I felt very uncomfortable during the talk, though, as she brought out a small folded sign and held it up for the archbishop and the cameras to see. I never even saw what she'd written on it, and judging from some of the comments she muttered during the talk, it might not have been all that nice. Honestly, I didn't know what to do.



As for my own impressions...hmm. Well, I can count on two hands the number of times I've seen Pilarczyk in person before. He acted pretty much the same way last night as at Confirmations and other visits to places in his archdiocese. He definitely talked the same way. He doesn't have a monotone, but he does have a lecture rhythm. Buh-dump buh-dump buh-dump buh-DAH, buh-dump buh-dump buh-dump buh-dump buh-DUN. Every sentence he reads tends to have this swing. It overwhelms the natural expressiveness of his words and takes out all the drama. Also, he didn't actually tell a joke before his presentation, but he did make a few lighthearted remarks about his one-time summer job at UD as a kid. I think this was a mistake, as folks weren't in the mood. Furthermore, although he warned people ahead of time that he couldn't comment about specific cases, he said this in more of his normal lecture tone than as "I really would like to get into this stuff, but I can't." Again, showing a bit of emotion would have helped, as people felt disappointed to get nothing but 'lawyer talk' when (inevitably) they asked for comments on specific cases. This is a shame, as my impression was that the Archbishop was not really being cold.



This became more clear in the summing up of his presentation. With the bleakness of deep emotion held off by main force, he said that he was deeply sorry and "I expect I will carry that sorrow with me to the grave." (You will probably see this quote on the TV news if you see anything.) If he had made a similar comment with similar emotion at the beginning of his talk, it would probably have helped. (Although the Archbishop might have had a lot more difficulty getting through his talk.)



There was a lot of stuff in the archbishop's talk about the prevalent psych theories at various times, the way law enforcement reacted, and what the situation was in canon law. As resentful as the people in the audience showed themselves to be later about abusers who are still on the diocesan payroll, Pilarczyk seemed to be acutely unhappy (in his dry way) about his canon law duty to provide "sustenance" to all the creepy priests that haven't yet been kicked out by due process. In the question period, one man asked when they'd all be gone and all the victims would get justice. In a rare moment of letting his emotions show, and with considerable grim satisfaction, the archbishop promised that "That day will come." He qualified it with "Maybe not tomorrow," though. This didn't go over particularly well, but...I think Pilarczyk was really being honest there.



The major thrust of the archbishop's summary, however, was that he believed that the majority of the mishandling of the Scandal was a tragedy. Not the tragic flaw kind, either, but the kind where each person tries to do the right thing, but everything works out wrong. I thought this sounded like a fair summary of the situation in our archdiocese, but as we've found out, there are other places where the rot went a lot higher. Still, the archbishop said in the beginning that he couldn't talk about what all the bishops were thinking; he could only talk about the rationale among bishops he'd worked closely with and himself.



The question and answer period went much as angstily as you'd expect, with the Archbishop responding much as you'd expect from the above. Stupidest moment in the question period: a guy from Channel 19 in Cincinnati asking everyone who'd been abused to stand up. A few people sprang to their feet, but all the other abused people stayed seated and a lot of shocked hissing at the reporter ensued. My mother commented rather bitterly about the reporter when I told her about this afterwards, "He must have been a man." The archbishop ended up having a chance to lecture the reporter on abused people's right to privacy, which was ironic and amusing (to me, anyway). The rest of the press did not use the Q&A period, as they seemed to realize it was for the people, not them.



There were a lot of people who just wanted to ask why, as you'd imagine, and others who brought up their own specific cases and their dissatisfaction with them. The father of two victims said Pilarczyk would have dealt with the whole thing sooner if he'd been a father. Another woman refused to believe that parents would have covered things up, even in the past. (The old folks who'd been abuse victims from back in the forties looked dubious at this.) One gentleman said that he'd told Pilarczyk at a meeting about being abused by a specific priest, and that Pilarczyk had said he hadn't known about this guy before, but that it turned out later that the archbishop had known about the abuser from a previous case. He accused the archbishop of lying. A parishioner from St. Christopher's in Vandalia reported that a visiting priest had scandalized the parish by announcing in his homily that he was still friends with serial abuser David Kelley. (For a moment, the parishioner couldn't remember Mr. Kelley's name, which was interesting in light of the previous accusation of lying.) Anyway, the parishioner's pastor had said that he wasn't going to talk to the visitor about it, and so the guy wanted the archbishop to say something to the visiting priest. The archbishop looked very much astonished and said he would. The other comment that astonished him was a woman who pointed out that all the parishes and people, not just the victimized ones, could use some counseling on dealing with the Scandal.



Also, one of the guys from my choir (also playing hooky) stood up and asked the archbishop to forbid Voice of the Faithful from using parish facilities for their activities. I then got to witness the local VOTF leader snarking in hushed tones with my compadre in the hallway afterward. Too bad you won't get a transcript of that, 'cause it was an education. Oh, and there was a non-Catholic gentleman who apparently wanted to ask about the 80% of the molestation being done by homosexual priests and banning gay priests, but didn't quite manage to get it said. The archbishop explained the Church's teachings on homosexuality (orientation vs. behavior). Then the guy asked whether the archbishop thought homosexuality could lead to "bad behavior". The archbishop said he did, and that heterosexuality also led to bad behavior. This got a chuckle from just about everybody.



I really don't know what to say about it all. I'm glad I went, I'm glad to know there was some kind of rationale, but...it breaks your heart to see so many people hurting so much. I was very moved by the archbishop's description of how he felt like the captain of a ship sailing on stormy seas. But I think he'd have a bit more luck if he didn't do quite so much of the Hornblower "isolation of command", "never show your true feelings even if folks think it inhuman". Just a suggestion.

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