Sunday, February 8, 2015

Grooming and Abuse - Sexual and Liturgical

It was one of the worst Masses I've ever attended.  It was almost sacrilegious.

To begin with, the tabernacle was off to the side, and in front of it were the backs of several chairs; for the focus on this church is not Jesus, but the priest.  The priest, who looked resplendent in his green gown, was clearly on stage, clearly performing.  He would joke with the deacon and the altar boys.  While preparing for the Eucharist, for example (during the "hymn for preparation"), he was ribbing an altar boy, who was carrying a paten, making the kid smile broadly and laugh, and making me sick to my stomach.

When I got there, before the Mass began, I knelt on the floor to pray (for the pews had no kneelers).  The church was packed with middle-aged to elderly people who were all talking very loudly to one another, all at once.  A giddy carnival atmosphere prevailed.  It was a party without the little cocktail wieners - right there, in a Catholic church, in front of the hidden (but present) Blessed Sacrament.  People were laughing and talking at the top of their lungs and I was tempted to stand up and shout in my loudest voice, CAN'T YOU PEOPLE SHUT UP?

Then the band started.  The band consisted of a woman singing very loudly in a stylistic cross between Broadway show tunes and full-fledged opera, with a very cultivated (and ridiculous) vibrato that she apparently thought made her sound sincere.  The instrument that dominated was a cheesy 1970's electric organ played in a very schmaltzy and annoying manner, with the volume turned up to 11.  The band was right beside the altar, very much a part of the show.

The priest gave the air of being a predatory homosexual, but the women in the pews loved him, as he was handsome and carried himself with a kind of fake dignity that his dazzling green vestments accentuated.  You could tell he was aware of this.  His deacon behaved much as he did, and would stare into space when the prayers were read, acting as if he actually saw the God that "Father" was praying to.  At other times he would smile and laugh when "Father" was joking with him and poking the altar boys.

The priest made a point of saying, "My sisters and brothers" when addressing us, as though that somehow made any sort of difference.  His homily consisted of him talking about insights he had gained from his psychotherapist.  Cringe-worthy as that is, I could have endured it, had the insights been less lame.  It made me wonder how much money he had paid for therapy if what he was telling us was the best he had gleaned from it.  As with every homily these days, there was nothing overtly heretical about what the priest said, but nothing of any value either - absolutely nothing.  I've gotten more spiritual depth from Oprah reruns.  But people were very quiet and reverent when the priest was speaking ... the only time they were reverent during the entire ceremony.

When "My sisters and brothers, let us share with one another a sign of Christ's peace" was announced, the woman in front of me giggled and bubbled (as she did whenever the priest or deacon said anything at all), and turned about with a kind of sugar-high dizziness to shake my hand (they must have been serving cookies at this party, in addition to cocktail wieners).  I shook it, but the frown on my face was probably off-putting.  I'd been frowning for about an hour at that point.


Meanwhile, a blogger on the internet is busy analyzing a case of sexual abuse and institutional failure in the Episcopalian community.

Joelle Casteix at the Worth Adversary writes (my emphasis) ...

In 2003, Headmaster Nick Stoneman had a choice.
His drama teacher had been found with child pornography on a school computer. This same teacher—Lynn Seibel—had admitted to being complicit in “Naked Dance Parties” with male students in school bathrooms. Seibel was also rumored to have conducted a special AP (Advanced Placement) class in penis enlargement. What is the headmaster of one of the nation’s most elite boarding / day schools to do?
Shattuck-St. Mary’s (SSM) in Faribault, Minnesota is considered a “feeder school” for the National Hockey league. Their alumni list is a “who’s who” of the professional sport. Tuition is $29,000 a year for the day students and $43,000 for students who live at the school. There’s a lot at stake. Plus, Stoneman had no idea how many students had been “peeked at,” groomed, or molested by Seibel. He also had no idea if Seibel had created pornographic images of any of SSM’s students.
It gets worse. There were other teachers at the school who had molested students. While we don’t know how much Stoneman knew in 2003 ... by 2012, Seibel and another teacher, Joseph Machlitt, would be criminally charged for molesting SSM students. In 2008, a third, Leonard Jones, would kill himself after one of his victims confronted Jones about the sexual abuse.
But I digress. Let’s get back to Stoneman’s 2003 dilemma.
He had two options: The first would be to call the police, cooperate with any and all investigations, reach out to alumni who may have been abused, and ask for help from the community to make sure that predators like Seibel never have access to students again. Sure, he would take a PR hit and parents would be upset. But if he dealt with the issue head on, he could easily win the support of parents, especially if he took charge to ensure that the school was a safer place.
The second option would be to keep things hush-hush and pay off Seibel to make him go away. I’ll give you one guess what he did. (Seibel went on to teach in Rhode Island and act in small roles in Hollywood before he was arrested and convicted of molesting SSM students in 2013.)
So, why would a headmaster—whose personal mission should have been the education, emotional encouragement, and safety of the children in his care—make this kind of decision? It’s simple. He loved and feared the institution more than he cared about the children in it.
He took the dangerous “long view” and thought, “Gee, most of the kids who knew Seibel will graduate in a couple of years. But the school will be around for a lot longer. This is a small problem that the school will live through. The kids come and go, but the school’s legacy is eternal.” In his heart of hearts, I bet he actually thought he was doing the right thing. He was so indoctrinated into the “institution,” he completely forgot what the institution was supposed to do.

Read the rest here.


What's the connection between these two stories, the annoying Mass I went to on Saturday and the scandal at the Minnesota prep school?

I think there are several connections.

  • When an institution does not do what it is supposed to do, it can easily get hijacked by scoundrels who use it for their own selfish purposes, whether those purposes include molesting young people, creating a personality cult, making money, etc.

  • Lay Catholics have become, for the most part, "sheep without a shepherd".  While our popes have been preaching with courage and vigor, our bishops have in effect abdicated, and many of our pastors are feeding upon the flock instead of guarding it.  In this way we are similar to adolescents.  Teen aged boys at a boarding school can either be trained, and their energies channeled, so that they learn and are well formed and begin to mature, or they can be seduced into "naked dance parties" in the bathroom with their drama teacher.  In the same way, adult parishioners can either be taught to be respectful and to be in awe of a God that they should take seriously, partaking of a Faith they should mature in, or they can be allowed to become chatty and petty and self-centered and shallow, growing queer over a man in glowing green vestments that, if he were not a priest, they shouldn't even consider buying a used car from.  Human nature cuts both ways, and people are shaped into the molds their shapers mold for them in.  Allow naked dance parties in the bathroom at your boarding school, and you will get them.  Allow the Mass to become a contrived and frivolous show, and you'll get it.

  • But these things don't arise merely if they're simply allowed or tolerated.  Naked dance parties with your teachers don't spring up on their own, and suburban parishes do not automatically slide toward the kind of garish and gaudy circle-jerk sessions that I saw on Saturday.  Yes, these things will happen if you allow them to happen, and if you don't take pains to prevent them or correct them - but they typically happen after a long process of grooming.  Things get this bad deliberately, when bad people in positions of authority seduce and lead astray.  I would suspect it took the drama teacher at Shattuck-St. Mary's a long time to get his victims to a point where they would get naked for him in the bathroom.  He must have put a lot of effort and manipulative skill into that.  Grooming is not easy!  And the kind of show the priest I saw on Saturday presided over, a show centered on him and his need for attention and adoration - this is something these parishioners likewise had to be groomed for, over the long haul.  And so, while there's always a tendency for these abuses to happen, there's always some sort of abuser taking an active role to make them happen.

  • There comes a point where an annoying Mass becomes a sacrilegious Mass.  There comes a point when a school with a few bad teachers becomes a school where students are abused.  In both cases, the powers-that-be have the authority to do something about it: bishops can set the tone in their dioceses and correct wayward parishes; headmasters can fire bad teachers and turn criminal ones over to the police.  But these things almost never happen.  Why?  Because bishops are self-centered narcissists (as a rule) and most lay Catholics have been trained not to care, and because (in the case of Shattuck-St. Mary's) sports and success trumps everything - even the safety of children.

  • But if we ever put children's safety ahead of sports, or reverence ahead of glad-handing and showmanship, this kind of thing would stop in its tracks.  If the parents and headmasters at Shattuck-St. Mary's demanded education and safety ahead of prestige, things would change.  And if normal Catholics began desiring the cross of Christ ahead of their own mawkish idols, things would change at Mass as well.

Now it should go without saying that I am not equating sexual abuse with liturgical abuse.  The former is much more horrific - but the latter is also quite damaging, corrupting the core of who we are and how we relate to God.

But in both cases, victims are being groomed not only to accept abuse, but also to come to think of it as normal.

It is not normal.  It is the great fruit of the Culture of Death.


Tom Leith said...

What? There were dazzling vestments at a suburban parish? Usually its cheap polyester, as bad as the music.

Our last two popes preached with courage and vigor -- the current pope and that sacrilegious Mass have the same parents, and it shows in his every gesture. Paul VI and John XXIII I think were holy men and wanted to reinvigorate the idea of "mission" but were also very naive -- they certainly lost control of the narrative of the Glorious Council. We do have Pope Paul to thank for Humane Vitae. It should be noted that HV was greatly influenced by Wojtyla -- the future John Paul II -- but not enough influenced by him -- the eventual encyclical did not contain Wojtyla's philosophical argument and was missing his clear language.

We had some very good popes in the first the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th.

Anonymous said...

The scary thing is that this sacrilegious Mass could be (and is) everywhere. It sounds like my mom's parish. Oh, and she LOVES Father Showboat..rrrrr...

Scott W. said...

"Because bishops are self-centered narcissists"

Lack of Fortitude and Sloth as well.

Anonymous said...

Here, read this:

Christi pax,