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June 07, 2010

Vermont Catholic Cover Blunder


This is sort of the most amazing photo I've ever seen...this week. The accompanying blog post from the Plaid Crew (which I found on Gawker) sums up the issue pretty well, so no need for me to add my two cents. I will pose this question: Why does Bishop Sal look so grim? I thought that was supposed to be a fun, happy thing. Ordaining someone, I mean.

Well, such traditional ceremonial as this has historically been treated with a degree of sober solemnity (alliteration much?) Anyways, I've been following this cover story along in its various incarnations over the web, and aside from the... shall we say... ill timing of the image, it's shown to me that many people have no understanding of, or misconceptions about such ceremony and what it means for believers presently, and culture historically. I would encourage the curious to look up info regarding the nature of what must seem to many to be a stuffy and arcane ritual... it is understandings of such ritual however that leads to greater senses of understanding, and ultimately more cultural diversity.


No, what's amazing is that you're employed as a writer.

What's even more insane is seeing the willful, arrogant solipsism of the church reflected in the comments of the blog posts in which this story has been featured. They really have no idea why this is so funny and distasteful. I know that denial is a powerful thing, but I can't believe Catholics still have their hands clamped over their ears going, "la la la, I'm not listening, you can't make me." It's over. We can only hope that now the decades of globally aiding and abetting pedophiles can come to an end.

Does it seem like everyone's "ganging up" on Catholics? Everyone's being big meanies? You can't understand why? Because no matter what other personal or political differences people have, most of us can agree on one thing: we are sickened by people who rape children.

I used to think that those who abuse children are the lowest of the low, but now I'm starting to wonder if that title shouldn't be shared with those who enable them to do it.

Criticism of the Catholic Church and its history is entirely legitimate and appropriate. I am a harsh critic myself.

That does not make this picture, and Ms. Ober's snide commentary accompanying it, funny.

No, what does make it funny is the simple irony that, in the face of a child abuse scandal, the church foolish chose to use an image that looks like a priest getting a hummer from an altar boy.

Wow, that is super irreverent and edgy "humor."

"Sot," I doubt that the mind of anyone who actually received this magazine went there. They understand the ceremony being performed, and probably know (or know of) the priest performing it. I guess some people will find things like this humorous taken out of context though; kind of like my three year old nephew laughed his head off when someone said a word that sounded like "poop" the other day.

Um, no. That was my point earlier. When a priest is ordained, it will always look like this. So I think that circulating this photo with the inevitable 5th-grade innuendo is NOT funny.

If you think this rises to the level of "irony," you have low standards.

Several years ago, when I attended a confirmation presided over by the previous VT bishop, the young men and women had to kneel forward BETWEEN HIS LEGS to get the blessing. It was terrible to see - not ceremonial, not holy, not anything but icky.

I grew up in a Catholic family; while no longer Catholic, I know, understand and appreciate church ritual. But the point of many commenters on other sites is real and accurate - the Church has no ability to see itself as others see it. A different photographic angle was all that was needed to change the focus of the conversation.

"A different photographic angle was all that was needed to change the focus of the conversation."

Gee, maybe it never occurred to them that anyone would think crude thoughts about a picture of a priest's ordination . . .

Gee--maybe it never occurred to them that just moving pederasts from diocese to diocese would bite them in the ass, either.

satan was workin' the f-stop......

"Gee--maybe it never occurred to them that just moving pederasts from diocese to diocese would bite them in the ass, either."

And that makes this picture funny why, genius?

It doesn't make it funny, brightboy. It just shows how clueless the hierarchy is--along with some former catholics.

I think they need to rename the Virgin Mary because the name might send certain people into a giggling fit every time they hear it. And as we all know, it is the church's responsibility to cater to such people above all else.

The point is that any other allegedly magnanimous organization would be sensitive to how the photo would be perceived. No other supposedly compassionate organization exhibits such a narcissistic lack of empathy and perspective.

If the church's crime had been institutional racism, they'd have no qualms putting a photo of black people doing manual labor outside of the diocese and say, "This image is perfectly innocent. It's not our fault all you crazy overly sensitive people all took it the wrong way!".

But you know what? Whether or not you chose to admit it to yourselves, it is 100% your fault. If there had been no story, no molestation, no scandal, would anyone have posted this image? No. If it had been a man kneeling in front of a woman? No. If something similar had appeared on a Baptist or Anglican magazine? No. Because it is the actions of not only the child molesting priests but the vast networks of parishioners, fellow priests, pastors, bishops, archbishops, etc. that have rendered this image perverse.

"It's not our fault all you immature, dirty minded people took the photo the wrong way!" It is your fault. Our minds did not desecrate this image, your actions did. Do you really think the average person travels through life seeing imagined child-rape scenes on random magazine covers?

Molly, do you subscribe to Vermont Catholic?

"It just shows how clueless the hierarchy is--along with some former catholics."

It shows no such thing, genius. This is a picture of a priest being ordained. That's it.

Listen closely now:

It's a picture.

Of a priest.

Being ordained.

Only dinks who have too much time on their hands and who think they're smart would spend their time trying to make some sore of "ironic" connection between this picture and larger tragic issues involving the Catholic Church.

YOU listen closely now:

It's a picture.

Of a priest.

Who looks like he's getting a b*%# job.

That's not ironic?

What is?

Sandy, you're on the internet. You could actually look up the definition of "ironic," and find multiple examples. This isn't one of them.

Way to remove my post. I'm sorry. Did I commit a thought crime. So much for freedom.

A blow for freedom?

Rechill, I did remove your post. It violated our commenting policy. Here's the policy:

I receive this magazine and didn't think twice about the cover because I know what is actually going on. There are child abusers in every corner, every job and every family on this earth. For years they have gotten away with it and been protected by other people. If the Catholic Church has to be the one to take the fall so that child abusers are no longer protected in any situation or circumstance than we are willing to take it. But if fathers, uncles, mothers, teachers, siblings, and friends continue to get away with abusing children while others protect the abuser instead of the child, than these continued attacks on the Catholic Church mean nothing. It's time to take our eyes off the church and focus on the horror of abuse and the denial and coverup of abuse as a whole in our society.

No Nancy, there are not child abusers in every corner, every job, and every family. Stop using the "well everybody has it" excuse.

No Nancy, the Catholic Church is *NOT* willing to "take the fall." They have consistently and regulary denied, lied, and perpetuated pederasts and child abusers. They have equated the ordination of women with the sexual abuse of children. They have ruined lives and when caught, plead that they were ignorant at the time and shouldn't be held accountable. Then they try and tell us that the Church isn't responsible because the priests weren't really employees of the Roman Catholic Church. The bishops KNEW. The Pope KNEW. The children KNEW.

What do you mean by "take the fall"?

Covering up abuse within families is a tragic interpersonal psychological phenomena, not encouraged by our laws or prevailing moral sensibility. If a teacher or health care provider suspects abuse they are required to report it to law enforcement and social services. Guilty parties are arrested, tried, punished, and listed in sex offender registries. It is systemically condemned.

In contrast, Roman Catholic canonical law systemically enables pedophilia. If a clergy member suspects another of abuse, he is required to keep it a secret of the Holy Office. Priests guilty of child molestation are not automatically (or often) arrested, excommunicated, or defrocked. Pope Benedict's treatment of a serial child rapist priest in Wisconsin was typical - quietly move him to another diocese for a fresh crop of victims to prey on.

Last week the Vatican unveiled their "revised" abuse reporting process laws (which included no substantive changes). It is still not required for abuse to be reported to civil authorities. Defrocking is still not mandatory. Bishops still can not be held accountable for ignoring, enabling, or covering up abuse.

Part of me hopes the Vatican and their vacuous cult continue being so clueless. It only hastens their descent as they circle the drain.

Hey all!

First off, kudos to Molly, her posts are consistently well worded and interesting to read. I disagree with her conclusions to a degree, but it is impossible to not recognize and respect her standpoint. I know I can't (nor do I particularly strive to) change her, or anyone's mind, but I've already started typing, so it is what it is...

To respond to Sir Winston, I just wanted to make a small point concerning the "revised" norms recently issued by the Vatican... it's something of an example of how the Vatican has very much lost the plot in regards to its "control" of this story (which was always tenuous, but now seems to outside observers impossibly out of touch, regrettably). The Vatican's release of the new norms was essentially a codification of what were already extant (but not formalized) practices of dealing with what the Church would consider to be abuses of its Sacraments. To clean up the Vaticanese, it was housekeeping, a streamlining of the Church's often arcane seeming rules. Among the areas covered by this Sacramental roof were issues involving sexual abuse, and issues involving the rights and wrongs of Ordination (in the Church's eyes). The Church hierarchy as I'm sure I need not outline, is naive in many respects, and didn't see how resolving these "issues" in the same document would be upsetting to many, and in all honesty, they may even have been unaware that the media had been "hyping" the document before its release, details probably known only to whatever off the record source keyed the media into the forthcoming announcement in the first place.

I am a terrible writer, so I would direct you to a learned article by John Allen on all these issues:

Nancy: I don't want to put words in your mouth as you don't say it outright, but based on the contents of your post I am assuming you are Catholic. I am Catholic myself, and I must say that I am not fond of the "it happens everywhere else" argument/excuse. We can speculate until the end of time about why the Church is singled out (or if it is indeed singled out) in this manner, but the fact is that the abuse has happened. If the abuse happened, than steps of some sort should be made to rectify the damage that was done, and no other considerations should apply. Perhaps it did happen elsewhere, but it also happened "here".

All the outstanding cases against the Burlington Diocese have presently been dealt with. It is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that there may be more. It is foolish to run from, or attempt to spin the damage if it is true... we should all strive for full disclosure, as it was once believed long ago that the Truth shall set you free.



Thank you for the compliment! I was able to get a copy of this Vermont Catholic magazine from a friend and there is a really nice letter from Bishop Sal acknowledging the conclusion of the molestation cases. He used frank, apologetic, and healing language, not the defensive or backhanded statements many bishops have offered. It's a shame that it didn't hit the news instead of the unfortunate photo eclipsing it.

As difficult as it is for most of us to wrap our brains around, I do believe you that the Holy See doesn't understand any aspect of media relations. Their job, mission, raison d'être is protecting and enforcing their own internal governance authority, not getting embroiled in earthly legal matters or news stories, right?

The problem is that they have held on to this position so tenaciously and myopically for so long that they are now shooting themselves in the foot. Their continued silence on this matter is not only undermining their authority, it's leading to unprecedented fracturing and exodus among their flock. They're losing followers faster than any other major religion in the U.S. and bishops across the country are having to find money to finance "Come Home" PR campaigns to beg parishioners to come back. Numbers on Catholics in the U.S. as they relate to the sex abuse scandals are available here:

I know there have been times throughout the church's history when taking the long view and patiently weathering the storm in the holy 'We're Rubber and You're Glue' bunker ultimately worked out for the best. They were able to come through with no record of mea culpas to damage their authority, still blaming external demons (e.g. secularization) for any perception of wrongdoing.

But this crisis is different. Not only is it more widespread, it involves a crime that most people - regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, culture of origin, socioeconomic status, or political leanings - find heinous and inscrutable. We react with a uniquely visceral horror. Even in prison inmate culture, child rapists are considered the lowest of the low. Pedophiles often have to be housed in protective custody away from the general population for their own protection. No matter how divergent our moral compasses might be on every other issue under the sun, we all seem to agree on a single true north - you don't mess with kids, and you don't tolerate those who do. What are we to make of an international Christian organization that doesn't seem to feel the same way? This storm is not going to simply blow over in a few years. It's been building for almost a century and is getting exponentially worse every day.

Maybe Saints Dymphna and Nicholas will soon visit Benedict and clear his mind. :)

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