Welcome back to the final part of my review of Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church by the investigative team of The Boston Globe.
You can find Part One and Part Two by clicking on the links. In the first two parts, I covered the book cover to cover, diving into the background before the Boston Globe articles and then the aftermath in both the secular and religious spheres.
As with the previous parts, I would like to issue a **TRIGGER WARNING** for sexual assault of varying degrees and pedophilia. I will try to limit the occurrence of these things in my remarks on the book, but given the content of the work, it will be difficult to avoid completely.
NOTE: Today, my remarks include a quote from the book about what a survivor endured. I have included a TW in front of that quote as another reminder.
“‘When everything else had shit the bed, you turned to the Church. Now what do you do?'”
~ Page 94
So what made me decide to read this book and re-watch the movie? I mean, the movie was released 3 years ago, along with a new edition of the book. They aren’t Saskatchewan related or even specifically related to Canada (though scandals have been uncovered in the Catholic Church in Canada).
Well, a few weeks ago, I was perusing Facebook and came across a New York Times article: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Resigns Amid Sexual Abuse Scandal. It reminded me of Spotlight and I looked the movie up. When I realized that a book had been written on the scandal back in 2002, I immediately knew what my next review would be on. And it has been a worthwhile journey.
While I have seen Spotlight several times, I did not realize just how widespread the sexual abuse was. The movie does its best to convey it, but the book is able to provide more background, more stories and more information about the overall epidemic.
The movie has a focus on the story of how the Spotlight team worked on the leads in the sex abuse scandal. It does not follow the unraveling of the case itself, choosing to follow the investigation. Each of the actors does a good job at conveying the frustration and anger that I can only imagine the real people would have felt at the time. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I definitely recommend it. Even if just to get a glimpse into how this investigation took place.
TW: “The prosecutor asked for three to five years after O’Sullivan admitted he had anally raped a thirteen-year-old altar boy. Judge Steele gave the priest probation on the condition he not be allowed to work with children. The Boston archdiocese ignored the judge, and the following year Cardinal Law shipped O’Sullivan off to a new diocese in New Jersey, where he served in four parishes over the next seven years.”
~ Page 129
I thought a lot before I decided to include this quote with my review. I considered just sharing the last sentence, but I didn’t think it included enough information. I also considered leaving off the first sentence, but that would not accurately reflect how much leeway these supposedly “holy” men were given.
These types of situations are exactly what make me feel so angry about this whole scandal. This priest admitted in court that he raped a 13 year old and he essentially got let off. Even if I could forgive that, no one checked up on him to make sure that he wasn’t working with kids. Which is so aggravating, I don’t even know how to handle it. I can barely write anything else about it because it makes me so angry.
“‘We feel that a person who is homosexually orientated is not a suitable candidate for the priesthood even if he has never committed any homosexual act,’ he said.”
~ Page 175
Speaking of things that really piss me off about this whole scandal: the way that homosexuality it treated in relation to it. There are two parts to this. The first is the assumption that homosexuality and pedophilia are somehow linked. The second is that, in the eyes of the Church, homosexuality is a worse sin than abusing children.
I used to a be a lifeguard as a teenager and young adult. I was out before I became a lifeguard and I continued to be out while I was a lifeguard. But there was a dark cloud that hung over me whenever I was at that job.What does this have to do with this scandal, you might be asking. Or maybe you are wondering why you care.
I was scared that a parent would find out that I was a lesbian and accuse me of something or try to have me fired. I knew that people claimed that homosexuality and pedophilia was linked. It didn’t matter that I knew they had nothing to do with each other. It coloured my entire experience working there. I worried about things, like where I changed, that my coworkers didn’t seem to even notice.
I was entrusted with people’s children and I took extra caution to make sure that I was never in a situation where a parent could misconstrue something and I kept my private life far away from my job. I hated that. I hated that I had to pretend to be someone else while I was at work. It made me feel like I was ashamed of who I was, but in reality, I was trying to protect myself and my boss. All of my coworkers knew, but the moment that I was on the pool deck, I had to be the “norm” that everyone else was expecting.
This feeling has a lot to do with the fact that this myth is perpetuated that homosexuality and pedophilia are linked. Of course there are going to be cases where a homosexual is also a pedophile, just like there are heterosexual who are. But there seems to be an inherent assumption that gay = pedophile. If you are wondering what I am talking about, think about all the people who don’t think that gender and sexual diverse people should be allowed to work with children, as teachers for example. Think about why they wouldn’t want them to be in that position of power. There is your casual linking of homosexuality and pedophilia.
That brings me to the second point: that homosexuality is a far graver sin than abusing children. It is shown in the quote at the beginning of this section. According to the quote, it was believed by Church officials that simply being gay is enough to prevent you becoming a priest. Ignoring all the discrimination that goes along with that, consider the rest of the scandal.
The Church covered for priests who were abusing children. They knew it was happening and just let them stay. Somewhere in their doctrine, they decided that it was better to have abusers and pedophiles in the priesthood than men who loved other men (read: men, not boys). This is disturbing on a lot of levels, but it would have been devastating to gay people of the Catholic faith to realize that their church thought less of them than the abusers of children. It is one of the many reasons that I do not participate in organized religion, especially as part of the Catholic Church.
So that is my rant on homosexuality. We press on.
“The Pope, like other members of the Vatican leadership, saw clergy sexual abuse as part of a broad societal problem, not as a reflection of structural problems within the Church.”
~ Page 204
This quote about the Pope is only one step away from victim blaming. While they aren’t specifically blaming the victims, which they did plenty of, they are refusing to acknowledge the role that the Church played. There are stories in the novel about higher level Church officials blaming the children who were abused for what happened to them. And then they claim that the issue is actually with society.
This is frustrating simply because no other profession has allowed this type of systemic abuse to continue. It pervaded for decades while offending priests were shuttled around. Has there been a crisis like this with teachers? Police? Lifeguards? While there are those who take advantage of their power in those professions, they are also reported and dealt with by the law. They aren’t allowed to continue their abuse because everyone is to afraid to call them out, to make them responsible for their actions.
It is the way that the Catholic Church is set up that allowed this systemic abuse to continue unchecked for so long. To blame society, while it does play a role, is inaccurate. The Church made its own bed when it refused to deal with allegations in a proper manner. Now they have to deal with the consequences.
Here are some statistics from the afterword of the 2015 version of the book:
“Today the scope of the crisis is difficult to define precisely. In the United States alone, 17,259 people have complained that they were abused by 6,427 priests from 1950 through 2013.”
~ Page 219
It is difficult to look at those statistics and disregard that the hierarchy and secrecy of the Church allowed this to happen. In 63 years, there were 6,427 priests accused, but it was only ever dealt with and tracked once The Boston Globe forced the problem into the spotlight.
“‘These sexual abuse victims endured horrific pain and trauma, and the good that is coming out of it is people coming together to support them, and looking for change in the Church while keeping faith alive. As always happens, from evil comes good.'”
~ Page 207
It is impossible to go back, to take back the horrors that these children were subjected to. However, it is clear that people do care. They needed to know that there was a widespread problem before they could do anything, but people have banded together. There have been calls for a complete reform of the Catholic Church. The church leadership isn’t keen on that, but there are voices out there, screaming for it.
Survivors know that they are not alone anymore, which is heartbreaking, but they don’t have to feel ashamed of what happened to them. There was nothing that they could have done that would have changed what happened to them. They were hunted by predators who were told that they could do no wrong. It is a sad truth, but the survivors were brave and strong, speaking their truths, even years later.
One of the survivors, Peter Pollard, wrote an opinion piece for The Boston Globe in response those who asked that they forgive and forget. He concluded the piece with:
“To varying degrees, those who have survived have begun to heal. We reclaimed dreams, earned degrees, formed families, went to work, even sought solace in spiritual practice. But we cannot escape the effects of the betrayals that were committed against us in God’s name. They are inexorably woven into the texture of who we have become.
That betrayal may not be a chargeable offence in a court of law. But there is no statute of limitations on its impact. And there should be no forgetting.”
~ Page 220
I can’t think of any better words to end my review with: there should be no forgetting.
Thank you for tuning in to read my three part review on Betrayal. I hope you enjoyed it.
Have you read this book? Have you seen the movie? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.