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Friday, May 31, 2002

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Go To Hell
The Law of Guns and Canon

by Clinton Fein

They function as entities unto themselves. They have their own standards, their own morals, their own values and their own set of laws that govern their conduct. Deference is given to them by both courts and constitutions globally. Both have been beset by scandal, time and time again. Most often, it's about sex.

For all their differences, they are disturbingly similar. The United States military and the Catholic Church are two among the most powerful institutions in the world. The law of guns and canons, namely the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), governs American men and women in uniform (and prisoners of war, visa violators, and men with slightly darker skin than Tonya Harding with last names like Paula Abdul). The 1917 and revised 1983 Codes of Canon law (COC), on the other hand, also govern men in uniform, albeit uniforms that would result in an immediate discharge if worn by men in the military. Women in either uniform are not particularly favored by either institution.

Both patriarchal hierarchies are governed by excessive structures and strict codes of conduct that inevitably run against the grain of human nature and ultimately are impossible to maintain to serve the intended purpose. Both the institutions and the laws that govern them are shrouded in secrecy and lies and plagued by abuse and cover-ups, yet both are held up as bastions of social virtue and moral certitude. Both duck and dive in their conduct and twisted phraseology, their attempts to govern human relationships revealing more about their inadequacies than their strengths. And both shoulder more responsibility for the damage incurred on themselves and those they touch than any outside influences, which both seeks to blame.

"De sexton," the Sixth commandment, ("Thou shall not commit adultery") is used as a catch-all phrase for any kind of sexual problem or crime, and conduct "in re turpi" (which refers to particularly offensive transgressions, including 'unnatural' acts) are the most frequently used by the Church to describe the conduct of their escalating wayward priests. Similarly, the United States military insists on adultery-free conduct for married servicemembers (Commanders in Chief notwithstanding) and even prohibits 'unnatural acts' such as sodomy (the infamous Article 125) between married adults.

In order to appreciate their similarities, it makes sense to consider the extent to which, in many ways, they serve as polar opposites. It would serve those seeking to bring about change in the Church by relaxing the Papal doctrine on celibacy, homosexuals and women to study what the playing field will look like by exploring the nuances of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy of the United States.

The Unites States military represents a microcosm of America at large, and as such, has often been unwillingly forced to adjust its positions and policies in order to keep up with societal changes. President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order, which brought an end to official segregation in the armed forces, was only signed in 1948. The Catholic Church responds to change at a far slower pace, euphemistically speaking. Modern science cannot even shake some of the firmly held tenets of Christian doctrine. Graciously the Church apologized to Galileo Galilei for his 1632 heresy conviction just slightly before Bill Clinton apologized to America for feeding Monica Lewinsky under the desk.

The Catholic Church has been under heavy attack by the media (who might finally succeed where modern science failed once the talk of increased "chatter" subsides, Evita W. Bush returns from the Rainbow tour to Europe and they can revert back to sex, lies and who murdered Chandra).

America's smorgasbord of fast-food journalism is so excited by the sex abuse scandal they are grudgingly, if barely, covering the explosive situation in the Middle East and that other place where, yawn, Donald Rumsfeld is still planning Missile Defense Shield strategies and a war on Iraq in the name of, yawn, terrorism. The more cynical among us are hard pressed to avoid considering Cardinal Bernard Law reneged on the abuse settlement originally promised to victims to pay Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller to take heat for withholding receipt of a certain FBI memo from Phoenix as a distraction to move the scandal from the front pages.

More dangerous to the Church though, is the attack by decent Catholics who have finally decided enough is enough. Watching the Church leadership choke on its own moldy and stale diet of bigotry, deceit, blame and blackmail has become nothing short of a spectator sport in the United States, and with the God-answered cancellation of the XFL and the dismal failure to find the untouchable Osama bin Laden, Americans want blood.

In a series of what can only be politely termed public relations catastrophes, it appears that every time a Cardinal opens his mouth, another nail is hammered into the coffin of papal credibility, sending the media into a feeding frenzy and both Catholics and non-Catholics alike reeling in incredulous horror. For all his Doctor Strangelove evil logic and demented hand gestures, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is winning the PR battle -- at least in America -- where the Church is imploding. From statements expressing how much the Pope loves contact with children, to strategically disastrous accusations and Clintonesque parsing from the likes of Cardinals Edward Egan, Bernard Law, Roger Mahoney and George Francis. All that's left is for them to adopt Michael Jackson's "Keep the Faith" as their theme song to get them through the crisis.

A hastily arranged meeting with the Pope at the Vatican allowed the Cardinals to escape into five star luxury in Italy and avoid the rapidly boiling discontent in the forms of protests and calls for resignation - particularly, Boston's Bernard Law. Law, in perfect tradition, relocated a pedophile who was publicly advocating sex between men and boys to minister children, and not just one either - both former priest John J. Geoghan and the Rev. Paul R. Shanley have been blessed with Law's denial in the form of praise and relocation. The moral and intellectual equivalent of hiring Jeffrey Dahmer as a babysitter, or Mike Tyson as a rape counselor. And the public relations equivalent of positioning Aldridge Ames to explain how giving a student visa to Mohammed Atta was an isolated, unexpected mistake. Or hiring Oliver North as a military strategist and expect anyone to believe him. (Well, except Fox news).

In a display of the worst possible arrogance and contempt, Law has accused children that were raped and molested, and their parents, of negligence. Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahoney has been equally vitriolic as accusations of abuse by him and his priests mount by the minute. From Milwaukee to Florida, the list of abusive Bishops and priests keeps growing. The Boston archdiocese has identified more than 80 priests in the Boston area who have been accused of molesting minors over the past 40 years. In 1991, more than 80 women were sexually assaulted by drunken Navy and Marine aviators at a convention, infamously referred to as Tailhook. Silence, blaming the victim, denial cover-ups, and eventually payouts served as a huge wake up call at the time.

The keyword du jour for the Cardinal Cleansing Conference was "zero tolerance" - a typically shallow, overused American buzzword that has oversimplified complex issues resulting in teachers sending children home for daring to bring pencils to school, or publicly hoisting their skirts to ensure appropriate panties - if any at all.

Seeped in denial, and framing the summit, was papal biographer George Weigel's observation that the "serious problem of homosexually oriented clergy who are not living chaste celibate lives" was to blame along with the "culture of dissent that has contributed immeasurably to the ecclesiastical atmosphere in which sexual misconduct festers."

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George sought to explain the Vatican's reluctance to take on a "zero tolerance policy" by stating the Church needed "wiggle room" the exercise of which is responsible for the current crisis to begin with. Adding insult to injury, he continued to remarkably distinguish between a pedophile like Rev. Paul R. Shanley, preying on young, prepubescent boys, and a heterosexual priest succumbing to the advances of a young 'fifteen-year-old lady' after drinking one too many Scotches. Perhaps a distinction does exist. Just ask the parents of a traumatized fifteen year old tormented and plagued with nightmares of the alcoholic pig that violated her trust and innocence in the name of Jesus, wearing his collar.

Of Cardinal Bernard Law's game of musical parishes for molester priests, Cardinal George added: "He said that if he had not made some terrible mistakes, we probably would not be here. He apologized for it. He said nothing about resignation and we did not ask him." Indeed they didn't, and therein perhaps resides the biggest problem. While the frequently violated "Don't Ask," provision of the military policy is designed to protect gay servicemembers from being forced to reveal their orientation in violation of the "Don't Tell" provision, the Church's "Don't Ask" policy represents a systemic failure of Church leadership to seek answers to what really lies beneath the plague of abuse that is tarnishing the integrity of the Church to the core, as well as a failure to ask priests candidly whether or not the accusations are true.

The Church closet is being ripped off its hinges, as she seeks to upgrade her current policy of sheltering pedophiles with relocation strategies that endanger children, paying off victims for their silence and continuing the systemic hierarchy of failure. Seemingly floored that the Church would be revealed as a bastion of homosexuality as its leaders sashay about in satin and sashes like aging beauty-pageant contestants, trying to pick up the pieces -- serving as a showcase to every aspiring drag queen by offering the only outlet where silky dresses and ornate jewelry can be worn legitimately and with impunity and still engender pride in Mom and Dad.

Celibacy has always been the perfect excuse to avoid repeating the embarrassing flaccidity on Prom night in a pre-Viagra age, where taking vows to refrain from carnal intimacy with women was nothing short of a blessed relief that finally put to rest the stereotypical, yet unavoidable, questions pertaining masculinity, sensitivity, sexual orientation and prolonged bachelorhood. Any man who looks you in the eyes and tells you they are "married to the Church" has sexual identity issues worth questioning.

Similarly, the military, which has always prided itself on turning boys into men, (using recruiting posters homoerotic enough to confuse the branding with Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs), continues to serve as the perfect setup for Cody Cocksucker to delay marrying that clingy girl-next-door or Phen-fen-popping cheerleader and hide among more than a few good men for a few good years.

Now, the Church's version of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that spawned the current crisis is under the most microscopic of scrutiny since the secular world challenged the Church to admit that Aristotle was wrong. Particularly as many Catholics, including some leaders, suggest factors such as homosexuality, the strict refusal of the Church to ordain women and the strict celibacy requirements of Priests are at the very heart of the scandal.

It was not until recently that the United States military finally admitted (to the few left still in the dark) that there were gays serving in every branch and every special unit, receiving Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars. It was a reasonable assumption if one was to have merely looked at the costs incurred in first training them, then investigating them and rooting them out. That's just called treason, however. The best thing Al Qaeda has going for it is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".

In a similar vein, the Catholic Church has spent millions and millions of dollars covering up incidents of abuse and pedophilia by relocating the culprits and paying off victims and their families in return for silence that has enabled the most insidious denial. No gays in the military. No pedophiles in the Church.

Now, incredulously, importantly earnest writers with gentle manners - such as National Review's William F. Buckley - are singing the praises of the rector for New York's Archdiocese, Monsignor Eugene Clark, for being 'brave' enough to mention the 'elephant in the room,' -- the fact that the scandal facing the Church is not a pedophile problem. It's a homosexual problem. Comforting, of course, to the fifteen-year-old slut who took advantage of the poor Priest who couldn't handle his booze. And to the family of that wicked, sick, disgusting faggot, Father Mychal Judge, who got what he deserved when the second tower fell on top of him, cocksucker, as he administered last rites to fallen firemen on September 11, 2001. Better dead, the bastard. Not quite the type we want marching in our Saint Patrick's Day parades.

For many Catholics, such as the firemen who loved and respected Mychal Judge, his sexual orientation was unimportant - perhaps even more so, since he was, after all, a priest. Most servicemembers on active duty care more about a fellow servicemember's ability to shoot straight when they fire a weapon rather than be straight when they ejaculate. Monsignor Clark believes, as do many other Church elders, that pedophilia is rampant in the Church because of the presence of active homosexuals since there are more male to male occurrences of pedophilia. So much so, they have begun referring to the problem as ephebophilia -- homosexual attraction to adolescent boys. As if shifting letters and changing grammar -- as they do priests, from parish to parish -- will solve the problem. Given that women can't be ordained, and the Church's sanctuary for and protection of anyone harboring sexual dysfunction of any kind, the problem clearly points to the composition of the Church, rather than homosexuality.

'Active' is the operative word, however, and is the root distinction between the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies of the Church and the military respectively. The first of many disastrous moves by President Clinton, the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy was an unworkable compromise passed to appease bigots and avoid the real issue. (And stroke the shattered ego of the uglier, less election-worthy Southern Democrat, Sam Nunn). The military had no other choice than to admit that there were just too many gays in its ranks to argue that gays couldn't serve admirably without admitting that the military was fundamentally unprepared and ineffective as a cohesive unit.

So a flawed policy, that continues to this day, allows an absurd charade to exist, which communicates that although the military knows that gays are rife among their ranks, they don't want to know who. The biggest difference between the two policies boils down to conduct. The military policy makes no distinction between speech and conduct. A celibate servicemember professing to be gay will be discharged for homosexual conduct. There exists a rebuttable presumption that the statement alone will invariably lead to prohibited conduct, and therefore is conduct already.

In early March, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told The New York Times that "people with (homosexual) inclinations just cannot be ordained…that does not imply a final judgment on people with homosexuality, but you cannot be in this field."

The Church, in its "love the sinner, hate the sin" paradigm of hypocrisy, clearly does distinguish between conduct and speech. Celibacy, however, is celibacy. Homosexual conduct is a sin only if acted upon, even if by a heterosexual; celibacy by a homosexual is not. In other words, it makes no difference if a priest is gay or straight really, because it makes no difference who the hell they aren't allowed to fuck.

The military's "Don't Tell" provision, in theory, is designed to prevent straight servicemembers - not from the anguish of knowing that some in their unit are gay, mind you - but rather from discovering who. For the Church, however, the "Don't Tell" concept is designed to prevent public knowledge of the abuse, avoid criminal prosecution and to suppress potential claims. Secrecy, lies and denial remain the key ingredients to the effective implementation of both policies.

The Church insidiously strong-arms its aggrieved into adopting a "Don't Tell" position by paying victims to refrain from taking civil action or otherwise making an issue in order to avoid scandal "for the good of the Church." The military, "for the good of the military," believes the presence of closeted soldiers in foxholes - or the immediate discharge of mission-critical gays that reveal their orientation truthfully - will somehow engender unit cohesion and bolster military preparedness. A servicemember is to stay in the closet and engender trust by lying to commanders "for the good of the military," while an abuse victim, "for the good of the Church," must become complicit in protecting evil within the power structure, facilitate a complete avoidance of cleric accountability, deceive the laity and remain a silent in the knowledge that abusive priests from Fort Lauderdale to Poughkeepsie are plowing prepubescent ass with impunity.

Deference is given to the military brass by congress and even the Supreme Court to override constitutional protections afforded to civilians and impose what they feel is in the best interest of the military. For the Catholic Church, the arrogance and denial reflected by the Church leadership highlights a reliance on "clericalism" -- an ideology gleefully embraced by the leadership, and reinforced on the laity which suggests that somehow the silk clad clergy are entitled to special privileges and respect. The Church takes advantage of victims already abused by its own, by encouraging and maintaining an enduring attitude that it is sinful or wrong to make any kind of accusation against a priest or a bishop or that priests and bishops would never do anything evil or wrong. In addition to their internalized fear and blame, an abused child is further faced with challenging deeply held convictions among his or her parents, the Church and even civic leaders, that making accusations -- let alone bringing charges -- against a priest or bishop is nothing short of an attack against the Church and religion itself.

According to the Code of Canon Law, the sexual abuse of or contact with a minor under the age of 16 is a violation of a priest's obligation of celibacy. In other words, it's about the priest, not the victim. Clerics guilty of sex abuse of minors are to be punished with appropriate penalties not excluding dismissal from the clerical state according to these canons. Clearly dismissal is not an automatic punishment for unequivocal guilt. The Code does not mention homosexuality or homosexual acts specifically, because fortunately someone was smart enough to realize back then that fucking kids is wrong for heterosexual priests as well.

Despite mention of punishments inflicted on clerics for homosexual crimes in the Christian Penitential Books of the 6th to 11th centuries, Catholic Church authorities, such as Cardinal Bernard Law, suggest that the problem of sexual abuse of young boys and girls by horny, drunk and pedophilic priests is a recently surfaced problem, which only now, is serious enough to be discussed at Vatican meetings and Bishop Conferences. We and, more importantly, victims are supposed to take comfort in the fact that despite the references to sexual abuse of minors as a specific crime in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and again in the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983, the hierarchy is finally willing to admit -- half-assed -- that there might be a pedophile problem - by blaming homosexuals.

Since, as the codifications suggest, the problem is hardly a new one, and if the problem was important and severe enough to be included in the canons and Penitential Books, how on earth can the Church claim ignorance of its horrific effects on children, reassign priests accused of raping and molesting children, and worse, why would they pay millions of dollars to keep the abuse a secret? Granted, no organization relishes the attention and public relations damage that results from such disclosures, but none are quite as vocal in their judgments and condemnations either. Endangering and hanging out violated children to dry is hardly a noble fucking alternative for which one can claim moral authority.

Even if one is to assume the best, and accept that the Church leadership genuinely, if ignorantly, thought that silencing victims and relocating and transferring priests from parish to parish was going to remedy the situation, how could they have possibly ignored the growing evidence of rampant recidivism of priests "cured" and what explanation can be given for their failure to conclude that shuffling priests does not solve the problem of pedophilia any more than electro-shock therapy does homosexuality. Especially if armed with more than enough medical evidence making clear the extensive harm to victims, their families and to society resulting from child sexual abuse. If fucking causes unwanted pregnancy, you don't keep fucking. You either use birth control, or stop fucking. Or become Andrea Yates.

While the "Don't Ask" component of the military policy resulted in the removal of questions pertaining to sexual orientation from recruiting questionnaires and forbade officers from asking about a servicemembers orientation, the Church has implemented a rigorous screening program designed to ensure a heterosexual priesthood. "Asking" is part of the process, although, as pointed out earlier, the Church is asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. Clearly neither the military nor Church's screening programs -- asking or avoiding - works in keeping out homosexuals.

The argument for and against the ordaining of women is inextricably linked to the issue of homosexuals in the Church, and once again, the military policy offers a telling comparison. (No pun intended).While the President and his men derided the Taliban for their appalling treatment of women as a justification for their continued destruction of Afghanistan, close advisor, Karen Hughes, mysteriously resigned from her White House post, First Lady, Laura Bush, collected sewing kits to send to Afghani women, and good old American female servicemembers (those who weren't sitting submissively in the back of cars wearing full body covering and Burkas in Saudi Arabia) were discharged at a rate nearly twice their presence in the service. Women comprise approximately 14% of the total force strength, yet 30% of gay discharges for 2001 were women.

The military spares no expense in both the implementation and violation of its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Notorious for witch hunts and campaigns to weed out men and women they have spent millions of dollars preparing and training, a mere suggestion, or incorrectly interpreted glance, is enough to trigger an investigation. Successfully too, according to figures released March 14, 2002 by Washington D.C. based watchdog group, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Citing Department of Defense figures, the Pentagon fired a record 1,250 men and women - or 3-4 service members every day - for being lesbian, gay or bisexual. The figure is the highest number of gay discharges since 1987, seven years prior to the implementation of the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

The opposite attitude prevails with the Church, however, which all but denies accusations or complaints about pedophilia and child abuse, and ignores rumors and red flags that would sooner have triggered a sexual harassment investigation at Enron than a pedophile investigation by the Church.

Rather than confront the widening crisis, the Catholic Church is surrounded by enablers and other two-bit commentators who will do anything to scapegoat others instead. Crisis Magazine, an aptly named Catholic answer to the National Enquirer, has already begun pointing to statistics on women abusers in order to justify the Church's dismal record in protecting children: "In 1994, the National Opinion Research Center showed that the second most common form of child sexual abuse involved women abusing boys. For every three male abusers, there's one female abuser. Statistics on female sex offenders are more difficult to obtain because the crime is more hidden."

Whether the Church is spitting out this data -- coupled with comments like those of Joaquin Navarro-Valls -- to support their inaction, or hint at why the ordination of women might not be such a good idea, it's worth taking note. Particularly by those lobbying the tone deaf Catholic church. Straight women who refuse to succumb to the advances of lecherous commanders and other leering male servicemembers are accused of being lesbians or sluts, of course, if they comply. This Whore/Dyke syndrome provides a depressing glimpse of what one can expect if the Church ever deigns to ordain women. As sure as priests diddle kids, this is the methodology that will be used to weed women out. What better than to rid the Church of women by accusing them of being lesbians? Or child molesters?

Despite shrill protestations by Church leaders suggesting there is no conflict between the regulations and norms contained in the Code and other Church law provisions, and the secular or civil law on matters related to the impropriety of sexually abusing, molesting or otherwise harassing children, the proof is in the ever-expanding mountain of evidence that tells a very different story. In spite of all of this, the Catholic Church continues to assume the right to speak out on various public issues, which it claims are grounded in religious teaching and impact on the civic culture.

How dare the Pope, his clergy and religious leaders assume moral authority with their hypocritical frowning on harmless acts such as masturbation, pre-marital sex, birth control, anal and oral sex -- all roads culminating in sinful (albeit consensual) pleasure in the absence of procreation, yet in the protection of the procreated, remain dangerously and irresponsibly silent and allow the unconscionable sexual abuse of children to fester along all roads leading to, and emanating from, Rome?

In April, the head of a Vatican council, Archbishop Julián Herranz, stated bishops should not be required to turn over records on abusive priests to prosecutors. Reverend Gianfranco Ghirlanda, an influential Vatican canon lawyer, published an article in the magazine Civilta Cattolica suggesting bishops not cooperate with law-enforcement officials in sexual molestation cases involving priests, nor tell a parish that receives a pedophile priest about his history because that would ruin the priest's "good reputation."

The Church is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions in modern times. And while the comparison to the military's policy is instructive, the major difference is that the military's policy, for all its unfairness, hypocrisy and traitorous conduct that weakens the country's effective argument and defense against terrorism, the voluntary actions of adults are central to the issue. The Church's conduct makes them, at least, accessories in the rape and abuse of children physically and emotionally, which, coupled with their implausible denial, is nothing short of criminal, for which they should be tried and punished, Canon law be damned.

Parents can no longer turn a blind eye either. Short of arming our children before sending them to confess their sins or Sunday school, and teaching them to aim and fire when a priest makes an unwelcome sexual advance, the reality is that trusting a Catholic priest, or even a Bishop, alone with a child today should be considered nothing less than gross negligence and child endangerment. We now have more than enough evidence to discount pleadings of ignorance, and in addition to shaking the walls of denial surrounding the Church, parents should be held accountable the same way as they should for allowing their young children to navigate the Internet unaccompanied or leaving a small child alone in a car on a sweltering day with the windows closed.

 
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