Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nuns Don't Watch Oprah

As of today, I've read one too many articles citing the Catholic Church's claim to naivete-- 30 years ago we didn't know what we do now about pedophiles, so, in ignorance, we moved them and prayed. I don't hear anyone, not even some of the best, challenging this assertion. Oprah has been covering the subject publicly for almost thirty years. Large swathes of the general public (especially those concerned for children) have been informed for at least that long and, contrary to their assertion, so has the Catholic Church--and probably far longer than Oprah.

How do I know?

The Catholic Church has given birth to and nurtures some of the best universities in the world-- managed and staffed by clergy as well as lay professionals. Notre Dame initiated its psychology department in the mid-1960's. Their counseling program "has been continuously accredited by the American Psychological Association since 1972." That means they've been current on contemporary counseling issues for over 35 years.

In 1984, I began a masters in counseling at a very small protestant seminary in California. At the time of my studies, modern information about pedophilia was already available. It was not presented as something that could be cured by repentance and pastoral reassignment. After my studies, considering chaplaincy, I did an internship in a closed psychiatric unit, with children. The professionals I worked with reiterated what we'd learned in the classroom. Because chaplaincy occurs within secondary institutions (the military, hospitals, etc.), interns come from a variety of denominations. One of my fellow interns was an employee of a Catholic diocese in south Germany.

The Catholic Church has a long history of involvement in hospital care, social work (including clinical psychology) and chaplaincy. They run adoption agencies. It is inconceivable that information about the nature of pedophiles would not have been available to nuns and priests in their work, as a part of their licensing requirements and in the course of their continuing professional development, in these fields, more than 25 years ago.

Every public decision has the potential to affect the way the Church does business. Catholic adoption agencies in D.C. shut down when the law was changed, allowing gay couples to marry. Senators hear from bishops and nuns when legislation will affect what matters to them. The church, and its leaders, are not cloistered; they are actively engaged and educated about all matters that pertain to them. Over 25 years ago, California made teachers and counselors (among others) mandated reporters of suspected child abuse. This change would have affected every Catholic diocese with a school, adoption agencies, teaching credential programs at Catholic colleges, as well as licensed Catholic counselors and clinical social workers. As they considered the requirements for reporting and the signs of abuse they were required to recognize, it's impossible to think there were no discussions of pedophiles framed in modern professional terms.

Thirty years ago they were naive, so they moved priests and prayed? No. The Church has provided professional psychological education to its own leaders for over 35 years. Within the same time frame, its agencies--which include the nuns and priests working within them--have been subject to both professional and legal requirements mandating that they have a thorough understanding of pedophilia and its victims.

Because our upbringings have instilled in many of us a deference to persons and things of God, we are vulnerable to the promotion of nuns and priests as naive and cloistered, in spite of all that we know. The Church, however, is a veritable powerhouse of human knowledge -- and it knows us, often intimately.

Let it claim to be naive, in spite of the evidence. We, however, dare not be.