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We have the right to an attorney: both the U.S. government's resort to military tribunals and the church's reluctance to turn pedophile priests over to the legal system stem from the same misguided belief that their noble goals should exempt them from due process of the law. (culture in context).

EVERY WEEK ON NEARLY EVERY PRIME-TIME COP show there comes a moment during the interrogation scene when the suspect or perp turns to our heroic police officers and utters that most unwelcome of phrases: "I want to see a lawyer."

Grimaces spread across the faces of the detectives of NYPD Blue or any of the Law & Order franchises, knowing as they do that even the most inept defense attorney is going to impede their crime-fighting process. The interrogation will grind to a halt, and any hoped-for confession will be stillborn or tossed on a technicality. The very thought of a lawyer coming into the room threatens to spoil the party. And, because we watch these shows through the eyes of cops and prosecutors, most of us are secretly pleased when a clever detective maneuvers the perp into withdrawing this demand.

Recent events indicate that it's not just TV cops and prosecutors who don't want a lawyer coming in the room and mucking up their process. Neither the White House nor the church seems too eager to have an attorney looking over their shoulder, making certain they're following due process or acting in everyone's best interests.

Last November President Bush announced that Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay would be tried and sentenced by a special military tribunal operating outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. In this tribunal defendants would be stripped of a number of the rights, protections, and safeguards granted those facing trial in a criminal court or even in an ordinary court martial. Now the press is inundating us with stories of cardinals and bishops who for decades decided not to report or hand over accused pedophiles to civil authorities, but to investigate and resolve these cases under a shroud of secrecy and silence.

Both the executive branch and the bishops seem to prefer handling these delicate matters as in-house affairs, with no outside parties criticizing the way they punish or prosecute the guilty and protect the innocent. That's not good news for us as citizens or Catholics.

On November 13 the president issued an executive order calling for military tribunals that would try and sentence prisoners of the war in Afghanistan, and though America's war on terror was to be an international affair, these special tribunals would not be. Even as the U.S. pressured Bosnia to hand over war criminals to the United Nations' war-crimes tribunal in the Hague, the White House announced it would tolerate neither international nor domestic oversight of its prosecution of the captives being held in Cuba. Neither the international community, Congress, the courts, nor the constitution was going to impede the swift and deliberate justice the White House had planned for the men the president had publicly branded as "killers."

Only the executive branch would have the authority to determine whether they were prisoners of war or war criminals, and only the executive branch would act as their judge, jury, and executioner. And if anything went wrong, the former governor of the capital of capital punishment--a man convinced that no innocent person was ever executed in Texas--would serve as the detainees' only and last court of appeal.

IN THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED, A CHORUS OF JURISTS, governments, and international organizations attacked the president's decision, criticizing it as a violation of the very freedoms supposedly being defended by America's war on terror. Mary Robinson, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, called upon the U.S. to recognize the detainees in Guantanamo Bay as prisoners of war and hand them over to a competent international tribunal. This challenge was echoed by the vast majority of European governments and the Organization of American States. Human rights groups have blasted the decision to deny prisoners any appeal to civilian courts. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, this policy does "not respect basic American or international notions of fairness and justice," while Amnesty International has argued that these "military commissions threaten to severely undermine, rather than reinforce, confidence in the administration of justice and the maintenance of the rule of law."

Still, the White House clings tenaciously to its plans to prosecute and execute these prisoners without interference or oversight from any other group. The president claims that the detainees in Guantanamo Bay "don't share the same values we share," implying that this difference justifies stripping our own judicial system of the very checks and balances that distinguish democracies from tyrannies.

In order to prosecute the war on terror in the speediest manner possible, the White House would cast off the burdens of due process, equal protection, and what it views as excessive civil liberties, forgetting that it is these encumbrances that make our ship of state so seaworthy as a democracy.

If we do not want to become that which we hate, we should all start screaming for a lawyer right now.

IF THE WHITE HOUSE HAS BEEN AFRAID that letting an attorney in the room would impede its zealous prosecution of Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners, the bishops seem to have been concerned that reporting priest-pedophiles to the civil authorities would ruin the good name of the church and further undermine the reputation and ranks of a celibate clergy. Unfortunately, however, they seem not to have been as concerned about the safety of innocent children.

Even now the pope and many bishops appear not to understand that while the harm inflicted by these sexual predators has been horrendous and their sin odious in the extreme, most Catholics see the hierarchy's enduring and systematic failure to protect our children as far and away the more grievous offense. Pedophilia is a disease, a sin, and a crime.

Most of us were initiated into the scandal of priest-pedophiles in the mid-80s, when the national press uncovered story after story of long-term abuse in dioceses around the country. Even more scandalous, however, was the discovery that bishops and chanceries in all of these dioceses had allowed this plague to spread under a cover of secrecy and silence.

Our hierarchy took a vow to "keep in confidence anything that, if revealed, would cause a scandal or harm to the church," but had apparently made no promise to inform their parishioners or fellow clergy if dangerous predators were trolling the schoolyards. For decades, we learned, priests suspected or known to be pedophiles were moved from parish to parish, or diocese to diocese, sometimes sent away for brief periods of treatment, sometimes not.

In the intervening years the double scandal of pedophilia and cover-up has cost the church countless millions of dollars, done immeasurable harm to the morale of good priests, and undermined the faith of tens of millions of Catholics. But worst of all, it has irreparably scarred thousands of innocent children.

To discover now that the hierarchy has still not learned its lesson, that through the `90s prelates like Cardinals Bernard Law and Edward Egan continued to keep silent or cover up the sins of the Fathers while more and more children were exposed to a plague of sexual abuse--this is intolerable, almost unthinkable. To learn that victims of sexual predators were repeatedly paid hush money to keep silent about their abusers, and about the hierarchy's complicity in their abuse, this is too much to bear.

A DOZEN YEARS AGO, CARDINAL JOSEPH Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, argued that "standards of conduct, appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy, cannot be purely or simply applied to the church." In other words, the church, be cause it is holy and founded by Christ, can't be held to the same standards of due process and equality as other human societies. Perhaps, but each member of the church's flock, particularly its most vulnerable lambs, has the right to be protected from predators wearing shepherds' cassocks or miters. When the church fails to do this, it's time to cry "attorney."


Sex and secrets made the priesthood a cultural icon in this country. For generations celibacy and the confessional have made priests the clergy of choice in American pop culture, with film and fiction audiences fascinated by the man in the Roman collar's vows of sexual abstinence and secrecy.

In movies like Going My Way, The Cardinal, and The Thorn Birds, Bing Crosby, Tom Tryon, and Richard Chamberlain played Father-what-a-waste, that tall, dark, and handsome cleric who had all the lasses fainting in the aisles. And in dramas like Hitchcock's I Confess, we were mesmerized by the almost otherworldy capacity of a priest to keep a secret.

How ironic, then, that the priesthood is currently taking such a beating in the media because of sexuality and secrecy. In news stories and TV dramas the icon of sexual restraint and abstinence is now often viewed as a sexual deviant or predator. Movies like The Priest portray Catholic clergy as ignoring their vow of celibacy and cruising gay bars, while dramas like The Boys of St. Vincent's tell dark tales of clerical sexual abuse. And on late-night TV Jay Leno makes double entendre jokes about priests and altar boys.

Meanwhile, stories out of Boston and elsewhere indicate that far too many chanceries and children have been keeping Father's secrets. When the church's silence protects reputations but leaves the faithful in a dark and dangerous place, it is no longer golden or graceful, but pathological and sinful. Perhaps it's time to return to the ancient practice of public confession, and the even more ancient practice of a married clergy.

A number of books address the pedophilia scandal. Jason Berry's 1992 Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children was reissued by the University of Illinois last year with a foreword by Father Andrew Greeley. In it the New Orleans journalist tells of six years covering the stories of as many as 400 North American clergy and religious accused of sexually abusing minors and ponders the hierarchy's failure to better address this issue.

Eugene Kennedy's The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality, published last year by St. Martin's Press is just out in paperback. Arguing that traditional Catholic teachings on sexuality alienate us from our own bodies, psychologist and former priest Kennedy sees the problem of priestly pedophilia as part of a larger crisis in which church teachings stress power and restraint over intimacy and vulnerability.

Donald Cozzens' The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest's Crisis of Soul (Liturgical Press: 2000) offers a candid and insightful discussion of priestly formation, celibacy, homosexuality, and pedophilia from a seminary rector's point of view, and addresses painful questions about the sexual maturity of clergy and the unwillingness of bishops to address a number of these issues.

Finally, Philip Jenkins' Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford University Press: 2001) offers a critical examination of the pedophilia scandal, suggesting that press coverage exaggerated the scope of the problem and identified it unduly with the Catholic Church.

By PATRICK MCCORMICK, an associate professor of Christian ethics at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
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Author:McCormick, Patrick
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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