Burgeoning prisons demonstrate a link between absent fathers and the decline of faith in Western Culture. The cost to society’s most sacred trust is immeasurable.
Father’s Day is celebrated in America this month, and once again I am compelled to trumpet a past Father’s Day post on These Stone Walls. “In the Absence of Fathers: A Story of Elephants and Men” garnered only 21 comments when posted near Father’s Day in 2012, but it has thus far been shared some 3,300 times on Facebook as of this writing, generated so very many links on other sites, and has been reprinted in almost countless venues. I’m not sure whether the draw of that post was fathers or elephants, but no other TSW post has ever come close to matching its popularity beyond the world of Catholic blogs.
When something from TSW is reposted on more secular sites, the site managers can edit out anything objectionable. I expected one controversial paragraph from “In the Absence of Fathers” to be routinely removed, but I was surprised by the sites that retained it. Here’s the paragraph:
“But for me, the most mindless politics of all are those of groups like Voice of the Faithful, obsessed with the “survivors” of priestly misconduct – both real and feigned – from 30, 40, or 50 years ago. But they have absolutely nothing to say about the thousands of young men dumped annually into prison systems from which they emerge with little hope of ever recovering from what they encounter there. How can anyone claim to protect young people while ignoring that?”
No one ever ventures an answer to the question, but it was surprising to me that the most likely sites to edit out the paragraph above were Catholic sites. A huge number of more secular sites retained the entire post intact. The most recent, almost three years after I first posted it, was an April 29, 2015 version of it at FreeRepublic.com which drew more comments than the original on TSW.
Clearly, that post touched a cultural nerve about something we all see clearly but seldom address: the diminishment of fatherhood in Western Culture. There are grave consequences of that trend, and they will be graver still if it continues. I live in a place where those consequences are seen and felt every day.
BE WARY OF CRUSADERS
Speaking of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), I had been under the erroneous impression that those dissident and often toxic voices had faded quietly into the sunset VOTF is (or was) a Catholic reform movement that came into being during the emergence of the clergy sex abuse scandal in 2002. Now I’m not sure what it is. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has not been impressed with VOTF, as described in “Twilight of the Scandal” by Kiera McCaffrey.
So what does this have to do with fatherhood? A lot, as you’ll see if you bear with me. Catholic writer Ryan MacDonald is a member of Voice of the Faithful. You last heard from him in these pages in his guest post, “For One Priest, a Fate Worse Than Dying in Prison.” A few weeks after he wrote it, Ryan sent me a copy of VOTF’s newest fundraiser/newsletter dated May, 2015. One paragraph of the letter told me that the spin at VOTF has not changed much:
“At our 2015 [VOTF] Assembly held in Hartford [CT] on April 18, we looked ‘close-up’ at clericalism to gain a more accurate picture of our Church. From an insider’s view by Marie Collins on the work launched by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors we saw ample evidence of the need to continue working toward reform.”
What is that “ample evidence?” The VOTF letter went on to claim, while offering no evidence whatsoever, “the reality that clergy sexual abuse continues.” And what does VOTF mean by “protection of minors?” VOTF has exhibited a somewhat mean-spirited playing down of the fact that clerical sexual abuse is all but eradicated from the life of the Church in America. That VOTF continues to distort that fact is disturbing.
The Church and priesthood have been silent scapegoats for a global sexual abuse crisis. That same scapegoating and anticlerical agenda were behind my recent call for a “United Nations High Commissioner of Hypocrisy.”
And what exactly does VOTF mean by clericalism? Clearly it is something very different from what Pope Francis means by it. The best and clearest understanding of clericalism as it relates to the Church and priesthood today appeared in a brief but potent essay published in First Things by my late friend, Father Richard John Neuhaus entitled, “Clerical Scandal and the Scandal of Clericalism.”
What I fear VOTF means by clericalism is the same as what many other dissident Catholic voices mean by it. It is an umbrella term to characterize any resistance to an effort to bring about the demise of the priesthood, and that effort has made substantial headway in the wake of scandal. In fact, scandal has been used for just that purpose. That is my problem with VOTF. Scandal isn’t just a problem to be resolved. It is a tool to further an agenda.
And what is VOTF’ s recommended fix? “Accountability remains key, and clericalism is a major obstacle.” Accountability to whom? Why, VOTF, of course, and the agenda it has mapped out for a distinctly American catholic church. Yes, the small “c” is intentional, and has a meaning of its own.
What might that distinctly American church look like? If VOTF has its way, it will look a lot like the U.S. Episcopal Church. VOTF’s agenda demands, for example, the diaconate ordination of women, not only as a conciliatory gesture, but as a first step in a sweeping “demasculinization” of Catholicism, a trend with consequences forewarned recently by Raymond Cardinal Burke. A separation of the concept of fatherhood from priesthood might align the Church with the rest of crumbling culture, but only to crumble with it.
And VOTF demands a married priesthood as a solution – an either devious or naïve solution – to the great public relations problem posed by a sex abuse scandal. From a practical point of view, the demand is hardly a restoration of Catholic confidence in the wake of scandal.
As I have written before, the prison in which I live has 3,000 prisoners, and another 3,000-plus on parole at any given time. Some forty percent – over 2,400 – are or were in prison convicted of sexual offenses. Two among them are Catholic priests. The other 2,398-plus are accused parents, grandparents, step parents, foster parents, teachers, scout leaders, etc, and most are, or were, married. Celibacy has nothing to do with abuse.
I recently heard from a TSW reader who had been a member of VOTF in New Hampshire when it first formed in reaction to “The Scandal.” He described an angry encounter he had with my bishop, an encounter that more or less characterized the VOTF meetings he attended back then. He told me that he left VOTF behind because his anger and disappointment diminished while VOTF’s didn’t. The toxic voices just continued on, and continued to promote disillusionment and distrust. VOTF’s protest became more important than what was being protested.
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to detect that what VOTF means by “clericalism” and “reform” is the diminishment of priesthood and a total separation of it from the concept of fatherhood in Roman Catholicism. This is why the sexual abuse scandal never ends for the core members of VOTF. They don’t want it to end, for if it does, the opportunity for diminishing fatherhood from the life of the Church is lost. VOTF’s fundraiser cited an example of the sort of reform they have in mind:
“Just recently, Pope Francis accepted the ‘resignation’ of Kansas City Bishop Finn, who stood for two years as the poster boy for bishops NOT held accountable.”
Note the silly, sarcastic “scare quotes” framing the word, “resignation.” What VOTF seems to mean is, a celebratory victory that one bishop was brought down – and whether that was just or not was immaterial. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League certainly did not see it as just, and he had the almost singular courage to stand by that truth.
Reforms like those blindly promoted by VOTF all but tore asunder the Anglican Communion, and led to the inevitable “next big thing,” the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the person of New Hampshire’s now retired Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson. The story had all the elements of farce. I wrote about this in what was perhaps the most controversial post to appear on These Stone Walls. It was a November, 2011 post entitled, “Be Wary of Crusaders: The Devil Sigmund Freud Knew Only Too Well.” Here’s a quote from it:
“It is a testament to the power of reaction formation that an entire institution would prefer the term ‘pedophile scandal’ instead of ‘homosexual scandal’ even when the facts say otherwise.”
THE NEW CHILD ABUSE
It’s a sign of our culture’s narcissism that we would blindly embrace a concept like same-sex marriage while dumping aimless hoards of fatherless children-become-adolescents into the black hole that is the American prison system. We comfort ourselves by calling them “criminals” when for most some form of criminality was visited upon them by others long before they were dumped into prison. Most were abandoned by their fathers who, in the age of narcissism, fled their responsibilities to “go find themselves.”
Juan, a TSW reader in Spain, recently added a comment to my post, “Evenor Pineda and the Late Mother’s Day Gift.” He found Evenor’s story to be a powerful and moving tale of redemption against great odds. Any single parent, mother or father, knows well the depth of sacrifice and iron nerves required to raise an adolescent alone against the tides of modern pop culture. Prison has become our solution to the anti-social acting out of the fatherless, and that is itself a cultural crime.
There are some hard facts to consider. Eighty percent of the young men under age 30 in prison – which is more than half of the U.S. prison population – grew up in homes without fathers present. Evenor’s story, though courageously told, exposes a sad truth about father absence. There’s a consequence for it that actually destroys young lives. As Evenor wrote of his teen years and his growing gang affiliations in that post, “There was just no one there to stop me.”
America holds more fatherless young men under the age of thirty in its prisons than all the countries of Europe combined. In New Hampshire alone, the state population increased just 34% over the last 25 years while its prison population increased nearly 600%. I live with this reality.
This is the new child abuse, and the Church must stand front and center before this culture to confront it. A heroic step in that direction was taken in 2000 when the United States Bishops published “Freedom and Responsibility,” a document that challenged America to seek rehabilitation of young offenders instead of just punishment, a tool that, when used alone with no other effort toward restoration, has proven to be entirely ineffective.
The U.S. bishops bravely challenged American culture to abandon mantra-like slogans that contribute to injustice such as one-size-fits-all punishments and concepts like “three strikes and you’re out” and “zero tolerance.” Then, just two years later, the same bishops adopted those same slogans to use against their priests. The message was the least fatherly thing any bishop could ever say: “Do as we say, not as we do.”
Prisons are the natural result of police and prosecutors clearing up the wreckage of broken homes and absent fathers. It’s a national tragedy that reared its angry face in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland in recent months. “P.K.,” a young African American man in his twenties lives in the cell next to me in prison. He grew up – raised by his grandmother – in the Fulton Street neighborhood of Baltimore, the very street you saw go up in flames and rage in the news recently. P.K. has no delusions about the effects of growing up fatherless.
The diminishment of masculinity and fatherhood has greatly harmed not only the priesthood, but all of Christian society. So, let’s make Father’s Day 2015 something more than just a chance to boost Hallmark’s bottom line. Call upon the fathers you know – both the committed and the absent – to ponder and share “In the Absence of Fathers: A Story of Elephants and Men.” Perhaps they will be better fathers, or at least better examples to those who are absent.
And send it to the priests you know. I am father to too many discarded young men in prison. We have written of only a few of them on These Stone Walls. It is time for the priesthood in America to set aside the shame of scandal and become selfless models of fatherhood again. And if that’s what VOTF means by clericalism, then I’m guilty as hell.”