ROME - Claiming that "presumptuous and thuggish impositions of will have disrupted the peace of our lives," a consortium of Catholic leaders around the world has formed in vehement protest of "traumatizing and intrusive" police investigations into reports of child sexual abuse at the hands of clergy.
"Today, Catholicism is plagued by a ghoulish nightmare," said João Tinoco, Archbishop of Mariana, Brazil, addressing the media at a Monday press conference. "A nightmare of investigations, penetrating inquiries, and rapacious, probing violations of ecclesiastical privilege. Such horrors are not merely inappropriate, but utterly incompatible with a society that claims to be civilized. How long before the entire world stands up and says, 'No more! No more investigations of child abuse!?' Maybe a month. Maybe a year. But we shall ever fight until that day."
The group statement comes in response to an incident last week when a police detective entered Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and requested church records in connection with a pending sex-abuse lawsuit. The Church's pastor, Father Joseph O'Shea, spoke at the conference, tearfully relating his tale of humiliation at the cruel and wanton hands of the detective in charge of the investigation. "Last week, I was preparing Sunday Mass when, without a word of warning, an agent of the law positively descended on me, insisting on seeing church documents, including my personal records and communications. For minute after excruciating minute, he attempted, in effect, to pin me down and examine me from all sides, internal and external. If a person can't see how egregious that is, there's something developmentally wrong with them."
"But what truly hurts," says O'Shea, "is that the man who did this is in a position of authority, nominally charged with providing protection and assistance to the community. He used that position, one which implies trust and responsibility, to gain access to private and secret holdings which by right were mine and mine alone. Shame on him! And shame on any system that lets him retain his power."
As moving as O'Shea's words are, some say he may still be understating the problem. Psychiatrist Dr. Paul Crimmons says the scars of police inquiry can linger for years in even the strongest of clergymen: "What's most important is to see this from the priests' point of view. They are humble and devoted servants of God- true innocents, perhaps the only innocents left in modern society; I certainly can't think of any others. When the only world where they feel safe is suddenly shattered by accusations and police procedures, they are made to feel devalued, like mere objects- egoless props whose only function is in some lurid, tawdry legal process. This is a devastating event for someone as vulnerable as a priest. That's just how bad this situation is."
Adding to the problem, Crimmons stated, is that negative publicity generated by the investigations can be so harmful as to inhibit the growth of a church community: "Can you imagine an event so shocking and unexpected for a church that it actually retards, or prevents altogether, its maturation into a viable, healthy diocese? This is no bizarre fever-dream from horror literature. These random and utterly indefensible child rape investigations are actually happening, in my church and yours. It's so unthinkable that you almost have to block it from your mind just to stay sane, but if we call ourselves human, our duty is to fight it. Fight it until not one investigation is happening."
For American Catholics, help may come in the form of "Father Joseph O'Shea's Law," a Congressional bill which would make it a high crime to investigate any Catholic for sex abuses. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Angelo Gianelli (R-MA), says that the legislation may prove a vital step toward ending the persecution of God's servants: "Nothing can give these priests their old lives back, the way it was before these children spoke up. But if we can hold accountable those monsters responsible for this investigatory behavior, we shall strike a blow for justice, and these priests can finally put their hideous ordeal behind them and get back to what they love doing. And the sooner the better."