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Caryl Rivers: In 1983, at the age of 38, my brother hanged himself with his belt in a hospital ward and his once promising life was over, stolen away by years of abuse at a Catholic school. (AP)

Over the past two decades, the vast clergy sex abuse scandal has left the Catholic Church morally and economically devastated. It left my family devastated as well and caused more pain than I ever could have imagined.

In the 1960s, my brother went off to a high school run by the Christian Brothers. He emerged four years later terribly damaged and depressed. Along with dozens of other boys in the school, he was abused over the entire course of his time there by one of the priests, and he was warned not to tell anyone about it.

It is time to ring down the curtain on the old men who cared more for the institution they ran and for the perks and privileges they enjoyed, than for the children under their care.

For years, he did not. Then, in his early 20s, he had a major mental breakdown from which he never recovered. A psychiatrist told my mother “I have never seen such ego destruction as what happened to your son in that school.”

A bright, caring, handsome young man, my brother struggled mightily to overcome his abuse, but he did not succeed. Although he married and had a child, his demons ultimately got the best of him. In 1983, at the age of 38, he hanged himself with his belt in a hospital ward and his once promising life was over, stolen away by years of abuse at a Catholic school.

As a journalist and as the family member of a victim, I have been astonished by the sheer scope of the scandal. I have interviewed countless clergy abuse victims, many of whom suffer from depression, alcoholism and other addictions. Many are not able to maintain close relationships or marriages. And some, like my brother, took their own lives.

As Joanna Moorhead wrote recently in The Guardian, “How could an organization that professes a direct link to Christ … have gone so far off the rails that it now seems a power-crazed, untrustworthy and corrupt institution, out to save its own skin at almost any cost?”

Cardinal Bernard Law, right, speaks with unidentified prelates as he attends Pope Benedict XVI's last general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Feb. 27, 2013 (AP)

Cardinal Bernard Law, right, speaks with unidentified prelates as he attends Pope Benedict XVI’s last general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Feb. 27, 2013 (AP)

During the 60s and 70s, Rev. James P. Porter, a priest in Fall River, molested scores of children.

In spite of this, Catholic Church officials continued to move Porter from parish to parish before he left the priesthood in 1974. In 1993, he pleaded guilty to molesting 28 children, but he had previously admitted to abusing at least 100 boys and girls.

Porter is merely one example. But he represents many other abusive priests who were handled in the same way.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who was archbishop of Boston when the allegations against Porter began to gain momentum in the early 90s, was not only aware of rampant sexual misconduct in the priesthood but also apparently attempted to sweep the abuse under the rug.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wrote in 2002:

“Law was apparently engaged in elaborate efforts to cover up incident after incident of child rape. Worse yet, he breezily reassigned clergy known for sexually abusing children to work with more children — conduct not all that distinguishable from leaving a loaded gun in a playground.”

When the Boston media began to write stories about Porter, Law thundered, “By all means we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the [Boston] Globe.”

The wrath of God, I suspect, was moving in another direction entirely, but Law was hardly reprimanded by Rome. In fact, he was given a cushy job in the Vatican, where he remains to this day.

Of course I got to thinking about all this — my brother, the clergy sexual abuse scandal, and Bernard Law — because soon the leaders of the Catholic Church will gather together to elect a new pope.

Vote or no vote, it is a travesty that Cardinal Law should have any involvement in any of the ceremonies associated with selecting a new pope.

During the last conclave, protesters objected to Cardinal Law’s participation. He took his place anyway. Though at age 81, he is too old to vote in the coming conclave, he is eligible to participate in the general congregation meetings that precede it.

Vote or no vote, it is a travesty that Law should have any involvement in any of the ceremonies associated with selecting a new pope.

It is time to ring down the curtain on the old men who cared more for the institution they ran and for the perks and privileges they enjoyed, than for the children under their care. Their tender mercies turned out to be a holocaust of abuse.

It is not a time for old crimes to be forgotten. Let them be remembered, always. And let a new wind blow through the church.

Tags: Family, Religion

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  • Pam

    That the Church has been resistant to change is not a reason to stop making the effort.
    It is worthwhile to keep pushing for more involvement of women in decision making and ministry,more transparancy etc.In addition to concerned lay people and nuns,there are many concerned priests e.g the Archbishop of Dublin who wept on the 60 Minutes TV Show re this problem.
    Heartfelt stories such as the one in this article, are very motivating.

  • http://twitter.com/LeftSPhilly A Baselice

    I have a similar experience “Sins of the Father , Philadelphia Magazine by Richard Rys”, to me there is no SOL on Our pain !

  • John Michael

    I wrote Sean O’Malley when he was assigned to Boston. Cardinal Law’s “right hand man” Fr. McInerney cruised me in a gay area; later on he gave a vitriolic sermon at St. John’s in Wellesley castigating parishioners for living in sin. Hypocrites all! From the lowly prelate to the Pope. Why can nothing be done about this hypocrisy and man-made theocracy in Rome?

    • Anna

      Something can be done. Catholics abandoning the the RCC will cause it to disappear and die a well-deserved death. Sounds simple, but until Catholics have the courage to embrace reality and abandon this despicable, duplicitous organization, it will continue to eek out an existence.

  • Elya

    Try getting molested and beaten by you own father. I am 51, take a handful of psychiatric drugs and still get suicidal thoughts. There is brain surgery for my condition and im going for it. I don’t talk about it because I get several major depressions per year and people think I should “snap out of it”. going to try EMDR next because these memories of what happened are PTSD and will last the rest of my life if some new modality does not work.

    yes, the Catholic Church is this direct lineage to Jesus so screw them because I can pick up a Bible and THAT is the most direct route to Jesus.

    • Sarah B.

      Elya, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through.

  • judy

    Caryl, I did not know about your brother and I am sick to my stomach to read about it. I simply cannot understand, perhaps because I am not Catholic, how any thinking person CAN be a Catholic and put up with all the insanity of the church, not just sexual abuse, but opposition to abortion, birth control, women. It simply boggles my mind that an institution so retrograde still has power in the world. Thank you for what you wrote.

  • MM

    DINT KNOW ALL THIS!! REALLY ABSURD!! BUT ESUS SAID DO WHAT I TELL U TO DO, DONT DO WHAT I DO….IN OTHERWORDS DO WHAT U THINK IS RIGHT IN GODS’ IMAGE, IT AINT GOOD TO JUDGE COZ NO-ONE IS PERFECT!

  • Sandy (not my real name)

    Caryl, I am so sorry about your brother, bless his heart. I to had a brother who committed suicide when he was 17; we strongly suspect he was sexually abused. I’m from Kansas City and know the 2 EX-priests involved in the majority of the sexually abused cases here….SCUM!! Check this out, the one said my brother’s funeral mass and the other said my father’s….Satan working at his best!

  • johndt41

    Change has nothing to do with this. This is child abuse. I am 71 and from birth was abused by a number of people starting with my parents who both came from families where child abuse was multigenerational. I was also abused by nuns and priests. Child abusers never take responsibility for their actions. It is always the victims fault. Just as in domestic violence. The child needs to be taught, the child needs to learn, if the child were more careful it wouldn’t have happened. And one has heard the excuses from those that protect the abusers. Too often have I heard church leaders claim that priests are only human and the children are too seductive. People who abuse children are compulsively acting out what happened to them as children. My mother sexually abused all four of her children and she did it when we turned the age she was when she was sexually abused..
    The people (bishops, cardinals and popes) who protect and hide these child abusers are betrayers twice over. First by protecting and hiding the abusers they help the abusers go on to abuse dozens more children than they could if they were caught. Thus increasing the number of children who as adults may go on to abuse children. Second by protecting and hiding these abusers they keep these children from being able to get help. Children are the future of humanity and are helpless. It should be the duty of every adult to keep children safe. Crimes against children are crimes against humanity.

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