Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sex and the City II – Heroes who Take On the Catholic Church

I always marvel at the courage of anybody who takes on a large corporation, either as a whistle-blower, like Jeffrey Wigand who blew the whistle on big tobacco in the US, and those who were abused by Catholic priests and who take on the Catholic Church.

I know what it is to face the terror of speaking out, because you’re dealing with organizations that have a big PR engine whose message, very powerfully portrayed, is about ‘we care’. They also have unlimited resources, zero integrity, and any number of patsies who will do their dirty work for them in squashing you and their methods, not least of which is to make you think you’re crazy, are bone-crushing. You are one tiny, lone and vulnerable voice in a big, big, nasty world. And if you take it to court you’ve got to know that you will be fed to the wolves.

Hard enough when you’re somebody like Jeffrey Wigand who was a scientist and a brilliant one, a man who had known his power. He lost his marriage, his life was constantly threatened, and he lost his career. Beautifully, though, he didn’t lose his children or their respect, and he changed careers, began teaching. Found out he loved it. He’s still a teacher. A remarkable man. A great movie was made about him, starring Russel Crowe and Al Pacino, The Insider.

But imagine what it must be like for people who stand up for themselves when they have slaughtered self esteem from abuse in childhood by a priest. Imagine what it must feel like when Catholicism has had their loyalty and they’ve believed everything they were taught about its goodness. And with the most holy of holies, God’s right hand man and all his righteous Cardinals, turning his face away from them, they pit their fragile and wavering self belief against a monstrously clever and diabolical PR machine. Now that is heroic. 

That even one person should have had to fight this good fight against the Catholic Church and the might of the Vatican fills me with outrage. Some part of me, having grown up Catholic, still finds it hard to believe, it’s not supposed to be like this

Well, there have been a lot of heroes fighting that fight. The US has had by far the largest number of reported cases, but abuse has been reported in 14 countries in Europe, including Ireland of course, in Australia, Canada, and a couple of African countries.  The numbers are horrific, but I’m sure they don’t represent anything like the reality. 

And what about countries like, for instance, South Africa and Zimbabwe? Google “pedophile priests in the USA” and there are 1,3 million results. Substitute ‘South Africa’ or ‘Zimbabwe’ for ‘USA’ and you get one result – the Wiki article which shows no results for either country. The likelihood that it just didn’t happen there is zero.

In fact, I know that the man who was parish priest in St. James, a Cape Town suburb that is more like a small town at the sea-side, raped a girl who was more or less my mother’s contemporary. They went to the same school where the parish priest reigned. I met the woman when she was in her seventies. It was pure coincidence – if you believe in coincidence. I did some work for her and she recognized my mother in me.

She was an alcoholic. She told me that the priest, who knew her family well, came to her home when she was a child and raped her. Then he would visit for lunch on Sunday and sit opposite her as if nothing had happened. The chances of that woman being his only victim are zero.

When I was a child the parish priest, Father O’Dwyer, who was heavily involved with Marymount College where I and my sisters went, used to fiddle with girls’ top buttons during religious instruction. My mother had a nervous breakdown and during her worst years he visited her at home. One day I was there alone. He knocked on the front door. From my upstairs bedroom I could see who it was I was terrified. 

I didn’t answer the door, but I came downstairs and hid in the downstairs toilet. He prowled around, past the window – I just saw his shadow, so the window must have been curtained – and tried to get in at the back door. Much of my memory of those days is blank but that man has haunted me, and I remember that my mother told me later he had said to her it was her duty to have sex with her husband and that to enjoy it was a sin. 

What was he doing talking to her about sex during her darkest hours, for much of which time she was on heavy medication? What was he doing visiting her at all in that state and when my father wasn’t there? 

So that’s one priest who I know for sure was a pedophile and another priest who is suspect at many levels. I also know of another, from Mutare, Zimbabwe, where I grew up, but I can’t write about it because I don’t have the permission of the other person involved. I want to know more about these three priests, but when I Google them there’s nothing. I know I won’t find information easily. It’s not as if anybody at the Vatican is going to say “I’ll help you.” 

I feel like a very small person in a very big, nasty arena.