This evening, the day before closing arguments in one of the only clergy sex abuse cases to go to trial in Kansas City, MO, the Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph suddenly settled all outstanding claims. For at least the third time.
When I very publicly brought my case forward way back in 2002, I never imagined so many others would come forward. I didn’t know two others abused by the same priest who abused me had been stonewalled by the church for years. I was raised a good Catholic kid in a good Catholic home actively involved in a good Catholic parish where I was educated in a good Catholic school. I loved the Church. I even considered the priesthood, a vocation taken by my mother’s uncle, who came from Canada to perform my parents’ wedding in California. That isn’t even the Irish side of my family, we really were just that Catholic!
But there was a pedophile machine in clerical disguise operating in Kansas City. It moved like cancer from parish to parish, under the eyes of unsuspecting parents, covered up by bishops more interested in avoiding scandal for the Church than reporting known child abuse to the police. Even after my and 46 other cases settled in 2008, Bishop Finn continued the cover-up, becoming the first U.S. bishop convicted of a crime for doing so. A claim against him for breaching the 2008 agreement settled earlier this year, as did several other cases brought by the families of the little Catholic schoolgirls Father Shawn Ratigan used as models for child pornography. Yes, you read that right.
Yesterday, I spoke out against the Church’s new posture toward LGBT people, calling it “New lipstick, same old pig.” Today a gay Facebook acquaintance called out his friends for their outrage, calling it trendy to hate the Church. Well I don’t hate the Church. I never hated the Church, and that is an appallingly ignorant thing for anybody to say. I was mistreated by the church, and it was right to call the church to account. The fact that I was gay was used against me by Hugh Monahan, the priest who abused me. He told me nobody would believe me—then a 15 year old kid—if I accused him. And if they did believe me, everybody would know I was gay. It was 1982, the dawn of the AIDS crisis. It was not exactly a good time to be telling your family you were gay, especially in the Bible belt. I was outwitted and overpowered. And when I did finally come forward many years later after putting my life back together, the Church turned me away. We fought for years to bring my case and the cases of many others forward, including the cases today. I never set out to do any of this. I was 15 years old! I simply said yes when I was asked by the new parish priest to help him do stuff for the new parish, as did my parents and all of our family friends. It was our community that we were building together, except the bishop at the time, Bishop Sullivan, sent a predator where we needed a priest.
So, at least for me, the two are closely related. When the Church treats LGBT members as second class citizens, labels their sexuality intrinsically evil, and refuses to sanctify their relationships, there are social consequences larger than its moral grandstanding. Marginalized populations are vulnerable, and in my case and countless others, the victim’s sexulity, real or percieved, was exploited to keep them from saying anything, to protect the priest from prosecution allowing him to abuse others again and again, and to protect the Church from scandal. So the changes announced yesterday in Rome really do amount to nothing. The Catholic Catechism hasn’t changed, and it will not change. Church doctrine hasn’t changed; it certainly won’t change. The Church has merely said they’ll take our gay money and our gay talents, and they have a special interest in our children. Seriously, haven’t we seen how that works already? Haven’t we had enough of that? Yesterday’s announcement in Rome was just a nice PR stunt serving up the same old shit with a nice bear hug. Thanks, but no thanks!
So the truth really is that nothing changed yesterday in Rome. And nothing changed in Kansas City with tonight’s settlement, except the Diocese blinked at the last minute before a case they would likely lose went to the jury, likely resulting in a much larger award to a single victim with dozens more cases lined up to take the same path. The Church and all of its apologists should be grateful. So many have been so cruel to those of us who have been hurt so much, and stood up against one of the oldest, most powerful institutions in the world. Why? We did the right thing, as we were taught to by our Church!
Believe me when I say I have forgiven Hugh Monahan, Bishop Sullivan, Bishop Boland, Bishop Finn, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, the institution of the Church itself, and all the others who knew what was happening and did nothing to stop it. I had to forgive them in order to put my life back together. In the course of time, surely the Church will repent for the way it has treated us. In the mean time, it would be helpful if for once they would offer us a measure of Christ-like mercy, compassion and fellowship, and keep their hands off little kids. That would be a real change that means something, and it would be nice, for once, to be able to believe the Catholic Church stands for anything except itself.
Jon David Couzens settled. He didn’t have to.