The End of Credibility

My own reflection on faith and power

The last two weeks of news related to the Roman Catholic Church should signify for anyone within the religious right that your credibility has now run out on moral and ethical issues. But these stories are nothing new, in fact, as I will highlight the Catholic Church has harbored some of the worst predators over the last hundred years in the United States alone.

The first story that broke last week is in every way as devastating, and horrifying as a bombshell story could be. For over seventy years the Roman Catholic Church has been covering up gross allegations against priests in the state of Pennsylvania. CNN reports on the grand jury investigation that

“ The report, two years in the making, revealed shocking accusations: More than 1,000 children had been abused by 300 Catholic “predator priests” in six Pennsylvania dioceses during the past 70 years.”

1,000 children assaulted and abused by religious leaders that teach intolerance of LGBTQIA people, a church in which the Pope recently compared transgender rights to colonial imperialism and nuclear weapons. A Pope that said trans people are out to destroy families and indoctrinate children. How can this “church” still have credibility? How can those within the religious right still attack LGBT people when they are committing the most heinous of crimes and scandals? Worse yet, why is the Catholic Church silent on taking measures to seek this out, and prosecute it under the laws of the states and countries they are in?

A seventy year history of rape, molestation and abuse with no charges, but priest sent on to continue to their “duties” and prey upon more vulnerable people. Dear Roman Catholic Church, it is not the LGBT people among your communities that are to fear, it is your very religious leaders themselves!

I can emphatically state this because this isn’t even the only story to have come out this month. From CNN again:

Catholic bishops have launched investigations into sexual misconduct in seminaries in Boston, Nebraska and Philadelphia.
• The former archbishop of Washington resigned from the College of Cardinals after accusations that he molested seminarians and an altar boy.
• A Catholic bishop in Australia was convicted by a civil court of covering up abuse, and the Vatican has accepted the resignations of six bishops from Latin America after church investigations.
• An Associated Press investigation found evidence that priests and bishops around the world have abused Catholic nuns and sisters for decades.
• Next week, the Pope plans to travel to Ireland, where the former president, in an interview with The Irish Times, recently accused a top Vatican official of pressuring her to “protect” incriminating church documents from civil authorities in 2003. The Vatican has declined to comment on the allegation.

Theses stories aren’t new but show an entrenched structure to harbor predators within a structure of power. The Catholic Church is one of the oldest governing bodies in the world. They have reigned at the top of empires, waged wars, and been sources of power for centuries. With that power has come the goal of protecting it at all costs, and as reports now show, they have fought to protect it at moral peril, and in contradistinction to the words of love and the Gospel of Peace known in Jesus.

The Roman Catholic Church story of abuse, scandal and cover up as I said is not new. For me, these stories evoke my own memories of my home church as a teenager being overturned with a sexual abuse scandal, the second since the 1970s. St. Clement’s in Landsdowne, Maryland has recently been featured in the Netflix documentary, The Keepers, that highlights the evil and cover up of Father Maskell. And as I was a child, I will remember the scandal of Father Girard. Maskell, as Netflix highlights was the parish priest at St. Clement’s in the 1960s. As such he had been accused of molesting boys that were altar servers in the parish, and threatened them with his own concealed handgun. Maskell, after being reported was then sent to Seton Keough an all girls high school as “punishment” and to keep him away from boys. However here as The Keepers highlight he led the assaults and molestation of what records show to be hundreds of girls. Additionally, he has now been linked to the murder of Sister Cesnik a teacher at the school that found out about the abuse from a student and who was going to turn in Maskell. Maskell after reports of Keough molestation was sent to a rehab facility, and then fled the country in 2001. He died in Ireland after a stroke. He never faced any charges, and the case brought against the Archdiocese of Baltimore was dismissed because these women did not report the crimes within three years.

But that’s not the only issue that came for this church. The priest I remember, who would visit my house, and did my first confession, and communion was Father Steven Girard. This priest was arrested in 2002 for filing a false police report. The police report came after a night of doing crack cocaine in the parish rectory with a male prostitute, and then going to a local motel to continue the engagement. He never returned to the church when the news broke, and was considered missing. He however did resurface in Delaware, and two years later a family of a former altar boy, Jermome Cliffe, who committed suicide related to molestation came forward and accused Girard of in April of 2004. Girard was stripped of his right to serve as a priest in 2002, but was granted full retirement pay and benefits from the church and Archdiocese by Cardinal Keeler. It was not until 2008 the church approved a $200,000 settlement to the family, but nothing else has been recorded or reported since then.

As I look back at this writing as a transgender woman I am horrified at what I could have faced in the churches I grew up in. The charges filed by the Cliffe family highlight that Girard would abuse children in the classroom, and in the confessional. What if I was one of those children? What about my friends and classmates from the school? What did they face? Have they faced issues they have never shared as well? Again, men who are abused are less likely to come forward because they fear they will look weak, even when they were children. With what the church has done I am worried for the countless others that have not spoken out, and the countless others we have lost because of the history of abuse.

Abuse from people that enforce that they speak for God. That swear they will act on God’s behalf. Like Girard, who said, if Cliffe told anyone God would destroy and harm his family. What the Roman Catholic Church is doing, and has done in this country is purely evil. More research into my own parish priest has shown that more women from Seton Keough were referred to him, and have reported molestation and abuse. Even more, it has come to light that he may have served with Maskell before he was ordained, continuing to highlight abuse and pedophilia in the ranks.

My point is this, the Roman Catholic Church and their religious right supporters have no moral ground to stand on when they decry the rights of LGBT citizens. They are a den of predators. They are harboring and protecting gross injustice. Yet we see no protests, we see no change, we see that membership within the Church barely fluctuates. Even more growing up at St. Clement’s many parishioners wanted Girard back, they refused to believe the reports, and many stayed as faithful attendees each week. These same people shun LGBT citizens. Many religious conservatives are afraid of what I may do in a public restroom, but are sending their children off to Catholic school, education meetings, confessions, and mass not knowing the evil lurking literally behind the veil.

As an LGBT American these charges continue to raise my ire. They show me a side of face I have stood against since I was 14 years old. Now 17 years later little has changed. No one knows where Girard is, it isn’t jail, and he has a full retirement package.

The worst part for me is reflecting on another predator who influenced my life as a high school student. My Southern Baptist Youth Pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Glen Burnie, MD, too, not in jail. Clyde Way was the youth pastor who taught that trans people were confused, or men that couldn’t get a date, or letting the devil be at work in them. His words from on high pushed me to isolation, and self-hate. To suicidal thoughts and tendencies. This same man would take us all on church camp trips, parade naked through the dorms, and show us his pubic hair as we went through puberty. He would also walk in and make sure we all knew how to shower in communal college showers naked and tell all the boys it was better this way. In 2005 he was accused of molestation at the church, instead, the church let him retire, and through a huge party. He was arrested finally in 2015 after posting on Facebook, “I did have fun” at a camp where he organized strip poker and other sexual games for the boys he was chaperoning. This was a man the church said was sent by God, with a calling. What he said, and what he prayed were true. Not to mention he could intercede with us, and therefore still as kids show us the ways of God. I missed where God asked for trans kids to kill themselves because they were sinners, but touching young boys was approved. Anyway, the case is this, my own story with the church has shown for far too long predators are protected because they are enshrined as demigods. They are given a standing and a stature that every day people aren’t and as such are given freedoms, and protections because what they do is all “in the will of God.”

In closing, from what I have seen it is not just the Catholic Church, but the conservative churches in this country have harbored gross predators for the sake of power. In recent years, tied to Donald Trump, now more sex scandals, and abuse reported daily. What we as trans people face is their hate and venom daily. As they seek to strip our rights, but do not clean their own house. We are under attack from a demographic that has caused more pain than any other group in this country. We must continue to be vigilant, share our stories, and shine a light on the acts they have committed in Jesus’ name. The reason is, they can no longer claim to tell us about sexual health, gender, or orientation. They have failed, they are the one’s attacking our children, and indoctrinating them that they will never tell a soul what happened at church camp, or confession. These men like Way and Girard are full of their own issues, they are not prophets, they are not above us. The church is a structure that for far too long has been given the right to make statements on morality because they are enmeshed with our culture. But deep inside the church has a flawed structured. One that has continued to elevate the status quo, protect men, and demonize others. Many churches have fallen into this trap of protecting power, over following their own sacred scripture. Now more than ever, we must continue to hold all churches accountable for what happens behind their closed doors.

As much as I could be a pessimist I have still found a place of hope in practicing the ways and words of Jesus. I have found their are countless other reconciling ministries that affirm and celebrate us. These are churches like Calvary UMC in Durham, that opened their doors as the first state to openly affirm, and celebrate gay marriage. They have redone a bathroom to make it gender neutral. They are seeking ways to promote diversity training in the community, have welcomed LGBTQ speakers, and give out hugs at Pride marches. They are on the front lines of protecting immigrants, marriage rights, and equality bills. They host socialist meetings, and welcoming drag queens. These churches are the churches that we need to shed a light on. They are the ones that are standing with us, and helping us heal. What the recent news stories have shown us is that the religion of the powerful is always a tool of oppression. Jesus was not about starting a religion, he was about giving us a way of life, and a way to healing communities. That plot point has been lost along the way. I am thankful more people are now being held accountable. I am distraught that the abuse has gone on, and in many places continue. But one thing I know, is that what has been shared in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. The more pressure we apply, the more stories we share, the more we will see change.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are at, know this. You are loved, you are cared for, and you are priceless.