Catholics Abuse? Protestants say “Me too!”
Perhaps now is the time for a brief detour into Protestantism. Once again, the Houston Chronicle paves the way toward church redemption, or at least action. Among white evangelicals of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Chronicle found more than seven hundred cases of abuse. Most often, a common pattern was not with pastors, but with youth ministers who, according to one victim quoted in Christianity Today, “‘showered me with flattering attention, telling me that God had chosen me to help his ministry’ before advancing to sexual abuse when she was just fourteen.”
Like the Catholic Church, the overwhelming number was men assaulting younger women or children. Similarly, when the targets reported the abuse, authorities typically ignored and/or silenced them. The 2018 study the SBC did, found some of the usual suspects:
- Failing to take disclosure seriously and to believe the survivor
- Failing to report abuse to civil authorities
- Recommending suspected perpetrators to new employment
I find it a bit more than ironic that the report is entitled Caring Well. In keeping with the highly oiled marketing gears that run the white Evangelical Christianity profit machine, they even developed a logo for it.
I wonder if this action is in response to the Catholic scandals. It is certainly reacting, at least in part, to the #MeToo movement, as confirmed by the new hashtag, #ChurchToo. I also can’t help noticing that, although meant as a cross, an arrow at the southwest corner seems to be forcing its way into the northeast sector. Perhaps I need a break.
One of their aims is to promote a culture shift in the Baptist church. Part of that is to consider how the words used in church teachings might resonate for victims of domestic, as well as pastoral abuse. One of the most poignant vignettes comes from Jennifer Greenberg, a woman whose “father took her to church every Sunday. He also sexually, physically, and emotionally abused her.” Each time Jennifer heard the reference to God as a father, “As a child I would think, ‘What a strange thing for God to want to be viewed as a father — to be a father is scary!’” My heart sank.
Not once had I ever thought of that. And yet it seems so obvious now. Nor had I thought of what might happen when a youth minister with a foot fetish decides to emulate Jesus in washing the feet of the children in his charge. The 2019 conference where the 2018 report was released, was held in Grapevine Texas, near Dallas, two hundred miles from the Louisiana border, where there’d been problems for decades.
Although academic bias may be slanting my point of view, one of the most interesting cases in Louisiana takes us back to Catholics, the saga of Dino Cinel, a priest and history professor, whose keys were accidentally locked in his car when a colleague drove him to the New Orleans airport on his way back home to visit his native Italy. During a search for a spare set of keys, his housemates at the rectory of St. Rita’s, unearthed mounds of child pornography, including videotapes and magazines containing articles he wrote, teaching would-be pedophiles the tricks of the trade. Investigation showed that Father Cinel, who had taught at Tulane for a decade, had some published articles that weren’t on his CV and was also crossing the disciplines, publishing photos of his conquests in Europe.
Despite (or perhaps, at this point I should say, because of) the fact that they knew the Church had the materials, the District Attorney let the Church keep said materials for three months before turning them over to the D.A., who then took six months to file charges — sixty counts of possession of child pornography. The D.A. initially refused to prosecute (despite the videotaped evidence of the priest having sex with boys or young men), but media attention forced the issue. He then presented his “weak” case, which was thrown out of court. I don’t know why. I also don’t know why D.A. Harry Connick took so long.
Hold it! Harry Connick? As a musician, that name stops me in my tracks. “It has to be a coincidence,” I say to myself. I was wrong. The Harry Connick who took six months to file charges despite the mountain of evidence on his desk is indeed Harry Connick, Sr., father to the famed musician and actor.
Although Catholic, Connick, Sr. may not have been acting to protect the Church, or may not have been just acting to protect the Church. As D.A. his office handled approximately 1000 cases per year (nearly ten times that of his predecessor). The massive case load resulted in errors that led to courts overturning nineteen cases of wrongful conviction so far, including the case of a sixteen-year old who spent four years on death row before the Innocence Project discovered the illegally withheld evidence that overturned his conviction.
Another wrongfully convicted man had spent eighteen years on death row before the evidence withholding was discovered. A 5–4 U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas (did you know that Justice Thomas briefly attended Catholic seminary?) denied this man a financial settlement for his nearly two-decade stay near death with over a decade of solitary confinement, even though Connick’s office admitted to several violations.
Louisiana and the U.S. Supreme Court begin to feel very much like the Catholic Church at this point. Of course, Louisiana is heavily Catholic and so were ALL of the majority-decision Justices — Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. That might explain it. Currently seven of nine justices — Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Coney Barrett are Catholic. Coney Barrett is a handmaid, literally, accepting her secondhand citizenship in the Church.
Of course, Sonia Sotomayor is also Catholic, but as a woman who is not a handmaid, she’s not priest material even if gender were not an issue, so my budding premise remains in place. Anyway, all of this means that Connick had a lot on his plate, so it’s possible that avoiding scandal for the Church fathers might not have been the sole reason for his delay.
By the way, Cinel was offered a job at the CUNY in Staten Island. Nobody mentioned his child porn experience. When the college found out, he was shuffled to a non-teaching position, but not fired. Of course Staten Island is where an NYPD member used what appeared to be an illegal choke hold to strangle an asthmatic (who was complaining he couldn’t breathe). The grand jury said he didn’t do anything wrong in killing the unarmed man suspected of nothing worse than selling loose cigarettes. Nothing wrong with killing someone who might have sold some illegal cigarettes; everything wrong with firing a child pornographer.
By the way, I’ve done a bit more research and found out that Cinel earns the Olympic Gold in “You Can’t Make This Shit Up” marathon event. He got off on all charges because he could show that he owned the materials the DA finally got from the Catholic Church (three months after the fact and presented six months later), before Louisiana put in place its 1986 statute making ownership of such materials illegal. So, the bottom line is that, yes, he had child pornography, but no, he could not be convicted because he had been a pervert for so long.
Of course, given the fact that both the Church officials and the DAs office held the materials for such an extended period, an inquiring mind might wonder if some of Cinel’s more recent materials that perhaps fell within the statute of limitations might have simply, uh, disappeared. And one just might bear in mind that Louisiana did have sodomy laws in place at the time, so the videotapes alone could have convicted him had he been charged under that act, as opposed to the sole, useless, charge of possession of child pornography.
The delay may have been the time it took to figure out how to charge him in order to assuage public pressure, but to avoid sending him to the klink. Cinel must have done something exceedingly wrong in a churchy “tu es sacerdos in aeternum” sense (as opposed to the normal people’s “raping kids is wrong, let’s put your ass in jail” sense), because the Church formally laicized him; no excommunication, of course, but he’s not a priest anymore. Technically. Since abusing children, having homosexual sex with adults, or a conviction in-hand is not usually enough to get you laicized, there has to be something else that got Cinel kicked to the curb. I think I know what it is.
When the story broke, Cinel publicly claimed to have been a victim of Catholic priests during his own youth. Yep, that’ll do it all right. That’s all it takes. As I’ve shown, abusing kids is one thing, but outing the Church’s role in the abuse? As they say in The Wizard of Oz, that’s a horse of a different color. Cinel is now married to the woman who drove him to the airport and locked his keys in the car, which led to his unmasking. This child pornographer is living in Italy seeking redress as a child victim of pedophile priests himself. Interestingly, SNAP hasn’t made his case a priority. You can not make this stuff up.
While drafting a letter of submission for this piece, I decided to take a break and update my Netflix account, which I hadn’t done since the final move to Tennessee after twenty years in Texas. I’d had the DVD of Mea Maxima Culpa for about a year, toting it on my moves from NYC to Houston, from Houston to Clarksville. At one point, I had the sleeve, but not the DVD; at others, vice versa. Then neither. So I just bit the bullet and paid the $14 bucks. After pressing “Send” at the website, I went out to my car to grab something; there was the DVD in the side pocket. Complete with sleeve. Of course. Back at the website, I ran across another documentary, The Boys of St. Vincent, dealing directly with the Canadian crisis. I had to watch it.
Having located notice of it by following a link during a spot-check of Patrick Wall’s blog, I found that Netflix didn’t have it. They have a process called “Save” where you can say you want something they list, but that they don’t actually have. The deal is, if they ever get it, they’ll send it to you. They’re “saving” your request (I had to dig in deep at the site to find this out). YouTube to the rescue.