Note: This one goes out to Mike McGarry, the conservative columnist whose work appears above my column in the Hartford News. Last week, Mr. McGarry wrote a column about the scourge of Catholic bashing.
While bringing a historical view to Connecticut’s apparently age-old tradition of persecuting Catholics, McGarry reserved his main criticism for the Obama administration’s push to force all health insurers and employers, including Catholic institutions, to provide contraceptive care to women.
For me, Obama missed the mark on this one, too. If the President favored single-payer health care/Medicare for all, then the Catholic hospitals and religious employers would have no quibble with blanket contraceptive care.
But, Obama has dropped universal health coverage as a goal, and instead goes after piecemeal reform that is bound to offend some part of the American constituency. So the Catholic church got up in arms about his proposed mandate that insurers should have to pay for contraceptive care for women.
Never mind that sexual drugs for men like Viagra and Cialis are covered by these same insurers. And never mind the fact that not all women use the birth control pill as a means of preventing pregnancy.
Some women require it for health, to regulate their systems, to avoid cramps, etc. In fact, 98 percent of all Catholic women in America have used some form of birth control. The church hierarchy seems a little out of line with its rank and file female members.
The Catholic Church has never been much for women’s rights, though. I recall standing in the Royal Chapel in Granada, Spain on a college semester abroad, and the lecturer pointing out the differences between the granite sculpted tombs of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, which feature them laying down in state.
If you look closely at Queen Isabella’s head on the stone pillow, the artists carved less of an indentation in the pillow because Queen Isabella’s head is lighter than the King’s. The rationale was pure misogyny: she was a woman, thus there was less in her head. She was stupid because she was a woman.
I mean, if we want to go after the church’s long-standing anti-woman policies, we need not look for subtleties like how a woman’s head is portrayed in art. The fact that women aren’t allowed to be priests and that the church’s hierarchy has been dominated by men for millennia should be enough.
Which leads me to my second point about McGarry’s column last week: At the same time he complained the church is the subject of a modern-day inquisition in America, the church is engaged in one of the most heinous criminal conspiracies ever.
The nationwide furor over the birth control debate completely and totally seemed out of step with what was happening in a courtroom in Waterbury, Connecticut. No story I saw about the contraception debate mentioned the story of Jacob Doe. Obama should have been using the story of Jacob Doe to combat the church’s Neanderthal stance on women’s rights.
Jacob Doe sued the Archdiocese of Hartford for negligence and recklessness based on sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Father Ivan Ferguson in the early 1980s, when Jacob was an adolescent. Ferguson, now dead, over the course of years, got altar boy Jacob Doe and his best friend drunk in Derby, Connecticut, raped them, and then said special masses for the boys.
And the Archdiocese knew Ferguson was a pedophile before Doe ever met him. Yet the Archdiocese still placed Ferguson in a school where he could satisfy his illegal sexual desires.
Testimony showed how a mother of boys at Northwest Catholic High School complained Ferguson abused her sons. So Archbishop John Whealon sent Ferguson away to alcohol rehab. Upon completion, Whealon placed him in a girls’ school.
When Ferguson complained about being bored at a girls’ school, the Archdiocese transferred him to St. Mary’s School in Derby, where he proceeded to molest Doe and Doe’s best friend, who is also suing in a different suit.
The worst part of this story was the defense presented by the Archdiocese in court, which sounded like something the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) would have on its website. A Harvard University-affiliated psychiatrist, Dr. J. Alexander Bodkin, testified Jacob Doe’s relationship with Ferguson was “positive.”
From Edmund Mahoney’s February 7, 2012 story in the Hartford Courant: “Bodkin testified that Doe enjoyed and even looked forward at times to his relationship with Ferguson, who was about 30 years older. Doe and another boy were given pornography and alcoholic beverages. In some cases, Bodkin speculated that the molestation was physically enjoyable, with the exception of a painful assault when Doe was about 14.”
Doe won a $1 million verdict on Friday, February 10, 2012. It is one of many payouts the church has had to make because of this decades-long failure to stop child rape within its ranks.
I take the story about Jacob Doe personally. In the early 1980s, I was an altar boy at a nearby Catholic church, St. John the Evangelist, in Watertown, maybe 20 miles north of Derby. Ferguson could have been placed in my church.
We had our own, though. I shudder when I think of Deacon George Simonin who managed the altar boys. When I was 10, I knew I didn’t like the feeling of his hand on my shoulder, but I couldn’t explain it.
When I was 34, I read in the New York Times that David George Simonin was arrested in New York City’s Washington Square Park and later convicted of enticing a 14-year-old boy for sex via email. The 14-year-old boy was a cop.
Forgiveness is part of the Catholic canon, and people still pray for George Simonin and call him a deacon, at least as far as a church program found online from December 2011 is concerned. I’m called to love my enemies, here, I suppose. But I have a hard time not calling for the entire church to be shut down.
When I was 13, Archbishop John Whealon confirmed me as an adult in God’s eyes. Confirmation is one of the seven sacraments of Catholicism, meaning that I know the difference between right and wrong.
Whealon didn’t know right from wrong, and left me and all my friends in the altar boys vulnerable to the sexual desires of priests.
I doubt I was ever a target. I was kicked out of the altar boys for punching a priest. Father Suppe slapped me in the face when a group of us were playing pro wrestling in the sacristy (off the altar) before a New Year’s Eve mass in 1983.
At the time, my parents punished me severely. Once I enrolled in Catholic School in sixth grade in fall 1984, I was readmitted as an altar boy.
When I spoke to my mom about the whole episode recently, she agreed it was a good thing that I got kicked out for a while. She also admitted that she blocked out from her mind the arrest of George Simonin.
Finding forgiveness for an institution who was willing to sacrifice me and my peers is difficult. One of my best friends is a plaintiff in such a lawsuit, as he was inappropriately touched. I see the pain in his life, and the pain it causes his family.
We know the church, as a human institution, is fallible despite papal proclamations of infallibility. We know that the church has been a revolutionary force in human history for charity and medical care (think Mother Teresa). I’d add St. Francis Hospital to that list, but for the tainted, twisted legacy of Dr. George Reardon.
But we also know the Catholic church over the centuries has done some really bad stuff. And Mr. McGarry, an international criminal conspiracy to provide priests with legions of children to rape, though, ranks right behind not calling out the Nazis in World War II and the massacres of the medieval crusades.
What I cannot understand is why our society continues to give the Catholic church any credence whatsoever in political debates, when, to me, it long ago lost its legitimacy as the universal voice of Christian worship and philosophy.
If I were Obama, I would have waged war with the church last week with its own psychiatrist’s words. For now, this column will have to do.