When I hear “Not all cops!” as the response to the latest story of murder or abuse by a cop, I am reminded of the response of Catholics (including me) to the torrent of stories of priestly abuse that came pouring out from behind a breached dam of denial 18 years ago.
When I hear people fall to saying things like “But the mayor of that city is a Democrat!” or “But the police chief in that town is black!” all I can hear is Catholics saying, “But Cardinal Law is a conservative! But Bishop Whosit is orthodox!”
Scripture remarks that judgment begins with the house of God. This unpleasant fact reminds us that grace is not a “Get out of judgment free card” so that smug Christians can watch while the sinful world burns. Grace is the power given by God to anybody willing to receive it to face our sins and overcome them with repentance. Those who receive it are supposed to then turn in mercy to their neighbor and say, “I’ve been there. It gets better. Here, lemme help” and not “Ha! Sucks to be you, sinner.” In short, the only way out of our predicament with sin is through. God does not give us the power to deny sin. And the more we try, the worse it gets till we finally have to do what we should have done at the start.
So here’s the deal. It doesn’t matter how many good cops or good priests there are for the same reason it doesn’t matter how many living white blood cells you have if you are dying of COVID-19. If you don’t treat the disease, all those living white blood cells will not save you. You have to face the fact that you are sick and address that. All the good priests in the world did not alter the fact that there were thousands and thousands of abuse victims all over the world and the Church needed to address them and address those who had abused them and enabled abuse.
Scapegoating doesn’t do that. Ideological warfare doesn’t do that. Denial doesn’t do that. Naming the sin, repenting the sin, and addressing the sin with justice does what is needed.
So, in the case of priestly abuse, what is necessary is to face the fact that the issue is not liberals vs. conservatives. The issue is also not gays vs. straights. It is not priestly celibacy.
The issue is predators, gay and straight, and enablers and protectors of predators, liberal and conservative. Address that and you address the problem.
How do you find such predators? Listen to the victims instead of treating them like people who had it coming, or are lying against all reason. And when the predator is identified, remove that predator from his office and subject him to the punishment suitable for the crime (hopefully ordered toward his redemption, but always ordered toward preventing future victims).
That is how you deal with old evils. But what about preventing future ones?
You have to think in terms of how predators think instead of thinking about guarding your turf. Instead of starting with “Anybody who wants to be a priest or a cop is surely filled with noble motivations of serving and protecting their community. And anybody who speaks ill of anything a priest or cop does just hates cops and the Church” you have to start with a simple recognition of fact that goes back to the Cambrian period:
Predators go where prey is.
Sexual predators go where they can have contact with prey, meaning women and children. So they will gravitate to professions that provide that: teachers, day care workers, professions in which women are subordinates–and the priesthood. You either face that fact and screen out such people as best you can or you will get them along with a lot of good and noble people. It is inevitable. And since no screening process is perfect, you either instantly clean them out when the ones that slip through manifest themselves or (as institutions bent on self-protection instead of fulfillment of mission do) you protect them.
Ignore either of these two things (screening and cleaning) and you are absolutely positively guaranteed to have an infestation of predators–as the Catholic experience illustrates.
Now sexual predators are not the only kind of predator. There are also violent predators, people who get something out of dominating, abusing, and killing those weaker than themselves. And they naturally gravitate toward professions where violence is permitted: cops, military, security, etc. Why? Because that’s where the prey is. So precisely the same reality holds. You either screen and clean or you are begging for a huge infestation.
We have a huge infestation. Look, not just at this tweet, but at all the ones that follow it:
It doesn’t *have* to be this way. Cops can be trained in one of two ways: Guardian cops or Warrior cops.
Warrior cops, like the ones in that Twitter feed, are trained and socialized to see their communities as subject peoples and enemies. That is the mentality that murdered George Floyd and so many other victims. And when they treat their community this way and the community reacts, they circle the wagons and respond with more violence. That’s why the cops in the tweet above are firing at people on their porches who are minding their own business.
Guardian cops, on the other hand, are trained and socialized to regard themselves as members of the communities and to see their fellow citizens as people to be protected, not feared and fought. Like this
“We want to be with y’all, for real. I took my helmet off, laid the batons down. I want to make this a parade, not a protest,” Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson was seen telling protesters in Flint, Michigan, before he joined the assembled crowd to march, eliciting cheers.
Officers in Camden, New Jersey, helped carry a banner reading “Standing in Solidarity,” and seemed to join in with the crowd chanting, “No justice, no peace!”
In Santa Cruz, California, Police Chief Andy Mills took a knee with protesters in the pose made famous by Colin Kaepernick, with the department tweeting it was “in memory of George Floyd & bringing attention to police violence against Black people.”
Two Kansas City, Missouri, police officers—one white man, one black man—were photographed holding aloft a sign reading “END Police Brutality!”
In Fargo, North Dakota, an officer was seen clasping hands with protest organizers while holding up a sign reading “We are one race . . . The HUMAN race.”
Officers in Ferguson, Missouri, participated in a nine and a half-minute kneel in Floyd’s memory, with cheers erupting from the crowd.
But it starts with facing the fact that there is a real problem and that it is not going to be dealt with by the people holding all the power telling those whose necks they are kneeling on that “Really, Both Sides are equally at fault.”
So the Predator says to the Impala he is eating. So the rapist tells the struggling woman. So the pedophile says to the child. “When you struggle like that you just make it worse for everybody.”
One side is at fault here. Not both sides. That is the first lie to overcome. The black community can and does police its own. Often heroically, as here when they protected a white cop from mob violence in Louisville:
This is especially heroic given that the Warrior cops in Louisville were deliberately targeting and shooting non-combatants:
Both Sides rhetoric from white people has one object: maintaining oppression. Stop it.
Also, don’t even think about piously deploying “But abortion is worse!” rhetoric. That too is just a strategy for pitting the unborn against the victims of oppression instead of relating the unborn to victims of oppression and standing up for both. In other words, the goal of such rhetoric is not to defend the unborn, but to defend racism. Stop it.
Finally, don’t you dare invoke St. Paul’s “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” as a tool for saying “Racism! Whaddayagonnadoo?” or for saying “Protesters are just as bad as their oppressors!”. This is just another Both Sides lie and it a particularly ugly perversion of the gospel into an antichrist lie. Paul had no trouble at all standing up to oppression and calling it exactly what it was.
More on that later.
Bottom line: Let us pray, not prey.
Excellent! Truly, this is one of your best!
Excellent. I’ve been thinking lately about how a lack of transparency in the Church leads to people just walking away. If the Catholic model relies mainly on money and support flowing upwards from parishes to dioceses without any input or agency, pent up voicelessness will push people out. I see a lot of parallel to voiceless and marginalized people rioting,
Thank you. Are you familiar with Officer Patrick Skinner (twitter @SkinnerPm) Left the CIA and intel/counter-insurgency in Iraq to return to his home town as a beat cop, serving his neighbors. He proves a spy can come in from the cold. His daily thoughts on police work are a tonic.
“No military force can end terrorism, just as firefighters can’t end fire and cops can’t end crime. But there are ways to build a resilient society. “It can’t be on a government contract that says ‘In six months, show us these results,’ ” Skinner said. “It has to be ‘I live here. This is my job forever.’ ” He compared his situation to that of Voltaire’s Candide, who, after enduring a litany of absurd horrors in a society plagued by fanaticism and incompetence, concludes that the only truly worthwhile activity is tending his garden. “Except my garden is the Third Precinct,” Skinner said.”
A priest friend recommended your blog to me, and I’m already grateful to him , and to you, beyond words.
Right in step with what you wrote, Mark, is what I heard earlier (can’t remember where) that the “one bad apple” excuse usually leaves out what follows: “. . . spoils the whole bunch.”
Thank you SO much for your clarity of thought and theology. It is immensely helpful at this time. I first found you on New Advent, then on Facebook, but I have had it up to here on Facebook and will be deleting my account soon. I am so glad I found your blog! Keep writing!
Great post, Mark! Just one potential quibble:
“One side is at fault here. Not both sides. That is the first lie to overcome.”
I’m guessing that I’m not completely tracking with you on this, because where my mind went was that the two sides are the police and the rioters. But you mean simply police and minorities, correct?
Also, this: “Both Sides rhetoric from white people has one object: maintaining oppression. Stop it.”
I don’t think that’s fair.. while it’s definitely true that some might use it that way, I know many people who use “both sides rhetoric” and have no intention of oppressing anyone, so I don’t think that’s accurate.
I will be addressing this tomorrow.
I do wish, Mark, that you would stop referring to the “sides” in the molestation scandals as “gay vs. straight”. It perpetuates And exacerbates exactly the problem you wish to address. Very few of these molesting priests would EVER describe themselves as “gay”. There is no doubt in my mind that some of them are homosexual, and many of them are heterosexual. But the vast majority seem to be either pedophiles— not gay or straight, but pedophiles— or very sexually confused men. And every single one of them, without a doubt, Is aIso a male, a catholic priest, and faithlesss.
As I have said before in your blog, in my entire life, I’ve met exactly one man whom I would describe as gay and who also had an interest in underaged boys. A post pubertal boy is physically both man and boy. And that is the obvious reason that they are targeted by predator priests: such a priest might be interested in post puberty males, but not in pre-pubertal males, because that would make him a child molester.
Not being clear and precise about it simply feeds into the narratives of the hyper conservative Catholics, the happy jacks of the world, who wish to blame the molestation problem on innocent gay people, as the church has always done.
Chris Rock said it best, “some jobs just can’t afford bad apples, like pilots, you can’t land the plane some of the time,” I put cops and priests in that category. I’ve also been thinking a lot about how the cops, over police in black neighborhoods, in my neighborhood, they assume self government, in black communities, they never have that assumption, which really is racist, I like Tolken’s view of policing in the Shire, assume best about people