~~ 28 September 2009
Original at: ~~ September 27, 2009
Along Came a Spider: What the Pope Doesn't See
By Anthea Butler
In the official "Year for Priests," dedicated by Pope Benedict, a priest in Florida has upped the ante on clerical malfeasance, allegedly fathering a child with a stripper, and threatening the woman with violence. What will it take for the Catholic Church to begin to take responsibility for priests gone wild?
A few years back, Chris Rock dropped a nice spoken word ditty called No Sex in the Champagne Room. I am 100% sure Father David Dueppen, a priest in Miami, Florida has never heard it. Why? Because not only did he spend $1800 dollars in the champagne room of a club called Porky’s, but he also had a sexual relationship with the stripper he spent the money on, Beatrice Hernandez.
And if that weren’t fascinating enough, she claims that he promised her she would be cured of demons if she would have sex with another woman while he watched. If you think this is a script from a porn movie, think again: this is the latest escapade from the Archdiocese of Miami, encapsulated in the headline from the Miami Herald “Ex Stripper: Priest is my baby’s fatherand I want him to pay”.
Before I go south and start to write this whole piece with quotes from songs (That’s Just My Baby Daddy comes to mind) I am struck with disgust about where the Catholic church, and lately Miami’s Archdiocese in particular, finds itself in matters of church discipline. Between the former Father Cutie and his recent marriage (props to him, at least he left and got married like a normal person), to Father Dueppen’s $1800 dollar visit to a strip club (and follow-up role as abusive father) the church finds itself in the throes of a Maury Povich-style DNA paternity case show.
Add to that news that slipped through the cracks about Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Archdiocese ordering a subordinate to delay reporting of sexual abuse claims to the police until the priest in question could be defrocked, and you have set of players that would rival a mafia movie. The malfeasance and criminal behavior is shocking to say the least and all, incidentally, coming to light during the “Year of the Priest” declared this year by Pope Benedict XVI.
Outsiders might be tempted to think that all of these issues are about sex, and in one sense, that is true. The deeper issue within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church surrounds bureaucracy and a corporate fealty that is designed to protect the institution at all costs, even when the corporation’s clients (parishioners) are being abused. The shake and shuffle of the bishops and hierarchy to send its miscreants to other parishes to inflict pain and suffering, while ignoring the fact that little or no true discipline is meted out by the church, is appalling.
While Pope Benedict calls for a “Year for Priests” to commence on July 19th of this year, the day devoted to prayer for the sanctification of priests, anything but sanctification is happening. May I suggest the hierarchy of the Catholic Church start anew by taking a page from the Episcopal diocese in Philadelphia? The diocese has deposed Bishop Bennington from office, and rejected a request for a new trial regarding the concealing of the abuse 35 years ago of an underage girl by his brother, John Bennington. That is church discipline done properly and from the offshoot root of the Catholic Church.
I am not calling for a conservative Catholicism, far from it. What I am calling for is a return to real church discipline, not corporate slot-shuffling. Discipline is not only for the priests in question, but also for the bishops who are worried more about covering their tracks than paving the way for justice.
In cases like Father Dueppen’s, where priests or clergy use the position of spirituality to defraud people of their dignity and their sexuality, they should be subject to the rule of law and summarily removed from office. More often than not, this is not the case. Unfortunately the road to success for a bishop seems to owe more to the Peter Principle (“rising in the hierarchy to the level of one’s incompetence”) than anything else. In the Catholic Church hierarchy, this means you can go pretty far.
It is high time to stop the shuffling shell game, and for the church to admit the one thing it believes theologically that it cannot do: sin. Rather than piling on for political grandstanding by deciding who can take the Eucharist or not, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops should take a good look at the real sins they have committed while saving their offices from lawsuits and protecting criminals. When bishops are prosecuted for their duplicitous roles in lying about clergy abuse, and their shuffling about of the bad “seeds” about their diocese, then I can seriously begin to believe all the other drivel they are shoveling about to keep the stench of perfidy rising from their offices.
When theologians are silenced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for questioning Christology, while sexual abusers get a little counseling and reassignment for defiling children, becoming baby daddies, and spending the collection on strippers, I have to wonder why I (or any other sane person) stays with this church. My response lately is to say that I stay to advocate for the laity, not for the wolves in liturgical garments. I know many good priests and other religious leaders who struggle with sexuality (and other issues as we all do) but they do not inflict their pain or struggles upon those who are weak and helpless. Nor do they spout sanctimonious words in the attempt to obfuscate the real issues of sin within the church ranks.
The real derailing of this train of organizational wrongdoing and shame will come surely, as many of the dioceses in the United States become uninsurable, and the number of Catholic churches dwindles. As membership shrinks, the number of ordinations decreases, and the coffers dry up, perhaps the Vatican and its leadership will be forced to look at its decrepit, hierarchical structure, and fix it. I doubt it, however.
Like the spider who crawled across Pope Benedict’s robes this weekend in Prague, everyone except the Pope can see the real issues at hand.
Anthea Butler is a historian of American and African American Religion, specializing in African American Religious History, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Gender, and Religion and Popular culture. She is in residence for the 2008-09 year as a research scholar at Harvard Divinity School’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program.
Her most recent book is Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World (UNC Press, 2007).