Tag Archives: Catholic Church

“The Keepers,” The Catholic Church, And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might  be part of  (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about  to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.

The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the  region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.

The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially  victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”

This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?

Why would anyone? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Education, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Finally, A 2017 Inspiring Ethics Story! A 5th Grade Basketball Team Teaches Adults About Priorities And Values

st-johns-vote

I love this story out of New Jersey.

A Catholic Youth Organization 5th grade basketball team out of Clark, New Jersey had played all season with an 11-child roster including nine boys and two girls. In late January the director of the CYO league informed the team that the word had come down from the archdiocese that playing as a coed team offended Jesus or something and thus violated league protocol T team would either have to remove the two girls from the team or forfeit the rest of its season.

The adults running the team had screwed up, you see.

Oops. Sorry kids. Our bad, you pay for it.

These options were unacceptable, and any 10-year old would see it. In fact, any 10-year old did. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Gender and Sex, Religion and Philosophy, Sports

It’s Sexual Harassment Day!

biden-harassment

Unfortunately, it will be a while before I get to the next ethics topic. Accompanied by the ProEthics acting troupe, The Ethical Arts Players, I’ll be running not just one but two harassment awareness and avoidance trainings today. Avoiding harassing conduct is only applied ethics after all; it should be easy, but it isn’t.

I’ll be talking about some high profile cases that have been discussed here: the Trump-Billy Bush video, naturally; Ellen Degeneris’s cute sexual harassment of Jake Gyllenhaal on television that nobody complained about because…she’s Ellen! ; and the most relevant of all for the group I’ll be talking to, made up of scientists and academics, this story.

Sexual harassers come in many varieties, and this reminds me that I need to write more about the topic. Here are 15 types that have been identified in the wild so far, but hybrids and mutants are also out there:

  1. The Power Player: A “quid pro quo” harasser: the boss.
  2. The Counselor: Exploiting mentor relationships, abusing tryst
  3. The Leader of the Pack: Leading group embarrassment or marginalization
  4. The Serial Harasser: The Intentional and shameless abuser. With all that has gone on in the law and public eye, they are still out there in force.
  5. The Groper: Hands and Eyes. Yes, that’s Joe Biden…
  6. The Opportunist: Awaiting their chances, and ready to pounce on the trusting, vulnerable and needy
  7. The Bully : Sexual harassment as punishment, manipulation or just for sadistic fun
  8. The Confidante: Building trust to abuse it, that Platonic friend who’s not really platonic.
  9. The Pest: Polite, but not taking “no” for an answer
  10. The Sympathetic Harasser – Exploiting a crisis
  11. The Gallant: Misusing compliment and manners to marginalize, the kind of harassment women often don’t notice. (Barack Obama is one.)
  12. The Nerd: Socially inept individuals who desire the attentions of their targets, and who often don’t see that they do not reciprocate these feelings.
  13. The Stalker: Watching, trailing, bothering, tracking. The most dangerous harasser.
  14. The Blunderer : An accidental or clueless harasser
  15. The Star: The open harasser who’s status prevents him from being called one, or called to account.

 

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement

The Unethical Ethicist And Yale: If Bill Cosby Were A Famous Ethicist, He’d Be Prof. Thomas Pogge

The Accuser and the Ethicist

The Accuser and the Ethicist

Here is the short version:

Yale’s Thomas Pogge is a world famous Yale professor of philosophy and ethics who is especially renowned for condemning the terrible human rights effects caused by disparity of resources between rich countries and poor ones. His books, lectures and a well-recieved TED talk argue that the power imbalance between rich countries and poor countries is so great that poor countries cannot reasonably be said to “consent” to agreements between them. Pogge has also accumulated many credible accusations of exploiting, harassing, and taking sexual liberties with his female students in multiple institutions. In the case that has led to this contrast becoming public, Yale offered a female accuser, a Yale graduate named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, $2000 in exchange for ending the matter and keeping the story out of the news media.

The long version is here. Because the publisher is BuzzFeed, which is not widely regarded as a sterling source of trustworthy journalism (to say the least), the detailed and apparently well-researched report will be easy for Pogge and Yale to ignore and shrug off. However, other publications, including the Yale Daily News, have investigated the work of author Kaitie J.M. Baker, and so far it has held up to scrutiny.

Pogge has responded, less than convincingly, I would say, to the Lopez Aguilar allegations here. I say unconvincingly because he does not address the previous accusations made against him at Columbia University, and if there is one common characteristic of sexual harassers and abusers that stands out above all others, it is that they are habitual and repeat offenders. Anyone who has spent any time in academia (like me) is well aware that the culture permitting professors, especially male professors, to use the student body and bodies as a sexual perk of the job is widespread and only weakly restrained, if at all. Does that prove that Pogge is one of the professors who partakes in the lusty opportunities presented to him as an object of trust and admiration? No. There is, however a lot of smoke surrounding him, and the smoke has been issuing for a long time.

Yale’s institutional conduct is more than smoke. Yale appears to be another example of a trusted institution deciding that it is preferable to cover up the possible, likely or proven misconduct of a valuable employee than to risk damaging the reputation of that institution, or alienating the loyalties of other employees, by addressing it openly and decisively. I’m sure you can name other infamous examples of this phenomenon, broadly covered by the rationalizations “The King’s Pass” and “The Saint’s Excuse” on the Rationalizations List. Among the most infamous of these are the Catholic Church’s decades, perhaps centuries-long enabling of child sexual predators in the priesthood, the Watergate cover-up by the White House, and Penn State’s failure to stop a known child predator from using the school’s football program and its campus as a base of operations. Yale’s particular variety of this unethical choice is an especially unsavory one, closer to the Joe Paterno/ Sandusky and “Spotlight”scandals, because it intentionally  places future innocent victims at risk of harm.

I accept that there is a possibility that Pogee is an impeccable  professional and as pure as the driven snow, and thus himself a victim of a smear, though this seems unlikely. What I am more interested in now is to address the questions asked in the BuzzFeed piece, which relate to how we should regard unethical ethicists as well as other prominent figures who defy, in their actions, the wisdom they are celebrated for dispensing to others—the Bill Cosbys of the world.

I have some additional questions of my own, but for now I will restrict myself now to those posed in the article. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Leadership, Religion and Philosophy, Workplace

Ethics Film of the Year: “Spotlight”

No spoiler alerts necessary; I’m not going to say much about the film’s plot. Just go see it.

Sure, I was predisposed to like “Spotlight.” It’s about Boston, my home town; Fenway Park even appears in it, Red Sox and all.  I had also followed the unfolding Catholic Church sexual molestation scandal there that the Boston Globe broke in 2002. This was the Globe’s momentous investigative journalism series which showed the extent to which high-ranking Church officials allowed child predator priests to continue harming trusting kids, as the Church paid for confidential settlements to victims and transferred the criminal priests to other parishes, where they could, and did, strike again. “Spotlight” tells the story of how a group of Globe editors and reporters finally exposed a local conspiracy of corruption that spread across institutions and professions, and that pointed to a world-wide scandal that still haunts the Catholic Church today.

It’s a better ethics movie than “All The President’s Men,” to which it will inevitably be compared. Whether it’s a better movie or not is a matter of taste. (I liked it better.) Where the movie really shines, however, is how it raises so many of the ethics issues we routinely cover here, such as…

  • Legal ethics: the duty of lawyers to represent clients, confidentiality, and when, if ever, human ethics require the breaching of professional ethics.
  • Ethics corruptors, and what happens when admired, trusted and powerful people and institutions require their followers to show their loyalty by ignoring, rationalizing or covering up wrongful acts.
  • Journalism ethics: the business of journalism’s conflict with the duty of journalists to find and publicize the truth; how ambition, personal biases and non-professional concerns can warp perspective and performance
  • Ethics and religion, hypocrisy, and the institutional utilitarian choice to protect the whole when it means sacrificing individuals
  • Rationalizations, including the Saint’s Excuse and the King’s Pass, in which prominence and “good deeds” seem to justify double standards.
  • Hindsight bias, Moral luck, and more.

Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Ethics Dunce: Pope Francis

The Pope and "the Angel of Peace"...

The Pope and “the Angel of Peace”…

Sigh.

I apologize in advance to all the Catholics and others who will be offended by this post. I wish I didn’t have to write it. But I just read one too many “nyah, nyah, nyah conservatives and Republicans, you’re so big on waving God at us and now the Pope says you’re full of crap” Facebook posts from someone who would no more set foot in a church than Damien in “The Omen.”  The Pope is as fair game for criticism when he abuses his influence and power as Kylie Jenner, who was the subject of the previous post, and for similar reasons. To those who say that it is disrespectful for me to compare the Pope’s ethics to those of an ignorant 18-year-old minor celebrity drunk on her own fame, my answer is that the Pope needs to stop acting like one.

I’m going to try to avoid the mocking tone I used with Kylie, I really am.

With great power, the saying goes, comes great responsibility. What I see in this Pope is a very, very nice and well-meaning man who suddenly was given the power to have his every opinion on any subject immediately plastered all over newspapers across the world and recited by news readers as significant, and literally can’t stop himself. He told an Argentinian journalist last week that he just wants to be remembered as “good guy.”  Mission accomplished: I believe he is a good guy. He’s also an irresponsible guy, who knows or should know that his pronouncements will be exploited for political advantage by people and parties that could not care less about his Church, God and religion generally, but who will use his words  to persuade voters who feel the need to know no more about a subject that what the “Vicar of Christ” tells them.

It may be “good to be Pope,” to paraphrase Mel Brooks, and it’s also not “easy being Pope,” to paraphrase Kermit the Frog. I don’t care: he accepted the job, and with it the duty to do it responsibly. Being a responsible Pope means not shooting off your mouth about every topic that occurs to you. In that same interview, Pope Francis opined that humans care too much about pets. I get it: poverty is, by his own assessment, the single most important aspect of the Church’s mission, so it’s natural for the Pope to believe that the money spent on movies, cable TV, make-up, CDs, and Jack Russell terriers should all be given to the Clinton Foundation or his Church instead. That’s a facile opinion from someone who has a staff catering to his every whim, and who sits on billions in the Vatican Bank. Does the Pope understand loneliness? Does he have any compassion for those suffering from it? Does he understand the needs of my sister, divorced and with both children gone, and her desire to have some unconditional love in the house when she returns to an otherwise empty home,  love that  takes the form of a happy, loyal, Havanese? “Care for pets is like programmed love,” the Pope told the interviewer. “I can program the loving response of a dog or a cat, and I don’t need the experience of a human, reciprocal love.”

My response: “Shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about, and millions of people will assume you got this point of view straight from God.” Continue reading

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An Irish Gay Marriage Ethics Quiz: Ethics Hero, Ethics Dunce…or What?

gay-marriage

It’s comforting, I think, to realize that the U.S. isn’t the only Western nation that is in cultural upheaval over the gay marriage issue.

The  Irish Government, for example, will be holding a referendum on same-sex marriage at the end of May, only two decades after homosexuality was decriminalized.  Now polls suggest that  almost 80% of the Irish people favor legalizing same-sex marriage. Kowabunga, or rather, Faith ‘n Begorrah!

 Father Martin Dolan, the long-time priest at the Church of St Nicholas of Myra in Dublin’s city center for 15 years, called upon his congregations at the Saturday night Mass and Sunday morning service to support same sex marriage in the upcoming Irish vote. Then he announced that he was gay himself.

Dolan’s revelation received applause and a standing ovation.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for the day:

Was this conduct by the priest ethical?

I have some observations.

1. Since the Catholic Church does not approve of homosexuality, I believe that it is doubly unethical for a gay man to be a Catholic priest. First, it is dishonest, and second, it is hypocritical.

2. Announcing that he is gay is a good campaign tactic, as his parishioners presumably admire him, but it is making a national and cultural decision personal.

3. Father Dolan, being gay himself, has a personal interest in the result. He is therefore not an objective advocate, and as a priest, giving guidance to a congregation, he is obligated to be objective and without conflict.

4. Yes, it is more ethical for him to disclose his bias than not. It is still a bias, and still taints his judgment and credibility on the issue.

5. If this is a moral, religious issue, then Father Dolan has jurisdiction to provide his guidance and advice. If it is a political question, then he is abusing his power and influence, and that is irresponsible. This involves a vote that isn’t binding on any church, which means the referendum is a political issue, not a religious one.

6. Verdict: abuse of power.

7. Is it ethical for a priest to directly challenge Church teachings as an official, employee and figure of authority in the Church, with a public statement he knows would not be approved by his superiors? No. It is a betrayal of trust.

My view:

The priest’s advocacy was unethical.

_______________________

Pointer: Fred!

Facts: Irish Central

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