As the details of the Mark Foley scandal unfold, I am struck by the chilling similarities between the behavior of the Catholic Church and what we are seeing right now with the leadership of the U.S. Congress. My documentary film, Deliver Us From Evil, will open in theaters in Los Angeles and New York and Boston on October 13, and then nationwide on October 27. The film is the true account of Father Oliver O'Grady, the most notorious pedophile in the history of the modern Catholic Church. Despite warning signs and complaints, the Church played an elaborate shell game for years, moving O'Grady from parish to parish in an effort to avoid liability and responsibility. The consequences of their actions were tragic.
The Catholic Church would like us to believe that the clergy abuse scandals are behind us. "Old news" they say. But with the revelation that Mark Foley was sexually molested as a teenager by a member of the clergy, this issue is clearly not behind us. It is not old news. We don't know the full extent of Foley's abuse as a teenager, but we see clearly how the long term effects of this kind of exploitation, which took place nearly 40 years ago, is causing havoc today in the lives of many people. It may even play a pivotal role in a national election.
As I discovered in making Deliver Us From Evil, clergy sexual abuse creates lifelong trauma for everyone involved - for the victims, their families and loved ones, the perpetrators, and the institutions. And the more these actions are denied, rationalized or covered-up, the worse they become. Sexual abuse creates a repeating cycle where many of the priest abusers were themselves victims of child molestation. And rather than being a few "rare exceptions," we now know that, by some estimates, 100,000 people, most of them children, were sexually molested by priests in the United States in recent years alone. This number doesn't include the countless others who are still too ashamed to come forward and report their abuse.
Deliver Us From Evil shows clearly how the Church hierarchy participated in a long-term pattern of denial and deception, choosing to protect its reputation instead of dealing with these systematic problems honestly. Today, we see Congressional leaders acting precisely in the same manner in trying to manage the Foley crisis. ABC News reported that Republican House staff warned congressional pages as far back as 2001 to stay away from Foley. For five years, House leaders have known about this potential problem, but failed to take sufficient corrective action to protect their underage charges. Similar to the Catholic Bishops, the House leaders seem to have been only concerned about self-protection, keeping their power and fundraising structure in place, and hoping that the abuses never saw the light of day. Simple honesty, morality and common sense were completely abandoned in their drive to conceal the truth and protect their own institutional interests.
For both the Catholic Church and the Congress, the well-being of children does not seem to matter enough to rein in the behavior of adults in their own ranks.
If you want to understand more fully the behavior of Congressional leadership, watch the disturbing depositions of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony and his lieutenants in Deliver Us From Evil. Mahony would like us to believe that these scandals are all ancient history, but the Associated Press reported just last week that his archdiocese could soon sign a $60 million settlement with dozens of alleged victims of clergy abuse. The cases being settled are but a fraction of the more than 500 clergy abuse lawsuits filed against the Los Angeles archdiocese since 2003.
"Old news? Hardly.