No Longer on Pedestals, by Carol A. Kuhnert (Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, 2014, ISBN 978-1491750674). 385 pp. $23.00.
By now, the clergy child-abuse scandals, worldwide and of long duration, are out in the open. No Longer on Pedestals, by Carol A. Kuhnert, a devout Catholic woman from the St. Louis area whose older brother was a priest who abused numerous minors, is a courageous, detailed, well-documented account of one abuser and the author’s years-long though rather fruitless efforts to get her church to clean up the mess. She makes clear that the cover-ups of and indifference toward the abuse by church officials were/are every bit as bad as the abuse itself. Kuhnert’s persistence, courage, and decency are inspiring.
Kuhnert’s older brother, Norman Christian, was ordained a priest in 1961 by St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Ritter. (Coincidentally, as a high-school kid in the mid-1940s, I sang in the choir at Ritter’s consecration as an archbishop in Indianapolis.) But the author only found out about her brother’s long career as a pedophile in the mid-1980s from her daughter, who had been, shall we say, “negatively influenced” sexually by her priest uncle. Things went downhill from there. Church officials knew about Father Norman’s criminal activity but simply put him in an ineffective church rehab program without defrocking him or reporting him to the police. Her brother was eventually laicized, and he died in 2004. Kuhnert declined to attend his funeral, which she regarded as part of the church’s cover-up of abuse generally.
Most of her book exhaustively details her years of frustrating efforts to get Church officials to confront its pedophile problem. It highlights the fact that her brother was not the only victimizer and praises the work of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Though remaining Catholic, Kuhnert repeatedly vents her frustration, as in these examples: “In Norman’s 43 years as a predator priest, the church had failed miserably in dealing with the sexual-abuse problem” ; “The church’s policies must stop protecting its reputation before they protect children”; “Their [the hierarchy’s] number-one concern has always been to protect the church’s money from future lawsuits”; “I’ve come to the conclusion that Catholics are brainwashed from infancy to do as they are told, not to think for themselves or ever question anything when it comes to religion”; “ I’m not sure what hurts more: learning that my brother was a pedophile priest or knowing that the church does not truly care about its flock. It cares only about protecting its reputation, its assets, and covering up what my brother and other predator clergy have done.” This is harsh, as a great many Catholics disagree with the Church on the pedophilia mess, divorce and remarriage, contraception, abortion, the need for faith-based schools, and other matters.
Among the Church officials criticized in the book is Timothy Dolan, the auxiliary bishop of St. Louis in 2002, who went on to become Archbishop of Milwaukee, where he was involved with efforts to preserve Church assets from being used to compensate victims of clerical abuse. This year Cardinal Dolan, now head of the New York archdiocese, pushed the New York legislature to divert public funds to faith-based private schools, despite the fact that Article XI, Section 3 of the New York constitution, upheld 72 to 28 percent by the state’s voters in 1967, forbids such misuse.
Her effort joins a sizable list of books on this subject, just a few of which are Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, by Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea (Vanderbilt University Press, 2007); Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, by Leon J. Podles (Crossland Press, 2008); and Child Abuse, edited by Lucinda Almond (Greenhaven Press, 2006), to which I contributed a chapter.
Comparable to the abuse scandals is the Vatican’s long, persistent, and influential opposition to contraception, locked into official dogma by Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which is ignored by the vast majority of Catholics but is politically powerful. On these and other problems involving the world’s largest single religious denomination, the world is waiting for action from Rome.