On June 18,actor and comedian Robin Williams did his typical off-the-wall performance on “The Tonight Show,” but this time he poked fun at the Catholic Church’s handling of a much publicized and long-running pedophilia scandal within the priesthood. It’s no secret that the Catholic Church’s hierarchy has mishandled and exacerbated the pedophilia problem from the beginning.
Their longstanding practice of ignoring the problem; turning a deaf ear on children who are sexual assault victims of priests; transferring offending priests from parish to parish; reaching out-of-court settlements in the hundreds of millions of dollars and in return buying the silence of the victims and their families is well known.
In front of Jay Leno and millions of others, who were assumed to be in on the joke, Robin Williams pretended to be playing some sort of game sitting on “The Tonight Show” couch in which a pedophile is hiding under a cup.
Williams suggested that the image portrayed the Church’s attitude in dealing with “pedophile” priests. “Here we go. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Find the priest, find the pedophile. Here you go right now. Move ‘em around, move ‘em around. Oh, you found the pedophile,” Williams said.
This was clearly a reference to the Church’s moving of sexual predator priests to unassuming parishes and worst of all, to innocent children who wound up being victims to these sick and depraved men with collars.
Then Robin Williams put his hand over his groin and said, “You have to realize that if you are a Catholic priest, you have retired this. That’s it— no more sex. But they are going to put you in a small, dark box (a reference to the confessional) and people are going to tell you the nastiest sexual stuff they have done.”
Williams went on to talk about the absurdity of demanding celibacy among priests, which many others have argued exacerbated the problem within the priesthood.
In response to the Robin Williams bit, many Catholics, including Catholic League President Bill Donohue, said it was just another example of Catholic bashing in the media and by Hollywood types that also represented a double standard as to how Catholics are treated compared to other religious groups.
I have great respect for Bill Donohue. The Church is fortunate to have such an articulate advocate who is so media savvy in their corner. But on this one, Bill Donohue is dead wrong, and we debated the issue last Friday on “The Today Show.”
My basic point then and now is this—Sometimes the Catholic Church does get bashed, and yes, it can feel like there’s a double standard.
But, for me as a Catholic who attended Catholic grammar school, high school, and college, and also served as an alter boy, and even today tries to hang in and keep the faith with three young sons of my own (none of whom I would leave alone with a Catholic priest, even though as a kid I spent countless hours and developed strong ties to numerous priests as well as the Christian brothers who ran my high school), there is a much more significant issue here which is this—the Catholic Church’s hierarchy brought this on themselves through their disgraceful and cowardly handling of the pedophilia issue.
For years, the bishops, cardinals, and other bosses of the Church ignored media inquiries while denying that the problem was as pervasive and perverse as it clearly was. Then, they began to attack and impugn the motives of some in the media (including me) who challenged the church’s hierarchy on this issue.
Think about it. What was Robin Williams saying that was so terrible or inaccurate on “The Tonight Show?” Obviously, no logical person thinks that all or even most Catholic priests are pedophiles.
Clearly, he was engaging hyperbole and satire, but moving priests from parish to parish? Hiding them from parishioners, covering up, stonewalling, ignoring?
That’s exactly what the church leadership did. As for the media, we were the ones who uncovered the problem, who exposed it through investigative reporting and constant pressure to release the names of pedophiles and allow victims and their families to be heard and talk about the suffering and the scars that will never heal.
The Church did in fact pay “hush money” to silence the victims and their families, which we in the media also exposed.
Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston was ultimately humiliated by the press and forced to step down. The same thing happened to the Archbishop of the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey Frank Rodimer, who protected sexual predator Father James T. Hanley for decades who molested dozens of young boys, some of whom I met and interviewed on my public television series on PBS.
If it weren’t for the media’s exposing of Rodimer, Law, and other cowardly Catholic so-called leaders, things would have been even worse.
So does the Catholic Church get bashed more than other religions in the mainstream media and Hollywood? Sometimes, but I bet most Catholics like me are a lot more concerned and angry at our own church leaders and their abominable handling of the pedophilia situation than about Robin Williams getting a few cheap laughs on “The Tonight Show.”
A message to those who insist on obsessing on this so-called media bashing of Catholics—get your priorities in order—We have done a lot more damage to ourselves as Catholics than anyone in Hollywood or the mainstream press could ever do.
Write to Steve Adubato at firstname.lastname@example.org.