When a Priest Preys on Another Priest
April 21, 2009
Uncle Ben Wants You to Enlist in the Priesthood…
I have to admit I had a moment of schadenfreude when I read that former Catholic priest Ben Rodriguez accused current Catholic priest, Gordon Pillon of molesting him . Of course, sexual abuse is no laughing matter - especially when the abuser uses both his worldly and divine authority to force someone into unwanted sex - but Rodriguez knew at an early age the snake pit he was crawling into… and he went in anyway.
The schadenfreude I felt comes from the fact that the Catholic Church, its management, its priests, and its parishioners just don’t seem to learn .
Giving celibate men jobs-for-life and exposing them to scores of vulnerable and uncritical young believers is a recipe for abuse - especially when you stir in a see-no-evil church hierarchy, and a laity who refuses to believe the worst about their clergy despite overwhelming evidence oft repeated .
That’s a lot of chutzpah… a priest nailing - I mean accusing - another priest. But is it true? Here’s what the defendant had to say:
"He made an accusation against me at the Diocese of Peoria. That was sent to Rome. That case was not proven true," Pillon said. "It’s still in Rome. It just shocks me that he would take it to a civil court."
Whoa! Where’s the "I didn’t do it" or the outrage at being falsely accused? He focuses on how and where the accusation is made and whether it was proven or not. Smells fishy to me…
Where do these priests get their nerve? Are there still black-collared molesters stalking the local cathedrals? Can this still be happening after all the law suits that rocked the Los Angeles and Boston dioceses in the mid-1990s? Apparently so.
Former L.A. Times Religion reporter William Lobdell sheds some light on priests’ relative immunity in his book, Losing My Religion (p. 99) :
"...I was taught that priests were people set aside by God and endowed with special powers that allowed them alone to dispense the sacraments of the church… Only a priest had those powers. This separation between the clergy and laity served to emphasize the dependence, deference, and loyalty expected of the parishioners to their ‘Fathers’."
Well, there it is. If you believe a priest has a special relationship with God, pointing a finger at him becomes a lot harder to do. If God and his earthly representative have ordained that this dirty little secret should be so, who is anyone to challenge it, especially when such an accusation might destroy a (popular?) priest’s life?
This kind of blind faith and loyalty allows these child molesters to go unpunished - and even un-accused. This kind of blind faith and loyalty also cons people into flocking to the guilty priests and turning the accusers into pariahs. Lobdell witnessed parishioners rallying behind an accused priest while shunning the victim. There’s one more reason for preyed upon to keep quiet.
Still, Ben Rodriguez entered the priesthood after (allegedly) being abused by Gordon Pillon.
How brainwashed does a person have to be to enter into an institution that professes divine morality - after a member of that same institution commits a felony against him?
I wish I could feel sorrier for Ben Rodriguez. No one deserves to be molested like he says he was. He lost his job, his career - his calling, some would say - after going public with his accusation.
But he should have known that a church that could tolerate the kind of evil hypocrisy that hurt him as a teen could someday harm him again.
#1 Alphonsus (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 6:22am
Blaming victims in this manner is disgusting. It’s like telling a raped woman, “Well, shouldn’t have been in the park late at night.” You should be ashamed.
#2 Jim Underdown on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 9:37am
I’m not blaming him for getting molested. I’m questioning his entering into the priesthood after being molested by a priest.
Doesn’t that sound like bad judgement to you?
#3 Wendy Hughes (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 10:43am
It sounds like Pillon had created himself a little “family,” and a handy support system in the church, and it must have seemed like a normal flow of affairs for the younger man to take the education and follow his mentor into the priesthood. The really shocking paragraph in the story is what has happened subsequently since Pillon can’t be a priest anymore: “...He is now working as a substitute teacher in Riverside County.” What’s the matter with the Riverside school district? Don’t they do background checks on the substitute teachers?
#4 Jim Underdown (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 10:48am
Pillon’s in Prague…
Rodriguez, the victim is the teacher…
#5 Wendy Hughes (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 11:25am
I went back and re-read the story—- I see why I thought Pillon was the teacher…. it was much more dramatic that way
I feel sorry for Rodriguez. He was betrayed by the priest who was his mentor, throughout his life; then when he finally figured it out, he was betrayed by his church. I don’t know if it’s bad judgment though, Jim. Does a person show bad judgment if they just don’t know any better? If the only choices he thought he had were bad ones, then he was victimized by the environment around him. We are lucky to have had some better information available to us.
#6 Alphonsus (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 11:30am
I don’t deny that there were/are many priests, bishops, etc who did or covered up very evil things. The facts should not be hidden. But I think it is also very important to remember that there are priests who have done a great deal of good in the world. I realize that your perspective on religion might lead you to question the moral status of even the “good priests,” but I think a discussion of child abuse and its affect on one’s religious decisions requires greater psychological insight and senstivity than you displayed in your analysis of Mr. Rodriguez.
It’s hard to discuss this without sounding like an apologist for Rodriguez (about whom we know relatively little), but I guess I’m trying to say that no one should make snap judgments about whether or not a person who’s seems to have had a tough upbringing (the alleged abuse, his parent’s divorce, etc.) was foolish or stupid for making the vocational choice he did. For all we know, he might have known many other priests whose personal lives were without blemish. He didn’t seem to have had a problem until he learned that Pillon was grooming a new victim, at which time Rodriguez did the right thing and reported him. Statistically speaking, any given guy on the street is more likely to be an abuser than any given Catholic priest. Anyway, the short story is: we don’t really know Rodriguez’s motivations, thoughts, errors, or expectations. Same goes for Pillon. All we have right know is a news article. Fishy smelling statements do not a demonstration make.
On a website devoted to free thinking, I think substantive analysis would do far more to advance knowledge than point-scoring polemic. You even admit feeling, despite the seriousness of this subject, a certain guilty pleasure at this troubled man’s pain and confusion. Though serious discussion is less rhetorically useful in religious controversy than black/white dichotomies and well-poisoning, it does much more to contribute to rational inquiry. Your readers, especially those who have been victims of sexual abuse, deserve better.
#7 Marcus Tullio Cicero (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 11:40am
I thought we treat people as innocent until proven guilty in this country. Do different rules apply to cases involving accused Catholic priests? Why do we latch onto any such accusations as true before evidence has been examined by the legal system? Presumption of guilt is a very undesirable thing for anyone to encourage.
#8 liberalartist on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 1:33pm
After reading “Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Catholicism: How Priests and Nuns Become Perpetrators” by Myra L. Hidalgo, I am not surprised that this man became a priest. She referred to Catholic child abuse by priests and nuns as being similar to family molestation cases. Priests and nuns have cultural rankings above even a child’s parents, and communities tend to hide the truth rather than confront it. It is not unusual for abused children to embrace the environments and people they grew up with. And I have to disagree with Alphonsus, that statistically fewer priests rape children than those from the general public. Hidalgo showed that it is actually slightly statisically higher. She attributes this to the parallels to family abuse along with the harmful views of sex as sinful and shameful. A celebate lifestyle is a safehaven for the sexually repressed and confused. And as noted in a recent case in Brazil, the church considers raping children to be a more forgivable sin than abortion.
As long as the church refuses to change its culture or its view of sexuality, child rape will continue to be a problem, no matter how many court cases there are.
#9 Alphonsus (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 2:24pm
“And as noted in a recent case in Brazil, the church considers raping children to be a more forgivable sin than abortion.”
Just so you know, that particular case involved excommunication, not forgiveness of sins. It is incorrect to confuse the two concepts. Excommunication is an ecclesiastical penalty (you cannot participate in the sacraments) that can be reversed through penance. All sins are forgivable except final impenitence (at least that’s the opinion of most Catholic theologians). That’s my (admittedly limited) understanding. Perhaps you should ask a canon lawyer if the distinction interests you.
Also, did Hidalgo’s study compare priests with the general population (men & women) or just men? I was only thinking of priests as compared to the male population (all priests being male and men being more likely to commit violent crimes than women). I shall look into it some more.
#10 Jim Underdown on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 2:33pm
I don’t know enough about this case to know if Pillon molested Rodriguez or not—although Pillon’s remarks do raise my suspicions.
What I do know is that the Catholic Church is a sexually repressive organization that has a big problem keeping its collective hands out of the pants of young boys. This fact is beyond dispute.
If the Center for Inquiry staff had multiple pedophiles racking up lawsuits and accusations like the church does, there’d be a lynch-mob at our door.
The church, however, has followers who side with it regardless of what atrocity it commits—and there are plenty to choose from—now and historically. This blind loyalty leads to more crime, more cover-ups, more pedophilia, and more victims.
The sooner the Catholic Church faces this undeniable problem, the better for all the youth within their purview.
#11 liberalartist on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 2:38pm
“A graver act than (rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life.” - Archbishop Sobrinho. From CNN. I do not believe the vatican contradicted his statement. As an ex-catholic, I could care less what a canon lawyer thinks, I go by what the church says and does.
As for the gender comparisons, it was males only because there is so little research done on women perpatrators. The author was abused by a nun and wrote about that experience.
I recommend the book, I thought it was a good analysis of the situation without being exploitative or sensational. Her intentions seem to be to spread awareness, not revenge.
#12 Alphonsus (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 4:49pm
‘“A graver act than (rape) is abortion, to eliminate an innocent life.“ - Archbishop Sobrinho. From CNN. I do not believe the vatican contradicted his statement. As an ex-catholic, I could care less what a canon lawyer thinks, I go by what the church says and does.’
You may not care what canon law or moral theology say (these things are, of course, “what the church says”) but your statement (that abortion is “less forgivable”) was inaccurate. If a person is going to interpret what the Church says, he or she should know the Church’s vocabulary. Just because a sin is more grave does not mean that it is less able to be forgiven.
#13 Marcus Tullius Cicero (Guest) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 4:59pm
“If the Center for Inquiry staff had multiple pedophiles racking up lawsuits and accusations like the church does, there’d be a lynch-mob at our door.”
Why aren’t lynch mobs and lawyers attacking public schools then?
#14 Jim Underdown on Wednesday April 22, 2009 at 5:51pm
The “lynch mob” is of course a metaphor for the tone of how people react to the notion of pedophiles in their midst—when they know about it.
If a school system experienced multiple, public sexual abuse complaints like the church gets, people would react in no uncertain terms.
But parishioners have numerous times flocked to the side of the accused priest because he enjoys a status that teachers do not—that of God’s representative on earth.
I wouldn’t mind seeing the Catholic Church go away, but in the meantime I’d be happy just to see them keep their hands off the world’s children.
#15 Marcus Tullius Cicero (Guest) on Thursday April 23, 2009 at 5:28am
“If a school system experienced multiple, public sexual abuse complaints like the church gets, people would react in no uncertain terms.”
Yes, I think the public school problems are not known as publicly due to less litigation. Or, at least, they are not thought of as a unified problem (i.e. people divide public schools into districts perhaps more than they divide the Catholic Church into diocese).
“But parishioners have numerous times flocked to the side of the accused priest because he enjoys a status that teachers do not—that of God’s representative on earth.”
I think people tend to support priests for religious reasons, but also due to the difficulty in verifying accusations without direct experience/evidence. Unless a friend or relative has been abused, a person might have a tough time sorting out claims. When it comes to “he said, she said”, people tend to side with the person they know better/ trust more. If someone as popular as Joseph Bernardin could be accused, I think it is important to examine evidence before jumping to conclusions. After all, the proper solution to the cover-up of abuse is not automatically assuming guilt.
#16 Marcus Tullius Cicero (Guest) on Tuesday April 28, 2009 at 5:34am
What happened to the links in my earlier posts? They were relevant to the discussion.
#17 BMR (Guest) on Monday May 04, 2009 at 2:16am
Hi everybody. I very much appreciate this honest blog. I am the victim.
May I answer some of your questions?
#18 Jim Underdown on Monday May 04, 2009 at 1:08pm
If it’s really you… (pardon my innate skepticism)
How could you join the priesthood after what happened to you? You must have recognized at some level that what the other priest did was wrong and that he was not only being dishonest about it, but also getting away with it—for a long time.
Seems like that kind experience might have soured you on the whole idea of joining the clergy…
#19 BMR (Guest) on Monday May 04, 2009 at 2:50pm
Have you ever read the John Jay Report.
Almost all victims didn’t realize they were victims of anything until years later. There is nothing unique about my case except that I entered the priesthood.
I would have remained a priest if I wasn’t forced out. I loved the ministry.
#20 Darth Tanion on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 1:33pm
“Giving celibate men jobs-for-life and exposing them to scores of vulnerable and uncritical young believers is a recipe for abuse”
I’m ok with the idea that men who are already pedophiles or have tendencies that way would have found the idea of being a priest attractive. (Perhaps not so much now as most people can’t seem to think priest without thinking pedophile these days so they are watched that bit closer.) But are you suggesting that if a man can’t get consenting sex and thinks he could get away with having sex with children he is more likely to? Would you? I think someone has to be messed up in the head on their own before their circumstances make much of a difference. At least I’d like to think so. I’d hate to think that the only reason I don’t commit these horrific crimes is because I don’t think I can get away with it. I KNOW it’s not because I’m getting enough sex. HA!
#21 Darth Tanion on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 1:38pm
Sorry one more thing.
Jim said: “How could you join the priesthood after what happened to you?”
Lets assume for a second that Michael Jackson is actually guilty of child abuse. Does that mean his victims should not want to be singers when they grow up? Some children are abused by teachers, should that taint their whole view of the school system?
#22 Jim Underdown on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 2:15pm
There is one big difference between being abused by a priest as opposed to a singer.
Priests are supposed to be God’s representatives on Earth. Their very existence is supposed to embody God’s morality—which most people would say should preclude child abuse. (Though there are plenty of Old Testament passages that suggest otherwise.)
There’s nothing inherently moral about being a singer, but there ought to be about being a priest.
So, I would expect someone to be extra-disappointed after being abused by someone from an occupation that should exemplify good will, or at least good behavior.
The same would go for being abused by a cop, a teacher, a daycare worker, etc—people whose jobs it is to help others.
I guess it’s the hypocrisy that adds to my indignation…
#23 BMR (Guest) on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 3:01pm
It seems to me that so many of you are getting bogged down by the whole “priest” thing. Why? This story is about a person in a position of power taking advantage of a teenage boy, in a sexual way.
Some simple facts to remember.
1. Pedophilia is very rare. It is the sexual attraction to prepubescent children.
2. Most priests who were accused and convicted were not pedophiles.“ephebophilia, refers to individuals who exhibit the same fantasies, urges or behaviors towards post-pubescent youths”
(see John Jay Report)
3. “the majority of victims are males between the ages of 11-17, and just over half (50.7%) of all individuals who made allegations of abuse were between the ages of 11-14” (JJR).
4. I couldn’t find the study, but I believe that the number of priests who sexual abused a minor child in the United states was lower or the same percentage as the general population. That would make sense since the men entering the priests come from the general population.
Now, what is your hang-up with the priesthood. There are tens of thousands of good priests working in the united states, and they most likely are happy and healthy.
#24 Darth Tanion on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 3:28pm
“There is one big difference between being abused by a priest as opposed to a singer.”
100% correct. That individual priest has abused a greater trust than any singer however that doest not make any difference to priests in general. Essentially you are saying
“This guy said he was a priest and therefore a good and kind man who could be trusted but then went and committed a horrible crime. You should generalize and treat his actions as though they represented the views and beliefs of all other priests.”
“The same would go for being abused by a cop, a teacher, a daycare worker, etc—people whose jobs it is to help others.”
So it’s wrong of people to want to do these kinds of jobs if they have been abused by these kinds of people? What if a child was abused by a daycare worker and then grew up and said “My daycare worker did horrible things, I know I can do better and really help people.” Would that be wrong? Personally I think if Ben Rodriguez was able to see past the abuse and say to himself “I think I can do better.” then I applaud him. Provided he does do better of course.
“It seems to me that so many of you are getting bogged down by the whole “priest” thing. Why? This story is about a person in a position of power taking advantage of a teenage boy, in a sexual way.”
Excellent point. Too many people focus on the “priest” part of the headline when they should be focusing on the “abuse” part. As for what you call it and how old the kids were though. I don’t think that really matters. Abuse is abuse. I’m not sure what those two points were meant to show.
#25 Jim Underdown on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 3:53pm
I personally don’t think aspiring to be a priest is ever a great career choice. There are lot’s of ways to do good in this life without getting all entangled with dubious theological claims. But that’s another argument…
Having said that, I don’t think Ben was wrong to enter the clergy—I just can’t understand why he’d want to in the face of the monumental hypocrisy of the situation.
#26 Jim Underdown on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 3:56pm
Ben, would you be interested in speaking to a secular audience about this at CFI in Hollywood? It might help clear up some misconceptions.
#27 BMR (Guest) on Wednesday May 06, 2009 at 7:12pm
Love the discussion, and I appreciate the honesty!
The flippant comments (“dubious theological claims” “monumental hypocrisy”) about the Church and its about theology are uncalled for unless we want to change the discussion to Catholic beliefs and practice. Is this a Catholic bashing web site?
I find it hard to logically deduce an abuse situation directly Catholic doctrine or from Catholic theology.
To be clear, there were some writings from a theologian, Thomas Doyle, O.P. that made indirect connections of the priest abuse scandal with the canonical structure of the Catholic Church in the United States.
#28 Darth Tanion on Thursday May 07, 2009 at 12:07am
“I just can’t understand why he’d want to in the face of the monumental hypocrisy of the situation.”
It was the monumental hypocrisy of one person. Isn’t the Centre For Inquiry supposed to encourage people to think clearly about situations and make logical deductions based on evidence? If that’s so then you tell me, is it hypocritical of a representative of the CFI to publicly express that he cannot understand why someone did not pass judgement on a very large group because of the actions of one of it’s members? Even if he took into account all of the other priests who have acted inappropriately when making his decision to join the priesthood, we’re still talking about a very small minority and the rest of the group openly denounce the acts of those few. Don’t get me wrong. If I had been in Ben Rodriguez’s situation I probably would have passed judgement on the whole group but then again I don’t want to be a priest. Forgiving people is not ever going to be in my job description. To be brutally honest I think you are letting your dislike of the Catholic church cloud judgement on this one.
#29 Marcus Tullius Cicero (Guest) on Thursday May 07, 2009 at 12:59pm
“To be brutally honest I think you are letting your dislike of the Catholic church cloud judgement on this one.”
Yes, its sad how the tragedy of child sex-abuse is being used for point-scoring.
“Is this a Catholic bashing web site?”
Not specifically, but I’ll bet you can guess the views of this blog’s writers regarding Catholicism by checking out the sponsoring organization.
(And again: what happened to the links in my earlier posts?)