The quotation is sometimes misattributed to Joseph Stalin (1879-1953), the first General Secretary of the Communist Party in Russia (1922-1953):
The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.The impact of the words remains, whoever said them. That impact strikes me as being in perfect alignment with the human mind and heart: There is only so much personal horror anyone can accept, digest or process before the lights grow dim and statistical sang froid kicks in. It's just a fact, I think, not something to deny or sidestep. It is as if the mind has some shut-off mechanism that protests, "I can't hear you when you talk so loud."
The Roman Catholic Church has not yet been charged with the death of millions. But the impact of the priest sexual abuses that come to light in ever-growing litanies is like a death to the people who suffered those abuses. Boys abused, girls abused -- children just like yours or mine. Families wracked. Relationships murdered. Wounds that reach outward and upward. A million men died at the Battle of Stalingrad during World War II. It's just a statistic. The Roman Catholic Church claims 1.2 billion members worldwide. How many predatory abuses will be shielded by the church and yet felt by the abusive statistics within its midst?
The evidence mounts and mounts and mounts. The church has battled the accusations or any suggestion that, as the Russians say, "the fish stinks from the head down," that there is just no way in hell that the church hierarchy can escape its vile complicity ... but that doesn't mean the hierarchy won't try and in that trying, create an ever-more-vile.
I am not and never was a Roman Catholic. I was not sexually abused as a child. I claim no inside knowledge outside the inside knowledge of being human. And it is within that framework that I received in email today a bit of documentation in the world of Roman Catholicism's depredations ... just a bit ... just a little ... just a suggestive bit of inescapable documentation:
The Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy admitted he sexually abused deaf boys at his boarding school for 22 years. Victims tried for more than three decades to bring him to justice, but documents show that the church neither defrocked him nor referred him for prosecution.Like the victims, the perpetrators have names. They have addresses. They have friendships and longings. They are human. And it is useful to address Roman Catholicism's depredations with that in mind ... human being victims ... human being perpetrators ... human being hierarchy. (I am not about to excuse, as some might, the depredations with a wave of the hand or an oh-well-we're-all-human-let's-forgive-and-forget. That's just horseshit compassion and bullshit psychology ... spiritual Gimcrack ladled out by the spineless and the self-serving).
What was sent in the mail is a dossier of information on Murphy... Murphy, a man with a face, just as the victims of his abuse (he admits to 19, denies 10 ... and denies all other claims) had and have faces and lives and abiding scars. The information appears to have been compiled by the New York Times in pdf format. A social worker's hand-written report begins on page 6. It is factual. It is an appropriate combination of direct and unsurprised. Just the facts. Just one priest. Just one man ... a walking tragedy who inflicted uncounted other tragedies under the umbrella of a tragically corrupt institution.
The documentation is quiet. It is concerned. The volume is not turned up and yet ....
The very quietness is deafening in its implications. How an institution claiming to promote the message and meaning of Jesus can continue to bob and weave and deny responsibility and accuse the accusers ... it's truly enough to make Jesus weep.
It's worth reading if only to see where a much-credited goodness can go off the rails. It is worth reading because human beings precede the churches they attend, much as they precede the gods they worship.
Roman Catholicism claims 1.2 billion members worldwide.
Its depredations are similarly worldwide in scope... perhaps too loud for the human mind or heart to process as anything other than a statistic.
Roman Catholicism expects forgiveness and understanding because, well, because it is a legend in its own mind ... the true purveyors of Christ's word ... no matter who gets crucified.
The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.
Like the corrupt Wall Street organizations that led the world into the latest economic depression, Roman Catholicism is probably "too big to fail" and will remain a legendary institution in future. Statistics are likely to win out. Shame is medicine for adults; crude children refuse such healing.
A statistical mind is a wonderful thing to examine and, with luck, to lose.