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Sunday, June 08, 2008

Child Porn and Bernie Ward

A Theological Reflection on Bernie Ward and Child Pornography
Sunday, June 8, 2008, at St. John the Evangelist. San Francisco, Third Sunday of Pentecost, Proper 4.

Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated by the Jews and Roman citizens of Jesus time, like child pornographers, homosexuals and rapists are today. Tax collectors got a percentage of whatever they could gouge from the citizenry. Jesus took one of these most hated tax collectors and made him a part of the twelve Apostles, his inner circle. Jesus called us to love our enemies, the hated ones, and the despised ones. It would be like Barak Obama taking a Ku Klux Klan member into his cabinet.

Jesus was a revolutionary, a radical and a challenger to the laws and mores of his time. Revolutionary Christians of our time can do no other.

Bernie Ward is a friend of mine. We do not know each other very well. I took his place on KGO-Radio’s “God Talk” on a couple of Sunday mornings. He preached for us at Trinity one Sunday. He is an ordained Roman Catholic priest. He left the ministry, married, became a journalist and broadcaster. He has several children and taught with Ann at the Convent of the Sacred Heart School here in San Francisco.

He has been accused of soliciting child pornography over the Internet. The only thing I know about the case is what I have read in the newspaper. He has pleaded guilty to downloading some illegal images.

Our government has decided seeing and sharing child pornography downloaded from the Internet is illegal.

I certainly believe adults having sex with children should be illegal and punishable. Using sex with children for adult pleasure degrades the child, perhaps forever damaging him or her. Those of you present who have been abused will testify to that.

I know any number of gay men when they were teens wanted to be seduced by older men and sought them. Many straight teen boys fell in lust with their teachers, older sisters or mothers of their friends and yearned for sex with them.

The present laws stop legitimate sex researchers, psychologists, psychiatrists, police and scholars from using the internet to view and download such pictures. The law gets in the way of gaining knowledge about child porn that may lead to healing of the victim and the abuser. My legal advisor suggests anyone doing scientific research should get a written waiver from the local DA or local federal prosecutor. Thus the legal system determines the right of scholars even to do research in the area of child pornography.

The law borders on the state telling people what thoughts they may think.

It is impossible to get federal or foundation grants to study child pornography. Can you imagine a researcher saying to a federal grant commission, “Hi there I’d like to get some money to study child porn?”

Sex with minors is the present day unforgivable sin. I remember when homosexual sex was an unforgivable sin and still is in some quarters.

That law will certainly not prevent adults from sexually abusing children. Child porn will exist whenever people will pay money to view it.

As a pastor, I wonder about people who realize they want to have sex with a child, a person who prefers watching images of children in sexual situations? To whom can they talk? Who will listen objectively and encourage them to talk through their desires and fantasies. You can’t talk with your parent, your teacher, the police, your doctor or the clergy.

If people had an opportunity to talk through their thoughts and feeling perhaps these thoughts would not lead to actions. Thoughts lead to actions

The thoughts are gifts to us from our brain, psyche or unconscious or perhaps even the Holy Spirit. It is what we do about the thoughts that become our personal responsibility.

I visualize a church that has groups where people can be open and honest about their feelings, emotions, fantasies, failures, joys and triumphs. The group would be non-judgmental, supportive and compassionate. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are models where people can say what they need to say in an atmosphere of quiet listening and accepting response.

In the 1970’s I ran old-fashioned encounter groups where people were encouraged to speak openly about feelings, emotions and thoughts. Miracles of confession and forgiveness happened in those groups. I know of noting like them today.

This parish has heard the gospel of accepting the unacceptable over and over again in the past thirty years. Gay, lesbian, transgendered, people with HIV disease, black, white, homeless, single parents and on and on.

Jesus accepted the most hated tax collector and made him a member of his cabinet. I suspect anyone who has fantasies about sex with children could find some people in this parish who would hear them with compassion.

If anyone hearing or reading this sermon has such feelings and want to talk about them, please do talk about them. I for one am open to such a discussion. I am sure there are others who are open to talk with you about this issue.

Having thoughts and fantasies are OK, acting on them with children is not.

We come to the holy table with our own burdens and joys. All are welcome to the unity we find in Jesus the Revolutionary.

7 Comments:

Blogger Christopher said...

Fr. Cromey,

I find this sermon incredible, in the worst sort of way on a number of counts. I've heard bad sermons, sermons that I disagree with, but this is beyond the pale. It tends toward encouraging boundarilessness in community and lack of accountability, as well as failing to distinguish the fruits of different actions, demonstrating a simplistic understanding of the relationship of thoughts to actions, and seemingly borders on antinomianistic assumptions.

Frankly, the pulpit is not the place for this sort of pushing the envelope in the name of the Gospel in irresponsible ways, and had I been there on Sunday, I would have walked out.

Yes, Jesus loves those who struggle with such tendencies, and because salvation is not our work, yes, I don't doubt their assurance of salvation by God's promises, but that does not mean "this side of the New Creation" boundaries and even laws to protect those boundaries can be set aside given we are finite, sinners, and especially given that children are some of the most vulnerable among us. Here are some of my responses to portions of your sermon:

The conflation of pornographers, homosexuals, and rapists is ridiculous from a moral standpoint. Each has to be considered on its own merits.

The tax collector also stopped being a tax collector and became a disciple instead. Disciples do not exploit children. Jesus was clear about this.

To love one's enemies does not mean become a doormat for the worst sort of human behaviors. Inclusion does not mean putting up with behaviors that do harm to those around the person included.

Jesus was not an antinomian. He dug more deeply into the Law to pull forth its spirit, not merely to suggest that in this life we can be lawless. Law can be used to do harm and carry out injustice, but that is no excuse to suggest that "this side of the New Creation" we can go without law at all.

Our government has decided seeing and sharing child pornography downloaded from the Internet is illegal because engaging children in sexual activities, including the filming of porn, does harm to children. The psychological and sociological research is very clear on this matter.

Downloading child porn in one's personal office for research is a foolhardy method even if what one was attempting is legitimate research. Given the sensitivity of, criminal nature of, and harm done by child porn, a legitimate researcher would submit his or her method and research to oversight that would at least include lawyers, law enforcement, sociological and psychologial staff. Such research would also need to be held accountable to a "public" and would thus best be done in a team setting open to regular scrutiny by multiple persons.

The legal system determines the right of scholars to do research in a number of fields of inquiry. All research in an university setting, especially that involving human beings, must be approved and regularly monitored. I see any research in the area of child pornography as especially in need of approval, monitoring, and controls. The law should be involved.

The law tells people how they can and cannot act. To my mind legal control of research into child pornography is a legitimate and necessary application of the law in its first sense, namely the civil sense to prevent harm done to others and to prevent societal chaos.

Sex with minors and homosexual sex are not to be conflated even if the former claim about unforgivennesss were or is true. Homosexual sex between consenting adults is not comparable to abusing a child sexually. This smacks of arguing for sexually using minors because we used to treat homosexuals badly.

That law will certainly not prevent adults from sexually abusing children, but it can sure remove from society those who do abuse children sexually.

Yours is a too straightforward understanding of thoughts and actions. As if because I think some guy is hot, I therefore will sleep with him and break my vows. I can have all sorts of thoughts about such matters, sometimes seeming to arise even spontaneously, but what I choose to do with those thoughts is something about which I have some input. I can refuse to act on the thoughts. I can even concentrate on redirecting the thoughts. I can resist temptation with God's help.

Not all of our thoughts are pearls of great wisdom, and some are not gifts at all, but may even be the influence of spirits other than God. I simply have seen too much evil, including supernatural manifestions to dismiss that possibility. I guess that makes me preModern. So be it.

AA is quite distinct, a great ministry, but not what I think appropriate to the church as a community. Groups for those with a prediliction to child sexual abuse are a good idea, but the thought of the church on Sunday as care and share of this magnitude is a terrible failure to appreciate boundaries.

Jesus loves those who struggle with the want to abuse children sexually, and we are called to love them too by not seeking vengeance but help for them if they act upon this prediliction. That does not mean such behavior is acceptable or ethical or moral. We need to distinguish fruits. Homosexual sex within the confines of a committed relationship shows quite different fruits from sexual abuse of a child in the most "objective" way we know these things, psychological and sociological research.

11:28 AM  
Blogger RWC said...

Thank you Christopher for your thoughtful comment to my blog. It would be fun to chat with you further about it but you left no return address or full name.

Robert Warren Cromey

12:35 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

Fr. Cromey,

If you want to chat, we can chat here on your blog. Again, I find this sermon unacceptable and I've let others know as such. I've appreciated many of your sermons in the past, but this one takes revolution in a direction I'm unwilling to go because child porn harms children. I understand you were wanted to argue that Jesus loves us all, but again that doesn't mean that we are Jesus. We have boundaries, and this sermon seems to be without boundaries. I'm very troubled by it, and sorry that it came from you, as your past sermons were such inspiration.

6:30 AM  
Blogger RWC said...

Sorry Christopher. I choose not to communicate further unless you reveal who you are. When one person is open and known and the other person remains anonymous, there is not a good climate for honest communication. Thank you for being in touch. Should you choose to reveal who you are and how to be in touch by e-mail, we can resume contact.

RWC

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Beth said...

I think if you have a blog, you have to let people comment anonymously. Especially on this issue. Especially when the pulpit is a space of power over people's minds and hearts.

I think this was a brave sermon, though misguided. I actually agree that pedophilia, like homosexuality, is not inherently immoral or pathological. Nor is fantasizing about rape. But it's possible to practice consensual homosexuality--and it's not possible to practice consensual rape. Nor is it possible to practice truly consensual adult-child sex, as brain research shows that the capacity for complex decision-making isn't fully formed until the early 20s. One can certainly fantasize about children with written texts, comix, one's imagination, and other adults in role-play, without partaking in an industry that makes a buck by exploiting children. Meanwhile, children have their own sexuality, just like gay people do. It is their right to explore it alone and with other children. It is our job not to self-servingly misinterpret that right as our right of access to them.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I believe we can all agree to disagee, and I hope respectively.

In my opinion (emphasis "opinion") if people write letters or emails, they should have the courage of their convictions and sign their names. If they don't want to do that on a blog, I feel they should send a private email or letter. When people write letters to the editor, they can ask that their names be held from publication, but they have to sign their names for the newspaper's benefit. If you ask Robert in private correspondence not to tell anyone your name, I know from experience he will honor that.

To add my centimes, I didn't feel Robert in any way said it was all right to molest children. I think he was trying to open a dialogue on a volatile subject. I don't believe he was trying to equate child molestation with homosexuality or rape. I took that part of the sermon to suggest there have been volatile subjects in the past that benefited from light being shed on them. Many issues that our society doesn't like to address fester in the dark. The message I got was to make it easier for these people to come forward and try to get help and that by us trying to understand the dynamics, we might be able to help reduce such behavior.

Few people will take on controversial subjects, particularly when taking an unpopular stand. I, for one, am glad Robert did.

My goodness, are we having a dialogue!

Sincerely,

Michelle Schmidt

4:01 PM  
Blogger foodcom said...

P.S. In my first sentence I meant "respectfully," not "respectively."
Michelle Schmidt

2:41 PM  

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