The language of kings, demi-gods and priest sex offendersUnless you’re a king or a demigod or, as Mark Twain once wrote, somebody with a tapeworm, it’s usually a good idea to avoid referring to yourself with the pronoun “we.”
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
Unless you’re a king or a demigod or, as Mark Twain once wrote, somebody with a tapeworm, it’s usually a good idea to avoid referring to yourself with the pronoun “we.”
I’m not sure who Norbert Maday, a defrocked Illinois priest sitting in a courtroom in Oshkosh the other day, thought he was when he tried to explain away the things he did 25 years ago to two suburban Chicago boys on a retreat in Winnebago County.
“We’re just committing what we call a mortal sin and we’re sorry because of the weakness that, that we allowed, allows to do it,” he told a courtroom in garbled but, nevertheless, extremely revealing language.
Maday didn’t have a co-defendant. His attorney, Ralph Sczygelski, said the former priest has some health issues but the lawyer didn’t mention worms. So, I don’t think that explains the use of “we” either.
“I don’t know where the ‘we’ came from,” said Kevin Greene, the prosecutor who specializes in Chapter 980 hearings used to continue to detain pedophiles like Maday. “His answers were not always direct, shall we say.”
Greene speculated that maybe Maday — who will remain in custody for at least another nine months, “was trying to reference all priests who offend.” He did use the first person at one point, saying, “The wrongs I did were done out of weakness.” But, Greene observed, “I don’t know that he truly accepts responsibility for his behavior.”
Not by a long shot: It’s been 18 years since he was convicted of both sexual abuse and intimidating a witness, and he has always denied doing anything criminal in Winnebago County.
This is not the first time that Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has heard the sort of language Maday used.
“Maday was talking (as a priest no doubt giving instruction) on the ‘misfortune’ that is part of the human condition, which ‘we’ all share, as in: ‘we are all sinners’ including each of us being subject to ‘mortal’ sins,” wrote Isely in an e-mail to me. Maday was arguing, in other words, that he merely succumbed to temptation, and really is no different, no more responsible, than anyone else.
In an interview, Isely added the “decriminalizing language” puts crime “on the same continuum as eating fish on Friday.”
What’s new? You might say. Just the other day, Jeffrey Anderson — an attorney arguing against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s attempt to limit some of the victim claims filed in the archdiocesan bankruptcy — said that he knows of at least 8,000 allegations of child sexual abuse by over 100 offenders there. There have been so many allegations and cases of pedophilia that we’re inured to this stuff by now. We shouldn’t be. That’s an absolutely stunning claim, especially since Anderson only represents about 60 percent of the alleged victims. And yet, people just sort of shrug.
Isely rightly asks how there could possibly have been so many assaults for so long — or even a fraction of that number — with so few prosecutions? The answer, he suggests, lies in another question: Were these 8,000 crimes and acts of injustice against children caused by specific people, or — as Maday so reprehensibly implied — merely 8,000 instances of so-called misfortune?
Your answer depends on whether you prefer the language of personal responsibility or the language of kings and people with large parasites in their digestive tracts.
Which isn’t to say the use of “we” isn’t entirely appropriate in some instances.
For instance, it would be more than appropriate for the church to say, “We think the numbers are pretty shocking too, and lead to the conclusion we had some culpability as an institution and are going to allow every legitimate claim from every person who is a victim and has not yet been given justice.”
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.