Thomas P. Rausch

The scandal caused by the sexual abuse of young people by members of the Catholic clergy has made the laity take a new and critical look at the way their church operates. While the vast majority of Catholics have remained loyal to the church, many have a clear sense that something is seriously wrong. They cannot understand why it took the bishops so long to deal with this crisis, when their children were at risk. They wonder if the church at its highest levels is willing to address this problem.

 

Many are frustrated when Rome’s latest document, on liturgical abuses, seems more concerned with what vessels to put the altar wine in or what ministers of Communion should be called. The document’s encouragement to members of the faithful to bring complaints about liturgical abuses to Rome is reminiscent of Pope Pius X’s support for Umberto Benigni’s Sodalitium Pianum, a secret society set up to report deviations from Roman teaching to the Vatican. At the same time, when some bishops threaten Catholic politicians with virtual excommunication if they do not vote they way the bishops think they should, this seems to risk further dividing an already polarized community.

What good, if any, might come from the present crisis? I would like to suggest two issues that need to be addressed: first, the reform of church structures of governance and, second, the need to focus on the sexual abuse of young people in American society as a whole.

The Reform of Structures

What seems clear to many is that the church needs to reform, not just how it exercises authority, but also its structures of governance, in order to provide for greater collegiality, accountability and a system of checks and balances so that the church can function not as a top-down authority structure, but as the interdependent communio of churches, pastors and faithful that it truly is. The concern is evident at all levels.

Three years ago, Cardinal Walter Kasper wrote in America (4/23/01), “The right balance between the universal church and the particular churches has been destroyed,” and added that this was not just his own perception but the experience and complaint of many bishops from all over the world. Even more significantly, he has spoken of “a mental or practical schism” between the universal church—by which he means Rome—and local practice. “Many laypersons and priests can no longer understand universal church regulations, and simply ignore them.” This applies both to ethical issues and to questions of sacramental and ecumenical praxis, such as the admission of divorced and remarried persons to communion or the offer of eucharistic hospitality to non-Catholics.”

Whenever issues of governance in the church are raised, one hears the refrain, like a mantra, “the church is not a democracy.” But neither is it an absolute monarchy. Numerous historical studies have recently appeared showing that contrary to what we often hear, the church has always learned and borrowed from its historical and cultural surroundings. But somehow its development got “stuck” in the early modern period, with the emergence of the absolute monarchy.

Today, finding ways to make the church’s decision-making processes more inclusive of and in some way accountable to laity and clergy is one of the crucial issues the church faces. In terms of structural reform, there are several steps that could be taken without overturning the papal-episcopal structure of the church. One includes giving local churches a role in the selection of their bishops. Another involves implementing the principle of subsidiarity. A third calls for revising the procedures for the international Synod of Bishops.

Selection of Bishops

How bishops are selected remains a critical issue today. As William Spohn, a professor of ethics at the University of Santa Clara, has said, “The historically recent centralization of episcopal appointment into the hands of the Vatican violates the Catholic tradition and has made many bishops less accountable to the people of the local churches they are ordained to serve.” A review of church history shows a number of ways for choosing a bishop, most of them involving some input from both clergy and laity in the local church. Only in relatively recent times have all bishops in the Catholic Church been appointed by Rome.

Some argue that Roman appointment helps to safeguard unity in a world church. But clearly the great tradition of the church gives far more weight to provincial and local church structures in the selection of bishops. A return to local nomination or selection, confirmed by the bishop of Rome, would respect the integrity of the local church to provide for its needs without politicizing the episcopal office. It would also help to maintain the necessary tension between conciliarity and primacy, local church and universal church in the communion of the church. In the words of Michael J. Buckley, S.J., “If the present system for the selection of bishops is not addressed, all other attempts at serious reform will founder and ever greater numbers of Catholics will move towards alienation, disinterest, and affective schism.”

Subsidiarity

Finding effective ways to give expression to the principle of subsidiarity in the church’s life would be another important step toward reform of the way the Catholic Church exercises authority. The principle of subsidiarity means that larger social bodies should not take over decisions that are the responsibilities of smaller groups or associations. It has its roots in the writings of 19th-century social thinkers in France and Germany and first appears in Roman Catholic social teaching in Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (1931).

While subsidiarity is presumed as a principle in Catholic social teaching, there is some debate as to whether or not it applies also to the government of the church. Pope Pius XII twice stated that it did. He said that the principle was valid “also for the life of the church without prejudice to its hierarchical structure.” The Second Vatican Council, however, did not follow his lead in this respect. The preface to the revised Code of Canon Law (1983) referred to it, but the code’s failure to develop the consequences of subsidiarity and its emphasis upon the power of the pope, at the expense of the bishops, has contributed to a recentering of decision-making authority in Rome.

The Synod of Bishops

Another structure badly in need of reform is the international Synod of Bishops. Many judge the synods to be ineffective. According to Michael Fahey, S.J., editor of Theological Studies, the structure of their sessions has become unwieldy; they have become rituals with little practical impact on the life of the church. The synod process might be improved considerably by giving the bishops more voice in preparing its agenda, relaxing the rule of secrecy, revising the reporting process, expanding the membership and giving the bishops a greater voice in preparing the synod’s final report.

Still, the synod has considerable potential. It provides the bishops with an international forum to raise problems facing the church, should they choose to use it for that purpose. Even if the synod’s are not deliberative, they carry a moral authority that the pope cannot afford to ignore.

These are only a few of the reform measures that have been recently proposed and ought to be seriously considered. Others include: ordaining married men to the priesthood, reform of the Roman curia, returning to the ancient practice of binding a bishop to his see, strengthening the powers of national and regional episcopal conferences, and re-examining the role played by the college of cardinals in the government of the church, including papal elections.

Sexual Abuse in Church and Society

Perhaps the greatest good that might come out of the sexual abuse crisis is a sustained focus on the evil of sexual abuse of young people not just in the church, but in society in general. No other institution has undergone the intense scrutiny focused on the Catholic Church in the United States in the last 15 years. The same kind of examination of instances of the sexual abuse of young people in the universal church has not been done. It is not a problem merely in the United States, Canada and Ireland. This issue needs to be addressed at the highest levels of the church, that is, by Rome.

But the sexual abuse of young people is not just a Catholic problem. The Christian Science Monitor reported on April 5, 2002, that most American churches being hit with child sexual-abuse allegations are Protestant, and most of the alleged abusers are not members of the clergy or staff, but church volunteers. Though comparative data is not readily available, there are indications that this is not just a problem in the church. For example, the Gallup Organization reported that 1.3 million children were sexually assaulted in 1995. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems found that for the year 2001, approximately 903,000 children were victims of child maltreatment, 10 percent of whom (or 90,000) were sexually abused. Most instances of abuse take place in families, where it remains a hidden but very real problem. According to Dr. Garth A. Rattray, “about 85 percent of the offenders [of child sexual abuse] are family members, babysitters, neighbors, family friends or relatives.”

Very disturbing reports on public schools are also surfacing. The Catholic League cited in 2003 a little noticed report in The New York Post estimating that “in New York City alone, at least one child is sexually abused by a school employee every day,” and 60 percent of those accused in the New York City schools were transferred to desk jobs at district offices located inside the schools. Of these, 40 percent are repeat offenders. The report blamed efforts by the United Federation of Teachers to protect teachers at the expense of students. Another article said that teachers accused of sexual misconduct cannot be fired under New York State law. The draft of a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, written in response to a requirement in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, concludes that the issue “is woefully understudied” and that solid national data on its prevalence are sorely needed. Yet despite the limitations of the existing research base, the scope of the problem appears to far exceed the priest abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, according to Charol Shakeshaft, the Hofstra University scholar who prepared the report. She said the best data available suggest that nearly 10 percent of American students are targets of unwanted sexual attention by public school employees—ranging from sexual comments to rape—at some point during their school-age years.

While representatives of the National Educational Association have criticized the report, Shakeshaft says that in her understanding the report was to lay the groundwork for a broad national study of sexual abuse in schools. But last May she was told to retool the report, and officials say they have no more plans at the moment to study the issue.

The point here is not to mitigate the responsibility of the church, but to emphasize again the pervasive nature of the problem of the sexual abuse of young people in our society. One positive outcome of the present crisis might be to ensure that this problem is lifted up and addressed, not just in the church, but also in society.

Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., is the T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Calif.

Comments

Hal Albergo | 10/25/2004 - 1:06pm
After reading intently "Where Do We Go From Here" (October 18th, 2004) by Rev. Thomas P. Rausch S.J. Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University, I am prompted to recommend that "theologians" start applying the principles of "Contemporary THeology"in helping us rsolve current church problems.

Contemprary Theology starts with the current situation and experience (for example, inadequate accountability in Church governance) and in searching back to the scriptures and catholic tradition, examine "How the problem situation" was dealt with in the past, (as examples, parable of the silver pieces (Mathew 25: 14-30), and use of effective pastoral and finance councils with active participation of the laity-Vatican Two council; and thereby gaining in the process, insight and wisdom, "how to solve today's problems" no matter how complex they might seem.

As Catholics we believe the scriptures contain the inspired word of God, the source of all truth. The more we know Jesus, the more we love him and want to resemble him.

Mary Pitcher | 10/22/2004 - 11:12am
Rausch asks two important questions in this article. What good, if any, might come from the present crisis? Where do we go from here?

Since I am not a theologian, I’m not sure I can critique whether Rausch’s comments on the reform of the structures of the church answer these questions. However, for over two years I have been working in the trenches with the human survivors of clerical abuse, the Martyrs of this Reformation. I have learned something about them and about the people in the pews.

Yes, Rausch is correct: sexual abuse within the church did not happen in a bubble separate from the society as a whole. Yes, this institution may be undergoing the most intense scrutiny of any institution in history. However, Rausch does not answer the questions: What good might come from the crisis? And where do we go from here?

The only way good can come from this or we can move forward, is if we actually repent and reconcile. For this to occur, the whole story must be exposed. The real story is that we are all responsible. We all allowed these horrible crimes to happen, in our name and on our watch.

The people in the pews as well as the church employees, the sisters, the priests, the bishops and the pope, must all listen to the words of these martyrs from their own mouths. We must listen to their hurt, anguish and anger. Only then can we, in own words and in our own hearts, truly apologize and make amends.

But so far, most people are not opening their hearts or ears. We are sitting in the pews allowing the bishops to tell us they are doing everything that can be done. Why do we believe them now? They have lied to us for at least decades, if not centuries about this issue.

And, even more important, it is our obligation to repent. The bishops and the perpetrators are not the only ones who have done wrong. We have too.

NO, this work of reconciliation cannot be left up to the bishops. The people in the pews must take responsibility themselves. Invite survivors to speak at our churches. Ask your neighbors to listen. Once we have heard the stories, as a community, we must then allow these stories to change who we are as individuals and as a community.

And then as individuals and as a community, we must take steps to make amends. What these steps are, is not completely clear.

I just know that as a church, a people of God, we start by listening.

Eugene Bova | 2/19/2007 - 7:12pm
The articles by Archbishop Harry Flynn and Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., (10/18), and Archbishop Francis Hurley’s letter (11/8), dealing with the “one strike and you’re out” approach to pedophile priests, clearly state many important considerations.

One not addressed is the culpability of any bishop or religious superior who, despite understanding that there is a significant degree of recidivism among pedophiles, regardless of the quality of treatment, returns a pedophile priest to active ministry.

If that reinstated priest commits another act of pedophilia, then the bishop or superior is the “proximate cause” of a grave sin and is also guilty of a grave sin. Sanctions similar to those proposed by some for “proximate cause” pro-choice politicians might be an appropriate response.

Likewise, an act of pedophilia is statutory rape in criminal law. The bishop or superior should be considered an “accomplice before the fact,” subject to civil action for that felony.

(Most Rev.) Francis T. Hurley<BR>Archbishop Emeritus | 2/19/2007 - 6:17pm
The Oct. 18 issue of America carries two thought-provoking articles: “What Has the Charter Accomplished?” by Archbishop Harry Flynn, and “Where Do We Go From Here?” by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J. Those pose the questions, where are we and where are we headed? The “we” is generically the church in the United States and in particular the Catholic bishops. The articles might be called a glimpse of history in the making, a presentation of perspectives. I offer some further perspectives.

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has indeed accomplished much, as Archbishop Flynn details. But I question his perspective about speed and haste. It was speedily written but hastily approved. The time for discussion was very limited in Dallas. Much of its content had not been adequately discussed in previous general meetings, particularly the handling of priest abusers and what became eventually the coverup in the reassignment of guilty priests. But more proximately we bishops did not give adequate attention to all of the three points made by Pope John Paul II in his address to the cardinals at their hastily called meeting in Rome. Two points were covered: the expelling of priest abusers from active ministry and the consciousness of the bishops’ actions having a positive influence on society in general, where sexual abuse of the young is a major blight.

But the Holy Father’s first point was not discussed in any way that would have an influence on the overall discussion. Pope John Paul stated: “You are working to establish more reliable criteria to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated. At the same time we cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, the radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change.”

That gets to the very heart of reconciliation of everyone. The discussion in Dallas about zero tolerance for priest offenders was not adequately discussed there. Indeed, the discussion was cut off by a motion and vote from the floor. Such a vote was in order and had to be respected. But it is my opinion that it catered to an aspect of haste which sidetracked any discussion of zero tolerance for those past offenders who over many years of priestly ministry demonstrated that they did “turn away from sin and back to God” and did reflect in their lives that they had gone through an extraordinary personal change, thanks to the power of the grace of God.

Frequently, lay Catholics who have lost a good priest because of abuse that happened years ago ask, “Do not the bishops believe in forgiveness, conversion of soul and reconciliation?”

Archbishop Flynn makes a distinction between forgiveness of sin and the consequences of sin. He is clear that every sin can be forgiven, but on consequences he simply says that expulsion from ministry and possibly the priesthood is one consequence. But it is a consequence for reformed and reclaimed priests because the bishops say so.

Therein is another consequence: priests who feel abandoned by their bishop, priests who now have no trust in their bishop, priests who feel they cannot turn to their bishop on anything personal or spiritual.

Where do we go from here? The tone of Archbishop Flynn’s article is not encouraging. He seems to discourage any amendment of the charter on zero tolerance, even the narrow consideration of the plight of reformed priest abusers. He sounds this note especially in citing the thinking of the National Review Board that “for the immediate future” this policy “is essential for the restoration of the trust of the laity in the leadership of the Church, provided it is appropriately applied.”

With all due respect for the very good contributions of the National Review Board, I fail to see zero tolerance as essential to restoring trust. What we should recognize is that zero tolerance, in being applied indiscriminately to all past offenders, has cre

Hal Albergo | 10/25/2004 - 1:06pm
After reading intently "Where Do We Go From Here" (October 18th, 2004) by Rev. Thomas P. Rausch S.J. Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University, I am prompted to recommend that "theologians" start applying the principles of "Contemporary THeology"in helping us rsolve current church problems.

Contemprary Theology starts with the current situation and experience (for example, inadequate accountability in Church governance) and in searching back to the scriptures and catholic tradition, examine "How the problem situation" was dealt with in the past, (as examples, parable of the silver pieces (Mathew 25: 14-30), and use of effective pastoral and finance councils with active participation of the laity-Vatican Two council; and thereby gaining in the process, insight and wisdom, "how to solve today's problems" no matter how complex they might seem.

As Catholics we believe the scriptures contain the inspired word of God, the source of all truth. The more we know Jesus, the more we love him and want to resemble him.

Mary Pitcher | 10/22/2004 - 11:12am
Rausch asks two important questions in this article. What good, if any, might come from the present crisis? Where do we go from here?

Since I am not a theologian, I’m not sure I can critique whether Rausch’s comments on the reform of the structures of the church answer these questions. However, for over two years I have been working in the trenches with the human survivors of clerical abuse, the Martyrs of this Reformation. I have learned something about them and about the people in the pews.

Yes, Rausch is correct: sexual abuse within the church did not happen in a bubble separate from the society as a whole. Yes, this institution may be undergoing the most intense scrutiny of any institution in history. However, Rausch does not answer the questions: What good might come from the crisis? And where do we go from here?

The only way good can come from this or we can move forward, is if we actually repent and reconcile. For this to occur, the whole story must be exposed. The real story is that we are all responsible. We all allowed these horrible crimes to happen, in our name and on our watch.

The people in the pews as well as the church employees, the sisters, the priests, the bishops and the pope, must all listen to the words of these martyrs from their own mouths. We must listen to their hurt, anguish and anger. Only then can we, in own words and in our own hearts, truly apologize and make amends.

But so far, most people are not opening their hearts or ears. We are sitting in the pews allowing the bishops to tell us they are doing everything that can be done. Why do we believe them now? They have lied to us for at least decades, if not centuries about this issue.

And, even more important, it is our obligation to repent. The bishops and the perpetrators are not the only ones who have done wrong. We have too.

NO, this work of reconciliation cannot be left up to the bishops. The people in the pews must take responsibility themselves. Invite survivors to speak at our churches. Ask your neighbors to listen. Once we have heard the stories, as a community, we must then allow these stories to change who we are as individuals and as a community.

And then as individuals and as a community, we must take steps to make amends. What these steps are, is not completely clear.

I just know that as a church, a people of God, we start by listening.