Scandal, Coverup, and What is to be Learned about Catholicism

The deep and ongoing scandal of sexual abuse and its coverup in the Roman Catholic Church raises the most uncomfortable of theological questions: What does sexual abuse say about Catholicism itself, about the Catholic Church itself? And how do those who are or were affiliated with Catholicism live our responses to these questions?

This is an uncomfortable set of questions for at least two reasons: (1) Those who love, or once loved, their faith and their church often find it painful and disorienting to release or unlearn that love; (2) To even raise the question, much less to formulate possible answers that might make sense here and now, frequently risks retaliation in its many Catholic forms -- for lay ministers, for women, for religious, for priests, for theologians, for Catholic school teachers, and for bishops. Those who want a fearless and searching account of Catholic identity in face of all we have learned about Catholic power are often left on their own for answers.

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I have no simple answers but want to raise the significance of the quandary, and indeed to propose a sharpening of the theological question. I think a key theological question is: What is it about Catholicism that has allowed abuses of many kinds to be propagated and covered up, and what are the ethical, religious and spiritual possibilities remaining for all of us who have, in whatever way, benefited from the Catholic structures and practices of power implicated in the abuse and coverup scandal?

I believe that one reason these kinds of theological questions are likely to have a new and perhaps permanent force among those who do or once did identify as Catholic is that an increasing percentage of Catholics are educated adults, and will not be made to be the kind of intellectually docile religious persons that older authority structures shaped people to be. The sexual abuse and coverup scandal, what I called in 2002 in America magazine our "Catholic Watergate," has become intensely public, now for almost a decade, at precisely the same time that more Catholics than ever claim the freedom of their own intellectual and spiritual life to make decisions about their religious and spiritual identity and practices. 

There are and will be those who say the official Catholic Church is right and trustworthy no matter what, and there are and will be those who say that they do not recognize true Catholicism in what the Catholic Church has actually become. But who can read the detailed reports of any single searing episode of abuse and coverup and not be changed by it?

One crucial theological question today is: what does such change portend for Catholicism, for faith, spirituality, and religion? Or to return to my basic questions: What does sexual abuse and coverup say about Catholicism itself, about the Catholic Church itself? And how do those who are or were affiliated with Catholicism live our responses to these questions?

I would say that there is no way to know the answers to these questions right now, but I would also suggest that one contribution that theologians can make to this cultural moment, to this remarkable era of the public implosion of Catholic credibility and the profound confrontation with the realities of traumatizing pastoral structures and their accompanying theological rationalizations, is to begin to trace possible answers to these questions. I am trying to begin to do so here. For this work, theologians will need to pay even more discerning attention to everyday life, and will need models of calibrating everyday faith that are suited to this cultural moment. Whatever else happens, I would say, theologians must be about shaping thinking and forming persons with a passion for the truth and the courage and capacities to attempt to tell it about their own lives and institutions.

Tom Beaudoin
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

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7 years 6 months ago
Yes, the mismanagement (and worse) of Catholic bishops should be looked at and corrected; however, what America bloggers are loath to do is actually look at the roots of the crisis - i.e. at the actual priests and at the terribly high rate of homosexual acts of abuse (80% of victims being boys in their teens, not children, according to the John Jay Report).

America mag avoids this topic because it implicates their mentality and the liberal trends in the Church and sexual revolution outside the Church during the 60s and 70s that produced and formed these disorded and homosexually oriented priests.
7 years 6 months ago
"I am no longer willing to do that or to park my brain at the door when I arrive to hear the Word proclaimed or to celebrate Eucharist."

No one is calling for you to "park your brain at the door" - and the idea that faithful do so (or that the Church expects such a thing) is merely an ideological ad hominem against those who do not agree with the leftist "liberation" agenda that you outline.

Read some of Benedict's writings and see if you "park your brain at the door"...
Anne Chapman
7 years 6 months ago
Brett misstates the findings of the John Jay commission - a misstatement that has bene propogated throughout the conservative Catholic community and is repeated as if it were true. Brett says: ''John Jay reports that 80% of abuse was not against children, but against young men by homoseuxally oriented priests.''

Now perhaps Brett thinks that boys 13 and younger are ''men.''  As the mother of three boys, now young men), I beg to differ.  John Jay reports in the Cleric survey that 60.1% of the victims were 13 years old and younger.  These boys were boys - prepubescent.  Another 13.2% were 14 years old. Almost 15% of the victims were 10 and younger, but few children that age are alone with priests very much - too young to be altar servers or otherwise hang around the rectory without parents. Middle school aged boys were the prime target and satisfied the criteria - still children, but more accessible than their younger sibs. Older boys (15-17 who were 26.7% of the victims) are more sophisticated - a little more savvy than middle-school aged boys - and physically, they are mostly post-pubescent, unlike most boys 13 and younger. By mid to late teens, few of these older boys are still altar servers and are less exposed to priests and to manipulation by priest/perverts.  Most alter servers and ''helpers'' and participants in various programs at church are middle school boys, children who became the most frequent target of the priests.  They are unsophisticated, don't know a lot about sex, still fearful of disobeying authority and ''afraid to tell'' - especially when threatened by the priest.  And they are still  children.  The conservatives continuously try to minimize the horror of these crimes by implying that they weren't pedophilia at all. Some pedophiles prefer girl victims and some prefer boy victims, but they are still pedophiles.

Another commentator said this: ''DSM-IV defines a pedophile as someone with recurrent sexual desires for prepubescent children “generally aged 13 or younger.” The American Pediatric Society actually says that for males the onset of puberty–not its conclusion–usually occurs between the ages of 10 and 14.''  Few boys reach puberty before 14, just as few girls do. They are still physically (and mentally and emoitonally) children.

David Smith:  Could you pleae clarify this - ''And as I understand it, we believe in forgiveness, not in eternal punishment, or in punishment simply to make the perpetrator suffer, or in punishment to make the individual's family suffer.''

Forgiveness is entirely appropriate. However, legal justice for those who commit crimes and for those who hid the crimes is also appropriate, is it not?
7 years 6 months ago
"don't you see that the evolution of the demise and corruption in the Church happened at the result of the dissent of Her priests and Bishops?"

No actually, I don't see that, at least in the parade of horribles you portray.  The history of the church is one of clerical corruption.  Look at the great "reformer" saints: Benedict, Catherine of Siena, St. Dominic, Francis, Charles Borromeo...etc.  Clerical corruption has existed for centures, well before 1968.  Moreover, the most stalwart defender of Humane is at least partly to blame for propping up perhaps one of the greatest sham artists of all time.  John Paul II (whom I'm love and admire) turned a blind eye to reams of evidence against Marciel Maciel.  Do you think Card. Law ( no dissident he I think you would agree) acted as a responsible shephard in handling abuse claims? I'm afraid the lines are not drawn as boldly as you would portray them.
ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
Brett says  'I sure get tired of it'... And  We are tired of the triumphalist church you so often defend. And we won't leave it either, because we own it as inherited shareholders. we own the controlling share too. not you and the family less clergy.  
7 years 6 months ago
"we own the controlling share too. not you and the family less clergy."

This is exactly what I am talking about - you do not "own" the Church, the Communion of Saints, the Body of Christ - you belong to it, as do all those who have already died.

It is not all about you Ed - or your modern, liberal politics. 

PS - the younger generation is coming up and we are faithful to the Church...

7 years 6 months ago
@ MAria #78

Suffice it to say I completely disagree with your characertization of how "the Bishops of the Church" have acted.  I respect your enthusiasm and new-found faith; but there are some of us (who are not card-holding members of Call to Action or who use artificial contraception) who are completely de-moralized and scandalized by the actions not only of individual priests who broke their vows, but the ineptitude and wilfull ignorance of some bishops in addressing this problem.  There are certainly some who would use this abuse crisis to wage a proxy revolution to re-make the Church in the way they think best, usually in the form of some utopian Native American tribal society that has never existed nor will ever exist this side of Eden.  Reform must be in accordance with the Church (the revolutionary never remembers that the romance of revolt leads inexorably to the Star Chamber and the Gulag).  But, just as those efforts are out of bounds, it seems a reflexive defensiveness about the need for reform is equally as unuseful, at least in part because it betrays a lack of understanding about the nature of the problem.
Juan Lino
7 years 6 months ago
I took a few days to reflect on Tom’s two questions - What does sexual abuse and cover-up say about Catholicism itself, about the Catholic Church itself?  And how do those who are or were affiliated with Catholicism live our responses to these questions? - and here is the fruit of my reflection.
 
First, no Catholic Christian should be surprised that there is filth in the Church for Our Lord Himself told us that this would be so in the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30).  So it’s no surprise that the Church is full of sinners, sinners who commit grave sin.  And yes, some who claim to follow Christ commit evil and everything possible must be done to stem the evil and to make amends for that pain generated by that evil.
 
Second, what truly saddens me, however, is that there are many within the Church herself, those who should know better, that are once again attempting to create a Christianity without Christ.  But if we forget Christ, if we do away with the wholly different measure that He introduces into the world now, through the Church, then we no longer have the terms on which to judge the Church.
 
Finally, do we believe that - alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity - there is something (or better, Someone) greater than sin, something radically greater than sin?  Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil?  Something that has the power to forgive even the greatest of sins, and to bring forth good even from the most terrible evil?
 
And so, to address Tom’s questions directly I would say that what the sexual abuse and cover-up says about Catholicism itself, about the Catholic Church itself?  I’d say that it’s a sign that we’ve lost our sense of wonder in front of the Truth- which for us is a Person and not a concept.  
 
And how do those who are or were affiliated with Catholicism live our responses to these questions?  I propose that we cultivate a theology that embraces both metanoia and wonder.
Chris Sullivan
7 years 6 months ago
The German Catholic theologians made a very important contribution to this discussionlast week.  I suggest that an analysis and discussion of their proposals would be very helpful.

God Bless
Bill Mazzella
7 years 6 months ago
You can start with Augustine who defended anything Catholic and condemned all outside the Catholic mantle. Augustine forced others to come into the Catholic fold and declared that all was well as long as  you were in the Catholic fold. This is the central problem with the Western church and why Catholic historians justified lying about church history and why church officials insisted that what we saw was untrue. Rather it was what the clergy pronounced was untrue. The gall in the bishop's coverup shows this clearly. It is what the bishops declare it to be not what any court says it is.
Jack Barry
7 years 6 months ago
Similarly important questions are being raised widely about celibacy, contraception, and other issues.  While it seems to make sense to focus on one problem and try to make progress, the approach fails with the realization that these are interrelated symptoms of a more profound disorder.  

The fundamental problem is described by Richard Sipe in a recent lecture.   Sipe identifies six issues related to sexuality that are drawing current attention although none is new.  Significantly, their roots in the institutional Church are intertwined.   He makes clear that they reflect a common underlying outlook embedded in the Church's approach to human sexuality in teachings, organizational structure, control approaches, and communication.    Problem areas include uninformed, incredible teachings on human sexuality, homosexuality in teachings and clerical practice, sex as sin, sex within marriage, mandatory celibacy, and sexual abuse of minors by clergy.  
http://www.richardsipe.com/Lectures/2010-05-20-boston.html

One powerful conclusion shown by Sipe's discussion is that no one issue like child sexual abuse or contraception can be isolated and resolved because attempts to do so would bring down the whole house of cards.   Efforts to isolate one cause of sexual abuse and exclude others can be viewed as signs of awareness of the interconnectedness and attempts to escape from it.   Yet, given the overwhelming need  by the hierarchy (and like-minded laity) to project a particular Church image and notion of moral authority, supported by recourse to ''As the Church has always taught….'', any prospect of major change becomes an intolerable threat and is contested.   The central question at present is whether those appointed by the Church to be teachers are able to learn enough for the institution to survive more or less as many Catholics hope. 
 In the perspective of millennia, the Church's road to sexual abuse is marked by milestones like St. Peter Damian's Book of Gomorrah (1049) and Pope Pius V's decree Horrendum (1568).  Millstones as prescribed by Jesus have been notably lacking.  Perhaps the recent arrest of a monsignor criminally indicted for his role in abuse coverup will stimulate a new level of hierarchical attention. 
7 years 6 months ago
Minimizations, such as the post of Mr. Smith, are genuinely unhelpful.
It is clear that in many instances, clergy think they operate in a different standard from the rest of us.
Clericalism has often been pointed to as part of this problem, which then leads to obfuscations and denials about the issue.
I also think the points raised by Mr. Barry are well taken and there appears to be a need for a far healthier and mature loks at sexuality in the Church across the board.
Anne Chapman
7 years 6 months ago
Perhaps the root of the problem goes way back - perhaps the Roman Catholic church lost its way centuries ago - at one time there was no ''Roman Catholic church'' - there was only Christianity.  Then came Constantine, and the church became ''Roman'' - perhaps at times more Roman than Christian.  The linkages to secular power led to allowing the same kinds of corruption seen in the political realm to creep into the church - secrecy, favoritism, absolute loyalty to a monarch, a monarch and a court that were not answerable to civil law, not even answerable to their own people. It cemented a hierarchichal structure much like that of the empire.  It adopted many of the same ways of operating - and began participating in wars, heresy trials and executions, etc, etc.  It built palaces for its ''monarch'' - the pope, and for its ''princes'' - the cardinals, still called ''princes'' by the church and the bishops - and lavished itself with material wealth. A recent cardinal from the US is a particular scandal - literally choosing to wear clothing involving the most expensive materials, and yards and yards of silk, with photos taken on a throne, while surrounding himself with his court, who had followed behind him in procession, carrying his train.  Doesn't bring forward too many images of the poor carpenter and his the equally poor fishermen, does it?  It does look like thousands of portraits of midaevil kings, however.  The Roman church even had the arrogance to "sell" God's mercy to pay for those palaces when it decided to sell ''indulgences.''  It ruled as a civilian power over much of what is now Italy. It condoned slavery if the victims were not baptized Christians, and it blessed the voyages to get gold and silver treasure in the new world, as long as the church received a share of it. It sought military alliances to protect its landholdings and power.  It also ruled over a populace that was almost totally uneducated, ignorant, and superstititous.  It was far easier to keep people in the fold under those circumstances than to keep a modern, educated western population in a state of unquestioning obedience to these men. 

Yet many struggled throughout history, and still struggle today, to hold onto the core - to hold onto the part of the church that is Christian in spite of the part that is Roman.  But because the leadership still clings to its ancient power-model in terms of demanding unquestioning loyalty of its bishops to Rome, in terms of demanding secrecy in order to protect the organization,THE church suffers - the scandal may be what finally leads the church out of the darkness of the middle ages, in spite of Rome's efforts to take it back as fast as possible.  You ask good questions in this article - what does this say about the Roman Catholic church?  ''Rome'' (the power structure of the church) needs to finally purge itself of its love of power, prestige, and possessions (as Richard Rohr has summarized it.) It needs to do penance. It often seems that it needs to read both the ten commandments and the gospels, because the modus operandi still, after almost 1700 years, is too often more closely aligned with that of empire than that of Christ.  The examen is centuries overdue, and is critical to the future of the church.  The time for whitewashing and making excuses (the church has always had corruption is one that is often given - unbelievable!), for trying to put blame everywhere but on those responsible for protecting criminal behaviour (the bishops and Rome) is over.  It's time for the church to come clean, to repent, to do penance, and to remember that this church was founded by Christ and not by a Roman emperor.
sheila dierks
7 years 6 months ago

One of the wonderful gifts of contemporary theology is that we (re)learn that our lives, our stories, are linked intimately to the journey story of the Church, and that our journeys are the gift of the Creative Divine.  Each story a part of the building up of the kindom.
So... as we address in anguish once again the role of abuse in the Roman community, I need to acknowledge once again that I experienced from the age of five onward a definite invitation to priesthood and its ministry.  Simultaneously, I was informed in my school and in my church, that not only could girls not be ordained, but that there was something really wrong with a little girl who wanted it.  I learned profoundly that I was less loved by Church, and that the Spirit speaking in me (insistently) could not be believed. This was abuse based on gender, that is, sexual abuse, casually handed out by church, school, Catholic cultural environment.

Long before young children are physically sexually abused, they must be devalued, must be taught that they are less worthy.  It goes on still.  Without ceasing.
The early seeds of it are planted in the pastoral epistles when women were forced to resume the subservient positions of the Roman society, and when slaves were tolerated. Not only has the institution not resisted this, they have cynically profited from it.
The ongoing ordination of women (at least into the 1100's, historically uncovered, yet still denied by the Church,) is a flag of hope that not at all times and not in all places was the gender-wounding denial of women's priesthood in service to the community, practiced.  And it has begun again.
The invitation continued and I was ordained in 2009.  Sixty years it took and a tremendous relearning that I can free myself and all women can free themselves of the blind sex abuse of the Roman Church.  This liberation is into the service of the the people of God, and still an unfolding of the journey.
sheila dierks
7 years 6 months ago

One of the wonderful gifts of contemporary theology is that we (re)learn that our lives, our stories, are linked intimately to the journey story of the Church, and that our journeys are the gift of the Creative Divine.  Each story a part of the building up of the kindom.
So... as we address in anguish once again the role of abuse in the Roman community, I need to acknowledge once again that I experienced from the age of five onward a definite invitation to priesthood and its ministry.  Simultaneously, I was informed in my school and in my church, that not only could girls not be ordained, but that there was something really wrong with a little girl who wanted it.  I learned profoundly that I was less loved by Church, and that the Spirit speaking in me (insistently) could not be believed. This was abuse based on gender, that is, sexual abuse, casually handed out by church, school, Catholic cultural environment.

Long before young children are physically sexually abused, they must be devalued, must be taught that they are less worthy.  It goes on still.  Without ceasing.
The early seeds of it are planted in the pastoral epistles when women were forced to resume the subservient positions of the Roman society, and when slaves were tolerated. Not only has the institution not resisted this, they have cynically profited from it.
The ongoing ordination of women (at least into the 1100's, historically uncovered, yet still denied by the Church,) is a flag of hope that not at all times and not in all places was the gender-wounding denial of women's priesthood in service to the community, practiced.  And it has begun again.
The invitation continued and I was ordained in 2009.  Sixty years it took and a tremendous relearning that I can free myself and all women can free themselves of the blind sex abuse of the Roman Church.  This liberation is into the service of the the people of God, and still an unfolding of the journey.
Tom Maher
7 years 6 months ago
It is a blessing and a curse that the Catholic church is the world's largest and most long-lived bureaucracy.  We are human beings not spirits so we must organize into large scale human groups, organizations or bureaucracies such as the Catholic church to be able to perform the church's worldwide and larger-scale missions on an on-going basis as commanded by Christ.

Christ commands us to go out and baptize all nations and make the Gospel known to everyone in the world.  This is a hugh mission that far exceeds the capacity of any individual or small group.  How can an individual or small group go out to all nations and engage with everyone?  A larger organization such as the church is needed to maintain and spread the reign of Christ.  Of course the church's mission must continue in the United State as it should in all the world.  The church's mission is not our individual choice.  As individuals we can ignore the church's mission but the church's mission will still exists.   Individuals need to recognize their essential role in supporting the church in continuing it's mission.

But being a human organization means that the church has the capacity to fail and to fail big as well as to be quite annoying and dysfunctional generally for long periods of time as it repairs itself.  It does not have to be annoying and dysfuctional all the time but it definitely does have the inherent flaws of all human organizations to fail for long periods of time.  Long-term systemic failure is the curse of large scale human bureacracy such as the church that goes along with the blessing of its ability to accomplish large-scale human goals.  It will be awhile before the church fully adapts, recongnizes and understand the extent and nature of the sexual preditors problem in the church and then does something appropraite to deal effectively with the problem without doing other harm such as not fully continuing the church's mission. 
Stephen SCHEWE
7 years 6 months ago
All institutions, including schools, businesses, hospitals and churches, have a natural tendency to hide mistakes to avoid embarrassment or liability. In public institutions, this natural tendency is countered by institutional transparency: open decision making and outside oversight.  In the church, hiding mistakes has been reinforced by the urge to avoid a public scandal that would harm the faith of the people, although the experience of the past ten years has shredded that rationale forever.

One theological imperative towards transparency is the light shining out of darkness, but there are troubling scriptures that exempt the ministry from judgment by any other than the Lord (e.g., 1 Corinthians 4: 1-6). The early church depended instead on lived examples of apostolic humility.  A second theological remedy to a compromised, unaccountable church has been the journey into the desert.  John the Baptist, Jesus, Anthony the hermit and the founders of the religious orders attempted purification through ascetic living and suffering. They witnessed from the desert to others of a radical faith that challenged established religious orders. 

Unlike public institutions, the Catholic Church does not have the systems or values to support a culture of transparency. Diocesan newspapers do not have independent editorial boards.  Financial statements are not regularly audited or disclosed.  Governance is restricted to the clergy.  So shining a light on an institution that prefers to operate in secret is difficult.  On the other hand, the desert is always there.  What would it look like for people of faith to go to the desert today?

ed gleason
7 years 6 months ago
Steve Schewe has the answer to survival in this present meltdown. "A second theological remedy to a compromised, unaccountable church has been the journey into the desert."
My wife and I have fled to an inner city parish, just blocks from the Archdiocesan chancery but light years away from the institutional blindness. The desert and the inner city have the same reality, in being able to see the Spirit sitting among the hard rocks.
http://thegubbioproject.org/video.html 
William Wilson
7 years 6 months ago
I am a nearly 75-year-old Catholic layman. I am hanging on to my allegiance to the Roman Church by my fingernails, a disillusionment brought to full bloom by the pedophile scandal, the refusal of Rome to admit women to full membership including ordination, Rome's medieval attitude toward marriage and sexuality, the denial of freedom of speech and thought, the clerical caste system's lack of accountability and openness, and the absolutist form of governance that has evolved since the time of Constantine.
We need a radical restructuring in which the official "church" renounces wealth, foreswears its dictatorial management practices, drops its Byzantine pomp and circumstance, and gives the laity our legitimate voice in choosing clergy, including bishops, as was the practice in the first centuries of christianity.
I was raised to "pay, pray and obey." I am no longer willing to do that or to park my brain at the door when I arrive to hear the Word proclaimed or to celebrate Eucharist. I also refuse to donate money in any way that leaves the bishop or pastor free to spend my money as they see fit. I tithe into the poor box weekly in the hope that my local parish is sufficiently honest to use my money for the truly poor.
7 years 6 months ago
Do the baby-boomers (and older) on here ever get tired of their trite "anti-authority" temper tantrums?  Probably not since it is the "Me" generation (why aren't they listening to me - forget 2000 years of tradition, I know best!!)

I sure get tired of it.
Livia Fiordelisi
7 years 6 months ago
Cut the crap about the "baby boomers," Brett. Continue to support rapists and excuse their accomplices if you'd like, it's your conscience.
7 years 6 months ago
Please, I can certainly have an opinion that boomers are a pampered, self-centered generation - I am not the only younger person who thinks so.

Enough with the ad hominems - I am not excusing rapists - author of the blog does not acknowledge that homosexual nature (and legal definition) of the vast majority of these attacks on young men because it would implicate liberal ideology and violate political correctness that is enforced on the culture.
CATHERINE GREEN MRS
7 years 6 months ago
To some, there is a need to categorize anything as either liberal or conservative.   

Jesus didnt talk about those did he?  I think there was something about a millstone.   
Anne Chapman
7 years 6 months ago
Brett seems to have a couple of little quirks - the first being a somewhat adolescent way of expressing his rebellion against his parent's generation (how old are you, anyway Brett?), along with his refusal to look at the reality of bishops hiding crimes and protecting criminal priests.  He is hung up on homosexuality and continously tries to divert the discussion to his own personal hangup, using ad hominems against those who are actually concerned about the fact that the leadership of the church hides criminals from the legal authorities - including homosexual priest pedophile criminals.  Few homosexuals are pedophiles, just as few heterosexuals are pedophiles.  However, it is  the celibacy requirement for Roman Catholic priests does provide a perfect cover for pedophiles, especially those who prefer boys to girls, as well as access and a potential victim population that has been taught from birth to respect and obey priests without question.  The Roman Catholic clergy offers all of this and more to pedophiles, and it is unsurprising that it attracts some pedophiles. It is well-known that pedophiles seek out jobs and volunteer opportunities that give them authority over children, almost unquestioning respect and trust from their parents, and access.  So all churches and religions, sports, schools etc that provide these things attract some pedophiles.  The RCC has an advantage that some of the other churches and religions, and secular environements don't have from the pedophile point of view - a mandatory celibacy requirement that frees Roman Catholic priests from suspicions arising because they are not married and do not date women.

But the primary issue most discuss on this board, and the one addressed in the blog post, is not the crimes themselves - which, as some frequently point out, occur throughout society, including in families - but the cover-up of the crimes.

 The issue is that the highest leadership of a church that claims to literally speak for God, whose priests literally claim to stand in persona christi have demonstrated a consistent, long-term - some say centuries or even millenia - pattern of secrecy and lying to hide the sexual sins of its priests. It is one thing when it is "only" a sin - consensual sex between adults, but it something else entirely when it involves pedophilia - which is a crime.  These crimes have caused sometimes irreperable harm to thousands and thousands of young people (how many suicides?  How many years in therapy?  How many ruined families?).  So the question that Brett and some others don't want to think about is this - the topic of the blog - ''Is there something inherant in church structure, in the way the institution is governed that has contributed to the secrecy culture that protects sexual criminals?''  ''Is there something in the clerical culture that shuts out all insight and input from the laity - who are THE church- that has contributed to this cancer that is eating away at the church?''

If the millenials or Gen Xs think that revulsion at the complicity of those who are self-proclaimed moral teachers in protecting the worst kind of sexual predators is  generational, and if Brett actually is representative of his own generation in this thinking (which, thankfully he is not), one would have to fear for the very soul of the church to come.  It appears that some give their fidelity to men and to institutions instead of to God and to the gospels.
Vince Killoran
7 years 6 months ago
Okay Brett, we get it: "the younger generation is coming up and we are faithful to the Church..."  You write this a lot on this blog. It's tiresome to read.

I'm not certain if your claim is true (to be sure, there IS a cohort-a minority-of young conservative Catholics) but are you just wishing the rest of us a speedy demise or trying to make another point? The young people of which you write are pleasant enough when I talk to them but they are shockingly narrow in their knowledge of our Faith, and their general insight into religion and its relationship to the world around them. On the other hand, there are plenty of 20- and 30-something Catholics who don't fit this mold.

Tom's core questions are powerful: "What does sexual abuse and coverup say about Catholicism itself, about the Catholic Church itself? And how do those who are or were affiliated with Catholicism live our responses to these questions?"

Being "fathful to the Church" does not entail circling the wagons around the entrenched hierarchy who are guilty of serious crimes against humanity.
Thomas Piatak
7 years 6 months ago
Mr. Schewe and Mr. Maher are exactly right about the way in which institutions run by human beings behave.    The fact that the Catholic Church has made mistakes in how it governs itself, including grievous ones such as this scandal, is proof that it is run by men; the fact that it has survived countless scandals in the past and still does enormous good througout the world today is proof that it was founded by the Son of God.
Crystal Watson
7 years 6 months ago
"What does sexual abuse and coverup say about Catholicism itself, about the Catholic Church itself? And how do those who are or were affiliated with Catholicism live our responses to these questions?"

What the abuse and the cover-up say to me about Catholicism/ the Catholic Church is that the institution is not really about helping people find the kingdom of God but about perpetuating its own power, whatever the consequences.

We seem to have so little power to make any changes in our church, this last western absolute monarchy, aside from leaving outright, or compartmentalizing:  keeping our religious life private from the hierarchical institution.  An example of this powerlessness is the steemroller implimaentation of  the new missal translation, despite so many lay people and  priests speaking up against it.  Another example might be the church's continuing move to canonize Pius XII despite so many, including Catholic and Jewish scholars, speaking up against it.

What I think would make a difference would be if the church put honesty and integrity and faith in human nature ahead of the desire to control others and to hold on to power .... if the church actually took seriously all that Jesus taught.  It might help to look toward the power structure of the Episcopal Church, which allows the laity some say.
7 years 6 months ago
Wow, a lot of bluster on here today. 

Mr. Smith & Mr. Joyce seem to object to faulting the hierarchy, viewing it as some kind of "anti-authoritarianism".  Certainly we as Catholics have, unalterably, a hierarchical Church, but that doesn't absolve errors and tragic omissions committed by individual members of the hierarchy.  And the authority of the Bishop extends only so far; to recognize limits on valid authority (or to object to its misuse) is not the same as "anti-authoritiarianism".  Apostolic authority does not, I think it fair to admit, extend to personnel decisions, even when those decisions are made on the basis of faulty psychological advice.  The Pope, as well as many bishops, has admitted the failures of the institutional Church, and these failures have caused a crisis of credibility, not only among non-Catholics, but most tragically among dedicated lay Catholics.  I fail to see how vicious name-calling and attacking these posts or dismissing these criticisms as the mis-placed whining of a selfish generation does anything to give greater witness to the beauty of the Church or the healing that must take place.  To acknowledge wounds and failures is not a sign of weakness or capitulation to a "hedonistic" ethos, but the most Catholic thing in the world.
Jack Barry
7 years 6 months ago
An old adage from the Rhetorician's Guild:   ''The ad hominem is the last refuge when one cannot think of anything to say that has anything to do with the subject at hand but cannot stand silence.   It is best saved for desperate situations since it wears out after three uses.   If forced to use one, make sure to pretend indignantly that it is a true fact.'' 
Jim McCrea
7 years 6 months ago
"PS - the younger generation is coming up and we are faithful to the Church..."

Threats will get you nowhere, Brett.
Jim McCrea
7 years 6 months ago
Authority resides in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence.  It rests neither on external legitimization nor on power but on trustworthiness, or in Augustine’s words, on truth.  Its purpose is to clarify and illuminate, i.e., to aid understanding, and its instrument is argument, not coercion.  The first question a Christian intellectual should ask is not "what should be believed" or "what should one think," but "whom should we trust?"  
Robert L. Wilken, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, The Christian Intellectual Tradition (article), First Things, June/July 1991.
Mark Harden
7 years 6 months ago
''power...powerlessness...power structures''

Robert George (sorry for extensive quote, this is not online for linking):



''This view of the Church and the authority of the Magisterium understands the life of the Church as essentially that of a political society that is managed by bureaucratic institutions. People who share it tend to view the papacy (together with the episcopate and the various Vatican congregations) as a concentration of power. Hence, they call for the radical democratization of ecclesiastical authority and the introduction of political-theoretical systems, such as checks and balances, to constrain power and soften its impact on those over whom it is exercised. However, this is contrary to the Church's own historical self-understanding and to the faith it informs. The Church is not primarily a bureaucratic institution though there are, to be sure, bureaucracies to carry out many of the Church's activities; nor is the papacy or the Magisterium a political office that exists primarily to carry out executive and legislative functions. Rather, the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God. The papacy and the episcopate were established by Christ himself, not to legislate, but to teach Christ's saving truths to his people. Contrary to its depiction in the secular media, the Magisterium does not ''ban'' abortion or contraception or homosexual activity; banning is a legislative act; rather, it teaches the truth that such acts are intrinsically immoral, contrary to Christ's saving truths, incompatible with the sharing of divine life. The Church does not ''make law'' on moral subjects; it teaches truth. In this, it is guided and protected by the Holy Spirit.
 
''Understanding the nature of the Church and its authority makes all the difference when it comes to issues of moral consequence. People who view the Church as essentially a political body and the Magisterium as a legislative office will chafe under the authority of decisions that strike them as restricting freedoms they enjoy. They will test these decisions by appeal to conscience - understood now, not as a judgment of what one is morally required to do or not do, but, rather, as one's feeling about whether a certain activity - abortion, premarital sex, or whatever - is in fact morally available for one's choice, the Church's teaching about the wrongfulness of that activity notwithstanding. By contrast, people who understand the essentially mystical reality of the Church and the function of the Magisterium as teacher of Christ's saving truths will adopt an attitude of humble - and grateful  submission to the Church's moral teachings, understanding those teachings as making known the mind of Christ and thus helping to make possible our salvation. Such people will treat these teachings as principles for the formation of their consciences . And, they will struggle to live in accordance with them.''
 
Mark Harden
7 years 6 months ago
"Authority resides..."

From Vatican II, Lumen gentium (my CAPS)

"For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, TEACHERS ENDOWED WITH THE AUTHORITY OF CHRIST, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith."

"Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and EVEN BY THEIR AUTHORITY and sacred power..."

The authority of the Bishops derives from Christ, not from the laity. This is the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council.
7 years 6 months ago
You'll not find too many proponents of Apostolic succession here, Mark.

"The Church is not primarily a bureaucratic institution though there are, to be sure, bureaucracies to carry out many of the Church's activities; nor is the papacy or the Magisterium a political office that exists primarily to carry out executive and legislative functions. Rather, the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, the people of God. The papacy and the episcopate were established by Christ himself, not to legislate, but to teach Christ's saving truths to his people". -George

Thanks, Mark. Can I get a witness?
Vince Killoran
7 years 6 months ago
Another issue debated on a regular basis on this blog.



"Teachers" and "authority," yes-but sensus fidelium and the central importance of individual conscience as well. 



How can the people who have poisoned the well now show up as the water inspectors?
charles jordan
7 years 6 months ago
On the whole, the issue is not that bishops and others who are called to serve the church instituted by Jesus have a responsibility to teach, govern, and sanctify. 

Rather, the issue is that the bishops fail in their office when they hide rapists and molestators of young people, as well as thieves, and otherwise abuse episcopal power. They fail when they lie to the People of God who are the Body of Christ which they head about the decisions that they make.  They fail when they do not admit and atone always for the wrongs which they and only they themselves have perpetrated upon that same Body.

That these issues are now part of our understanding of Church means that we, the People of God, who are the Body of Christ, must face our responsibility to also be priest, prophet, and king per our baptism, and sanctify, govern and teach the teaching church. That we must do this is self evident. The how of it is developing by the help of the Holy Spirit and a firm grasp of our ancient traditions of how and why the first Christians came together after the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bill Mazzella
7 years 6 months ago
Remember that Jesus harshly ciriticized the Scribes and Pharisees who were the bishops of his day. There is nothing wrong with a bishop leading when he does it according to the gospels. The people in the church can distinguish when someone walks the talk . If blind obedience is the mandate then Jesus certainly was a bad example because he criticized the authorities when they were into themselves and only cared about power and domination. 

Paul talked about building up the church. Part of building up the church is to demand that bishops live the gospel as well. The issue is living the gospel not obeying just because someone said so. Authority unchecked always leads to corruption and decay. Bishops are human and must strive to live up to thier office. Too often directives are given to cover up things rather than build up the church.

We have to work out our salvation toghether in fear and trembling. Together. One cannot mask a withdrawal from the gospel with absurd commands. Authority when  used for evil ends is the most damnable sin. That is why Jesus says those who mislead those in their charge will get a greater punishment. We can't ease our conscience by submitting to an authority that has forgotten the gospel. 
Crystal Watson
7 years 6 months ago
"The papacy and the episcopate were established by Christ himself:

Really?  I seem to have missed that NT memo.
7 years 6 months ago
Well, I didn't mean to cause such a stir with the baby-boomer comment - it was simply a reaction to a post that used the abuse crisis as a platform to then call for the acceptance of women-priests, homosexuality, and the usual left-leaning "reforms."  People can def. question the actions of certain bishops in good faith.

My point was simply that, yes, we should look at the issue of bishops and accountability; however, this is not the answer to the problem of abuse and is a mere "easy-out" or a scape goat - you also need to look at the abusers. 

The author can call for theological examination of the structure so that he can avoid looking at the liberal policies and priests of the 60s,70s that allowed for abuse to flurish. 

Look at this chart and tell me there is no connection:
http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/the-pattern-of-priestly-sex-abuse/

Traditional Catholics are willing to address the issue of bad bishops, it is the liberal Catholics that avoid looking at their own culpability - at the formation of liberal (theological/sexual) priests during this period and the abuse the resulted.

PS - homosexuality and child abuse are not the same thing, I agree - it is simply a fact that John Jay reports that 80% of abuse was not against children, but against young men by homoseuxally oriented priests.
Jack Barry
7 years 6 months ago
 I looked at the chart and am telling you there is no connection.  The chart is titled Reported Incidents. As you will find if you look into the voluminous data now available about and from abuse victims, it typically takes 20 to 30 or more years before most victims who do report are able to do so.  (Those who never report, we know nothing about.)  The slope on the left of the curve is strongly influenced by deaths.  The slope on the right is determined by the now well-known delays between abuse incidents and when, if ever, they are reported.  
7 years 6 months ago
Ok, but I disagree with you, Jack; there is ample evidence that there is a correlation between the moral decline and social upheval that occurred during the era of the sexual/cultural revolution in the US and the advent of abuse of this high level in the Church.

Vince Killoran
7 years 6 months ago
Brett keeps writing that "there is ample evidence that there is a correlation. . ."

I'd love to see that evidence.  In any case, correlation does not imply causation.
Molly Roach
7 years 6 months ago
My take on this is that there is no understanding in the RC tradition and in the present generation of bishops about healthy, relational sexuality.  Communicating tenderness, regard and affection are often misinterpreted in our ecclesial culture as manipulation, cynicism and neediness.   Something to be fixed.  And of course, without convictions regarding equality between women and men, there can be no mutuality.  A consequence of this is that women and children have been relegated to a little domestic netherworld.  Outside that context they seem to have become fair game for many different kinds of attention from silencing to rape.
Bill Mazzella
7 years 6 months ago
"The author can call for theological examination of the structure so that he can avoid looking at the liberal policies and priests of the 60s,70s that allowed for abuse to flurish. "

Brett, you give no evidence just your opinion and others. Please list the liberal priests who approved of sexual abuse of anyone. In fact too many of the abusers threatened the abused of damnation or worse if they told. That is not a liberal mantra. What you are repeating is an assumption that many have conclude without a shred of evidence. Just our of integrity you should cool it or come up with some solid facts. How often can you repeat the same thing without backup? 
Jack Barry
7 years 6 months ago
On a second reading of Tom Beaudoin's key question, ''remaining'' caught my eye: ''….what are the ethical, religious and spiritual possibilities remaining……?''  He's right.  Because of changes that have already occurred and others irreversibly in process, the Church can never go back to anything like what it was 15 or 50 years ago.  Some call for a return to values and practices of 2000 years ago; what that would mean on the streets today is unclear to me so far.    
 
We are not alone.   As Chris Sullivan noted (#2 above), on Feb 4, 143 German, Austrian and Swiss theologians issued a call for Church renewal.  They addressed participation by the faithful, parish community (including married priests and women in ordained ministry), legal culture, freedom of conscience, reconciliation (less ''self-righteous moral rigorism''), and worship.   Opposition from bishops and some laity was prompt.  Two German cardinals are at loggerheads in public.  The number of signers has grown to 237 in a week.   
http://www.memorandum-freiheit.de/?page_id=518   (English)
 
(It is worth noticing that we all could read their statement the hour it came out, in English thanks to Google, and see how it compared to various views in the US.   The age-old focus on the local bishop and local parish clergy as the authoritative face of the Church for most people and purposes is diffused by today's communications.  Clergy-free parishes in Belgium, Irish priests organized to reform the Church in Ireland and reconcile with their bishops, and married US priests (ex-clerics but priests forever) available on request would have been unimaginable a generation ago.  Now they are observable day to day.  Bishops would be in difficult straits today even if the sexual abuse tradition had never unravelled, given other changes surrounding them.)
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/world/europe/17iht-belgium.html
http://www.irishcatholic.ie/site/content/new-priests-reform-movement-launched
RENT A PRIEST- Married Priests: Sacramental Ministry & Pastoral Care.
 
The broad scope of the European theologians' call was noteworthy, analogous to the multifaceted view on the Church's human sexuality problem referred to in #4 above.  The key message in both cases is the same, that there is no one or two problems that can be isolated and resolved to restore some kind of equilibrium.   At the same time, there is no visible source of vision, courage, wisdom, and initiative adequate to take on the sets of interconnected problems for the broad institutional Church.   Thus, for the time being, numerous scattered efforts arise from Catholic faithful pursuing ''ethical, religious and spiritual possibilities''.   What this will lead to over the next decade or two is hard for me to imagine.  
7 years 6 months ago
Anne, I am not trying to minimize anything; it is you would is trying to twist the status to hid or avoid talking about the fact that the majority of victims were teenage boys (they are not children by biological standards) and they were assulted by male priests with homosexual tendencies.

This is the 500-pound elephant in the room that liberal catholics would like to ignore and blame the entire affair on a bishop.  I am avoiding looking at all the problems - both abusers and bishops - it is cognitive dissonance on your part that makes you look away from the facts - esp. the role that homosexuality played in this terrible crisis.
7 years 6 months ago
That should read "I am not avoiding looking at all the problems"
7 years 6 months ago
Crystal:


The council declared that the bishops, the divinely authorized successors of the Apostles, together with the pope, the divinely authorized successor of Peter, fed and governed the Church. [26] Upon their consecration, bishops were said to receive the fullness of the power of the high priesthood. [27] In addition to the office of sanctifying, episcopal consecration was also held to confer the offices of teaching and governing.
The reception of the fullness of the power of Christ’s high priesthood, the council maintained, enabled a bishop to validly administer all of the Church’s sacraments which took their effect ex opere operato. Yet he was not to do so without papal approval.
It was stressed that the teaching and governing offices of a bishop could only be properly exercised when the prelate was in hierarchical communion with the episcopal college and with its head, the Bishop of Rome. Consecration itself was said to give a bishop the virtual capacity to exercise these offices, but not their actual realization. This latter could not be without the requisite canonical or juridical determination by the hierarchical authority under the pope. [28]


The council noted that the New Testament depicted Peter and the other Apostles constituting one apostolic college. In a similar manner the pope and the bishops were said to be joined together in one episcopal college. This similarity was not meant to imply that there was a transmission of the extraordinary power of the Apostles to their successors, nor that there was an equality between the head and the members of the episcopal college. It was intended only to demonstrate the proportionality existing between the relationship of Peter to the other Apostles and that of the pope to the bishops. [29]
Hardon SJ
7 years 6 months ago
Jack

In the Memorandum of professors of theology on the crisis of the Catholic Church, the signatories propose:

1.The faithful should be involved in the process of appointing important office-holders (bishop, parish priest).

2.The Church also needs married priests and women in ordained ministry.

3. same-sex partnerships,  remarriage after divorce.

And if Bishops signed, they are not in communion w/ Rome...

This is not what we believe, as Catholics, Jack. What do they put in the German water that German theologians drink,  that produces these wacky ideas?
Mark Harden
7 years 6 months ago
"The invitation continued and I was ordained in 2009."

If you claim to have been ordained into the Roman Catholic Church, then I hereby claim to be the King of Yugoslavia. Neither is true, in real life. 

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