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Michael Sean WintersApril 06, 2010

One of the most surprising aspects of the reaction to the return of the clergy sex abuse scandal has been the way some commentators, especially those on the Left, have used the crisis to advance causes that do not actually have much to do with the underlying problems. My colleague Father Martin has already explained below that celibacy is not the source of this problem, and ending the requirement for clerical celibacy would not end the scandal. But, what has my back up this morning is the argument that because of the scandal, the entire hierarchical structure of the Church should be overturned and the most extreme liberal interpretation of Vatican II be accepted.

Exhibit A is an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe by Mr. James Carroll. In the first paragraph, he tips his hand by calling Pope Benedict an "enabler bishop" which is something in contention not proved, at least not proven beyond the "show trial" quality of justice that the blogosphere metes out. He goes on to accuse the Pope of "Catholic fundamentalism" in which the papacy functions the way the Bible does for Protestant fundamentalism. Carroll gives a brief history lesson about the emergence of the modern papacy that is a tissue of inaccuracies.

Carroll writes, for example, "In the past, bishops were elected by local churches." Certainly, the Vatican’s role in the selection of bishops has become steadily more pronounced in the past two hundred years. But, the role of the Congregation of Bishops and the nuncios in the selection of new bishops did not replace elections by the local church; it replaced nomination by local government. And, one of the principal causes of the Vatican’s enhanced role in the selection of bishops was the emergence of the civil doctrine of church-state separation. That fact, alas, does not fit into Carroll’s imagined plot of reactionary bishops frustrating the effects of the Enlightenment, so it goes unmentioned. But, if Carroll really prefers the old way, let him imagine the kind of bishops that would have been nominated by the U.S. government during the eight, long years of George W. Bush’s presidency.

In another section of his essay, Carroll writes: "Vatican II was a step toward the democratizing of the Catholic Church, which is why Catholic fundamentalists have been seeking to undo it ever since. Fundamentalist-in-chief has been Joseph Ratzinger." I have searched the documents of Vatican II for evidence of this "democratizing" step Carroll perceives. It is not there. The phrase "People of God" is reclaimed, but the reclaiming is from the Hebrew Scriptures not from the Enlightenment. As well, anyone with even a cursory awareness of Ratzinger’s writings would know that such a simplification of his thought is beyond unfair. Ratzinger certainly is more skeptical of modernity’s claims than Carroll who approaches "democracy" and "the laity" with the same discriminating sensibility exhibited by my St. Bernard when he approaches his dinner. Ratzinger is no fundamentalist: His writings constantly face, they do not evade, the bumps in the modern road, the challenges of social and cultural pluralism, the complexities of dialogue in an age that is, after all, marked by relativism, the ugly, genocide-laden history of modernity. And, it would be strange indeed to find any bishop who shares Carroll’s commitment to a liberal, Protestant ecclesiology, which is a fine ecclesiology to have, just not a Catholic ecclesiology.

Timothy Shriver, chairman of Special Olympics, writing in the Washington Post yesterday, had a similar, albeit less grandiose, take on what the scandal demands. He writes that the Pope and bishops must "convert their culture to one that is centered on loving God from the depths of their souls and to leading a church that is as much mother as father, as much pastoral as theological, as much spiritual as doctrinal." It sure seems to me that the Pope who wrote those beautiful homilies last week was "centered on loving God" and I utterly reject as facile and misguided these false dichotomies between being pastoral and theological, and between spiritual and doctrinal. For a Catholic, the sources of our spirituality are our doctrinal claims: You don’t make a crèche unless you believe in the doctrine of the Incarnation, you don’t pray the rosary unless you accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and you do not invoke the protection of the saints, nor light a candle at their statues, unless you believe the dogmatic claims about the Communion of the Saints.

The sex abuse scandal is horrific and it should not be hijacked for ideological purposes. Some conservatives use the scandal to bash gays. Now, some liberals use it to advance their ecclesiological agenda. Shame on them both. We honor the victims by addressing the real and the root causes of the scandal, not by making the same tired arguments about Vatican II that were being made before the scandal ever happened.

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14 years 3 months ago
It has been said (unfairly) of Vivaldi that he did not compose five hundred concerti, but one concerto five hundred times.
It may be said (with considerably more justice) of Mr. Carroll that he has not written five hundred columns, but one column five hundred times.
For the most part they are tendentious harangues.
I once was part of a panel that discussed his book, ''Constantine's Sword.'' Apropos his call for a ''new Christology,'' I pointed out that what he was advocating was a rather old Christology. It is called ''liberal Protestantism.'' As you suggest, his ecclesiology is in line with this.
Molly Roach
14 years 3 months ago
However beautiful Benedict's homilies were last week, the context they were delivered in was telling.  When his preacher compares the situation of the Pope to that of the long discriminated against Jews, the context of dishonesty is blatant. The Pope isn't being criticized for nothing-he's being criticized for documented events in which he participated.  And in these events, the welfare of children was harmed.   He and Cardinal Sodano have seen fit to characterize the concern about all this as gossip or even petty gossip.   No, I have to tell you that given the context any so-called beauty coming out of this is a lie.  And it has to be dealt with.
Kate Smith
14 years 3 months ago
Mr. Winters, I don't share your perspetive.   As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, I see both the "Left" and the "Right" using this experience in the church to wrestle with other issues in the church, and I expect that.  It shows me that people are disturbed and asking questions.
I am far more pained by the "Right" constantly complaining about how the story of clergy sexual abuse is told in the media, when the vast majority of victims never tell their stories publicly.   Our church should be too busy and consumed with its pastoral response, and have no time or need to complain.  Imagine that.
(Greetings, Fr. Imbelli, from a BC pastoral ministry alum!)
Vince Killoran
14 years 3 months ago
The status quo is untenable. The structures of power and the people responsible for the continuing the coverup cannot be expected to "make things right."  Our Catholic faith demands that we use our God-given intelltigence so we should not delude ourselves into this accepting this notion.
I agree that Carroll's historical synopsis was a bit jumbled but MSW's history is inaccurate, or, at least, incomplete.  Take laity control, for example: in nineteenth century U.S. many local parishes-especially "ethnic" language parishes-had veto power over the appointment of pastors. The centralization of power by the nineteenth and early twentieth century papacy is nothing about which to cheer
MSW has slighted the role of the laity as envisioned by Vatican II.  Actually, he doesn't define it, which is a pity because that is what we need to do with more precision.
James Lindsay
14 years 3 months ago
As I wrote in the comments and on my blog (a shout out would have been nice), the abuse scandal should be dealt with for its own reasons. Reform of the Church is still necessary and its justification stands on its own merits - although the scandal does provide evidence of why it is necessary.

Just one thing, papal appointment occurred because kings, not democratic governments, were fighting for the right to appoint bishops. It is interesting that back in the classical period of the Church, it was the Emperor in Constantinople who called Ecumenical Councils, not the Bishop of Rome (who was at the time the leader of a backwater) or the Ecumenical Patriarch (who should probably call a General Council for all Christian Churches, including the Latin Rite and its Protestant sects).
14 years 3 months ago
The last hundred years gave us a toxic triumphalism that  both laity and the ordained embraced with unashamed pride. . , this gave us the clericalism and hierachal privilege that needed protection from exposure.. this gave us the stance of impunity that covered-up  crimes. Both the left and right fed the system the cool-aid.. just different flavors. . Only a concentrated re-focus on the people of God who live on the margins and doing this  for about a hundred years will restore balance and harmony to the system. Francis did this in 13th century and for the same problem.. We need to Go work/minister  with the poor ... they know all about abuse of all kinds.. this was and is the only centrally valid Christ message.    
Bill Mazzella
14 years 3 months ago
Just because the local and national governments elected bishops before it was changed does not mean that the people did not elect bishops and pope before the emperors took over. The hierarchichal structure is basically patterned upon Roman rule. That is why you see Roman terms in canon law and other areas of the church. Carroll has perhaps a deeper sense of history and theology than you. It is not a question of left or right but the fact that the Church operates now under Empire which is basically what happened with the takeover of the church by Constantine. The hierarchy needs to be changed because it is based on domination and empire. Just look at the flowing robes and the silly miters. Those are trappings of empire not the Jesus who said you should be the last not the first.
Nicholas Clifford
14 years 3 months ago
Though I generally respect much of what Mr. Winters writes, he seems here to have allowed himself unwittingly to become victimized by the common false dichotomy of extremes: either the church should be an absolutist monarchy or it should be an American-tyle democracy, run as New England town meeting.
Thus it's unfortunately common in some circles, whenever the smallest change is mooted, to reply ''The Church is NOT a democracy.'' Of course it isn't, any more than is a great university (for instance); but that shouldn't imply simply the assumption that all is well under a centralized monarchy, when clearly that isn't the case.
Why should it be so difficult to examine the Church's structures of governance and general modus operandi, at least to ask the question of whether those structures and that modus contributed to the scandal we have seen breaking around us for years? Perhaps the answer is No, there is no connection; but our leaders, unfortunately timorous, sound as if they're terrified even to have the subject raised.
Or am I missing something? The pope himself, in his letter to the Irish church, placed some of the blame on an excessive deference to clerical authority; it will be interesting to see whether anything more comes of that view.
Dale Rodrigue
14 years 3 months ago
Michael misses the point about the scandal.

The scandal is about clericalism and power.

Celibacy is the ''raison d'etre'' for clericalism.

In order to get into the clerical club you need to be celibate period!

Clericalism suggests a ''special privilege'' of the ordained over the non ordained.

Because they are celibate they therefore ''deserve'' special privileges when compared to the laity.

That is dangerous. A whole new class of individuals based on celibacy develops, they now have God's ear because only they can ''confect'' the Eucharist, on and on...

The poster child for clericalism? B16.

He has done more than anybody else to foist clericalism by returning to and pushing back to an earlier time when clericalism was triumphant, when priests wore lace and satin, and vestments further emphasized the gap between ''holy them'' and ''us''. They are on the other side of the communion rail whispering prayers on our behalf.

So you can't talk about the reasons for the scandal without talking about celibacy.

And B16's clericalism? He hasn't uttered one single response to this latest crisis, not one response. The Church is in meltdown and not one sentence from him. I guess ''we'' the laity don't deserve a response.

He gets a penny for Peter's Pence, not any more than that.
14 years 3 months ago
I don't have the time to get into the entire debate here (I did so on Fr. Martin's last blog entry); however, Mr. Winters is correct and good on him for being able to recognize the internal attacks (as well as external) against the church and the truth she upholds.  He should talk to some of his own collegues on this topic...
As for Mr. Dale Rodriguez, your attack is unfactual (pope Benedict did address the issue in his letter to Ireland and numerous times on this trip to the US) and your attack is also essentially a anti-Catholic diatribe.
To attack priestly celebacy is to attack Christ himself - as man and God - who experienced a celibate life here on earth. 
Your radical ideas on enforced human "equality" seek to level all difference and tradition and truth - very similar to the goals of the secular media - and you are willing to attack even the sacred and transcendent to achieve this goal.
As the philosopher Charles Taylor writes: true human authencity comes with complementarity (each fulfilling our part in the church and world) not forced identity/equality. 
Michael Cremin
14 years 3 months ago
That an organization as large as the Catholic Church has its share of criminals is not a surprise. That someone like Bernard Law-an enabler of such criminals-isn't tending to lepers in Africa instead of shining a monstrance in Rome tells us all what the problem in the heirarchy actually is: the love of power surpassing the power of love. The bishops are to blame for this crisis. The bishops are not being held accountable by the church. It's that simple. Mother Church protects her managers, even when the price is our children.

I have been a Catholic my whole life, but I have to tell you, I don't know if this organization is something I want my own children to be a part of.
Dale Rodrigue
14 years 3 months ago
Ah, the polemic that by questioning celibacy one is attacking Christ? LOL
Cor9:5  ''do we not have the right to take along a wife as do the rest of the Apostles and Cephas?''
I think some have been brainwashed and toe the line for Sodano and Maciel.
The anti Catholics are Sodano, Maciel et al and those who spout the party line.
Just wait, more is coming in the near future.
Christ is turning the tables in the Temple.
14 years 3 months ago
Did Jesus Christ have a wife??  Was Christ not human as well as God??
Did Christ not call his followers to give up their farms and family to follow him?
Your bible quote and polemics do not stand up to basic reason...
Dale Rodrigue
14 years 3 months ago
No Mr. Joyce, Jesus didn't have a wife.
Yes, Jesus asked his followers to follow Him.
Christ was human as well as God.
However, your next illogical assumption is faulty.

Priests are NOT Christ.
Priests are NOT ''human as well as God'', only Christ was.
Priests are NOT God as Christ was. Although it sounds as if you think they are and therefore these gods are fit for worship.

Priests are only human, no different than you or me. And many apologists for our sclerotic system like yourself put too much burden on their shoulders. They are called by Christ then ground down by man made laws.

Since when does Holy Scripture ''not stand up to basic reason...''
Your reasoning sounds downright cultic to me.
14 years 3 months ago
Your reasoning sounds down right protestant to me (and with a nasty tone)...are you an evangelical Rodriguez...you sure do sounds like one pretending to be a Catholic.
When Christ called his disciples away from the farm and family - what exactly did you think he meant?  He called them away from home and their wifes and children to serve God!  As for scripture, I was saying that your twisted use of it does not stand up to reason!
Christ was just as fully human as any one of us!  To say that celebacy is inhuman is to deny the full humanity of Christ and what he experienced.
Also, the priests are not worshiped as "gods" - this idea malicious slander of all faithful Catholics - along with the accusations of the cultic...if you a not a Protestant, I don't know who is!
There are differences among us, Dale, we are each called by different tasks to serve God.  Like I said before, complementarity is much more natural than your forced equality.
Dale Rodrigue
14 years 3 months ago
You show your true colors Joyce.

Show me where I attacked you personally?

However, you do a fine job in personally attacking me, calling me an evangelical, a protestant, pretending to be a Catholic and so on.

Believing ONLY Christ is human and divine is Protestant?
Believing that priests are NOT human and divine is Protestant? LOL.

Quote me where I said celibacy is ''inhuman''.

You state Jesus called them from their wives even though SCRIPTURE says they ''took along their wives''!

Hmmm.. What Joyce thinks vs what scripture says. I'll take scripture. And yes, I'M ROMAN CATHOLIC. Don't you dare judge my faithfulness.

Canon Law 212:According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful...
14 years 3 months ago
Please!  I am not attacking you - the ideas and false attacks you make on Catholics and priests are historically very Protestant in nature.   
Where do Catholics worship priests as "gods"?  These are your true colors Mr. Dale Rodriguez - you making false accusations against faithful people and calling Catholic practices "cultic!"
What did Christ say???  He said "give up your families and follow me!"  Die to yourselves and follow me.
You are defending your partial imitation of Christ by attack those who imitate him more fully! 
While there are some issues with clericalism that need to be addressed, you display an irrational hatred of jealousy of the spiritual good of others...
Dale Rodrigue
14 years 3 months ago
The nice thing about these sites is that you can go back and read the comments again.

No, Mr. Joyce you attacked personally, not the ideas.
Now, you attack me again and state:

I ''make false accusations''
I have ''irrational hatred''
I have ''jealousy''
You avoid answering questions directly but resort to name calling.
Too much hrubis Mr. Joyce. You assume that you speak for all faithful Catholics. You don't.
You need some anger management.
14 years 3 months ago
While some of my comments were a bit harsh - they were directed at your misinformation and, yes, false accusations : i.e. "priests worshiped as gods" and general your vitriol.
This conversation is obviously going nowhere - but there is a natural hierarchy in every system and this began with God as the creator.  There is a difference between authority and authorianism - something you should consider...
Dale Rodrigue
14 years 3 months ago
You need to re read my comments Joyce.

I NEVER said they were worshipped as gods so stop accusing me of this.
The exact quote:
''Although it sounds as if you think they are and therefore these gods are fit for worship.''

Furthermore, you accuse me of saying things but never respond to the questions...
Where did I quote that they were worshipped as gods?
Where did I quote that ''celibacy is inhuman''?
Where did I question the natural hierarchy?
I think you need to stop putting words into my mouth.

As far as vitriol, I NEVER accused you of:

being protestant,
pretending to be a Catholic,
making false allegations,
irrational hatred,
jealousy, and so on.

As far as adios, well since I'm Rodriguez I'll assume that was a parting insult.
I am not going to say anymore. When one tries to argue w/ a fool it shows there are actually two.
14 years 3 months ago
Adios is more a poetic sign-off than "goodbye" - it was certainly not an insult to you.  You are very touchy, Dale.
As for your arguments - they are not correct and are essentially irrational anti-authority rants - but I will refuse to continue as this is now simply childish.
Dale Rodrigue
14 years 3 months ago
The only rants and vitriol are from you Brett. 
It just amazes me that you are so obtuse, to the point of denial. 
Let the comments speak for themselves.

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