The Case Against Abolishing the Priesthood

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In the Dec. 11, 2000, issue of The New Yorker, the magazine’s revered literary critic James Wood began his review of the writings of J. F. Powers with a blunt question, “Does anyone, really, like priests?” I read that article a few months after my ordination to the priesthood. I found it hard to understand not only how an intelligent person could write a sentence like that, but how a prestigious magazine could print it.

It does not take too much creativity to imagine what the reaction might have been had The New Yorker’s literary critic written, “Does anyone, really, like imams?” Or “Does anyone, really, like rabbis?” Firestorms of denunciations would likely have followed. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, we saw a flurry of thoughtful articles distinguishing Islam from the terrorists who committed the atrocities (and the clerics who encouraged them), with commentators correctly making judicious distinctions between the actions of a few and the morality of the many.

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But when it comes to priests, it is O.K. to hate them. Or at least wonder if anyone, really, likes them.

I thought of that article when I saw the cover of the latest edition of The Atlantic, which features a darkened photo of St. Patrick’s Cathedral above the headline, “Abolish the Priesthood.”

The cover was bad enough; the accompanying article, by James Carroll, was even more disappointing. If this is The Atlantic’s “deep dive” into the clergy abuse crisis, it represents something of a disservice to readers and the general public. Essentially, Mr. Carroll’s lengthy (and, admittedly, in some places careful) examination of the clergy abuse crisis can be boiled down to: It’s priests. He states his thesis with admirable concision at one point: “The very notion of priesthood is toxic.” Using the old dictum that what is easily asserted is easily denied, I would respond: “No, it is not.”

Mr. Carroll, an astute social critic and often brilliant writer, should know better. The problem is not the priesthood; the problem is clericalism, that malign brand of theology and spirituality that says that priests are more important than laypeople, that a priest’s or bishop’s word is more trustworthy than that of victims (or victims’ parents) and that the very selves of priests are more valuable than those of laypeople. Catholic theology is sometimes used to support this kind of supremacism. At his ordination a priest is said to undergo an “ontological” change, a change in his very being. The belief that this change makes him “better” than the layperson lies at the heart of clericalism and much of the abuse crisis.

The problem is not the priesthood; the problem is clericalism.

On this, then, I would agree completely with Mr. Carroll, who knows his theology. And I certainly understand his anger and anguish over the abuse crisis, which I share. The problem, however, is that his article consistently conflates the priesthood with clericalism. Basically, he is engaging in a stereotype. In short, not all priests are “clerical.” Not even most of them.

Let’s step back and look at other places where sexual abuse happens, as a way of understanding the flawed logic that mars The Atlantic piece. Most abuse happens, say experts, within the context of families: fathers (and stepfathers) preying on children and adolescents, to take one example. The reasons for abuse by fathers (and stepfathers), as with priest abusers, are complex.

But few people ever suggest that either marriage or the family are bankrupt institutions or that we should “abolish fatherhood.” Why not? Because most people understand that abusive fathers (and mothers for that matter) are in the minority. Most people know many good and caring parents (and stepparents) who have never and will never abuse anyone. And so we avoid lazy stereotyping.

The same is true with schools. Sexual abuse in the public-school system (as well as in private schools) has been well documented. Some cases are as appalling as those that happened within the church. Yet despite many incidents of sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers, counselors and coaches, few people say “abolish public schools” (that is, the “system” that gave rise to the cases of abuse). Or “abolish the teaching profession.” Again, this is because we avoid stereotyping.

Except when it comes to Catholic priests.

Mr. Carroll also takes aim, as he often does in his articles and books, at celibacy. But this is another red herring. If celibacy were the underlying issue, and if celibacy leads to abuse, then we should suspect every unmarried aunt and uncle, every single brother and sister, and every widow and widower of being an abuser. Does a person instantly become a child molester if he or she begins living a celibate lifestyle?

At the heart of many of Mr. Carroll’s articles on the Catholic Church, especially those written as a columnist for The Boston Globe at the height of the sex abuse crisis, is his own history as a priest. In The Atlantic, he writes, “If I had stayed a priest, I see now, my faith, such as it was, would have been corrupted.”

Would it have? I can’t answer for Mr. Carroll and want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it would have. I have no idea. But this does not mean that staying in the priesthood corrupts all priests. Or most. Or even many. His article nods to “good priests” here and there, speaking of the church as the “largest non-governmental organization on the planet, through which selfless men and women care for the poor, teach the unlettered, heal the sick and work to preserve minimal standards for the common good.”

Including priests. Bluntly put, if 5 percent of Catholic priests are abusers, then 95 percent are not. (The numbers, by the way, are actually lower for priests than for men in general.) In the midst of this hateful, corrupt, misogynistic system, as this article describes it, how do we account for the good priests? For Father Mychal Judge, Father Henri Nouwen, Father Greg Boyle, Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Farther back, for Father Ignatius Loyola, Father Francis de Sales, Father Vincent de Paul. One of Mr. Carroll’s heroes is St. John XXIII. Also known as Father Angelo Roncalli.

Need I go on? Maybe I should. Maybe I should list a few hundred good and holy priests, or a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand. But I wonder if even a long list would do any good these days. Because, basically, it’s okay to blame all priests, and the priesthood in general, for the abuse crisis. Instead, let’s ask a question I have long wanted to pose to Mr. Wood and now to Mr. Carroll: Does stirring up contempt against priests do much good? Does that,help us confront the sex abuse crisis?

Or does it, really, just make people hate more?

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Douglas Fang
1 month ago

Thank you, Father Martin, for this article. I agree very much with what you say here. I just want to share my own limited experience as a lifelong Catholic who is approaching 60… Before I came to this country in the early 20s, I had intended to become a Jesuit myself. Due to the government policy at that time, Church activities were severely controlled and limited, including accepting new candidates for religious vocations. During my youth, I worked closely with many priests inside and outside of my parish. I never experienced or heard about these sexual abuses as described in recent events even though I worked in large groups of juvenile and young adults in a number of religious activities. I did hear a number of “rumors” about inappropriate behaviors of certain clergymen but mostly they were in the area of financial or power greed. I also heard about some romantic affairs involving adult consensus, etc. but nothing as severe as the sexual abuse scandals like here. I really love and respect most of the priests I have ever known in my life and I leave it as it is.

Nora Bolcon
1 month ago

Ahh Fr. Martin,

I ask you what exactly are you counting as a Holy Priest?

Are priests only unholy when they molest children?

Priesthood may have slightly less reported amounts of individual predators who abuse children sexually compared to married men but not compared to all women. Women abuse at less than ten percent of all men, including priests, a fact which you and the hierarchy seem to always forget to mention, when they mention that women are abusers too, just like you did in this article. However, priests' amount of victims exceed the schools and some of the other entities mentioned and since our church has been even recently hiding abuse cases, it is likely we don't still have an accurate count of predatory priests to go by.

To get back to what is a Holy priest, I believe that many that you have mentioned have not fit the definition, as you would like, our Pope Francis among them. Unless you think it is holy to help cover up the abuse of children, teens and nuns and you think it is holy to ignore women's claims to same treatment and ordination as men, starting with their being ordained priests, and you think it is holy to not help your sisters, yourself, gain what you were given in our church, despite the harm this sexism causes to women and girls, and despite Jesus never forbidding women priesthood or same exact treatment as men, in fact quite the opposite.

You see, I was called to priesthood too in my youth so I do actually value ordination. However, we rcc, due to our sexism and the hatred of women in our church, have been using this sacrament as a weapon to harm and oppress women in our church instead of using it to strengthen and make our people whole. This misuse and abuse does tempt even Catholics to wonder would we be a better church without it.

Can you see the omission you made, about women being abusers but then not stating how dramatically less they abuse than all men constitutes a stand, on your part, to mislead the laity reading this article? You make this intentional ommission, probably telling yourself, well, I didn't outright lie but you do hope, by leaving out this fact, the readers won't come to the obvious conclusion that if women had been ordained priests and bishops and Pope's, all along, there would never have been this gigantic amount of abuse or the tremendous cover-up that allowed this kind of abuse, to likely have gone on, throughout the entire history of our church. By this intentional omission of facts, you prove yourself willing to misinform the sheep in order to help keep patriarchy and therefore misogyny and clericalism in place. This proves you to be clericalized yourself.

It was quite disturbing, at a mandatory church training, I had to take a few months ago, to serve as a Lector (Sorry, I meant Reader, since only men are important enough persons to be titled Lectors when they function as a Reader) During this long training film, I began to notice a very real yet mostly subliminal agenda being pushed on the workers who had to watch this film, if they wanted to be allowed to volunteer.

To start, even though this film was made by the bishop and Diocese Communications and Training Depts. for training only church workers, I was surprised to see that the only priest, in the whole film, is the narrator. Later, we are shown several children who describe that they were abused, and then two abusers were interviewed. Neither of the abusers were priests (sending a message this film, we legally had to make, is not about priest child abusers. It is instead a film any company could use to train their people on sexual abuse of minors.) This seemed to me to be a kind of distancing tactic being used on the viewers so they are pulled away from the facts of why the church had to make this training film. Of the abusers interviewed, one was a camp director and the other something else which we are not told what. The first children interviewed were two boys and neither of them were abused by clergy and they had the same amount of interview time in the film. The child who had the longest interview time,of the four victims, was a girl who was abused by a female teacher at a school, sexually (we don't know if this is a public or Catholic school) and the film went back to her interview most frequently (because of course the RCC's greatest abuse problems stem from our lesbians, you know?). The child with the least interview time, and most of her interview time was given to her parents, so we don't see much of this child at all, is the only child who was abused by a priest, and this victim was coincidentally a girl, despite our church's victims being appx. 80 percent male. In this film, made by and for the diocese only, we are told that neither celibacy or homosexuality have been proven to cause pedophilia, and that married heterosexual males abuse at a higher rate than single or celibate men (which is accurate). However, this film completely leaves out that all women abuse not even at 10 percent of what all men do. Again, this is a training film all lay workers must sit through, and what are its main messages,based on its actual content and intentional omissions:. The church does not have a problem with child abuse with its clergy, at least not compared to other fields involving children, and our priest don't sexually abuse boys more than girls, and don't even consider that ordaining women priests and bishops might help the church because see they abuse too, and maybe just as much? - if you want to believe that? (but please don't research that information!)

It is through the art of strategically omitting truth, facts and history that our hierarchy most lies to women and lay people. It is in this kind of dishonest omission use where clericalism fights it's winning battles to stay in charge. So it is quite troubling father that you are willing to support and use this kind of argument.

The problem with clericalism is its main ingredient, misogynistic sexism. If anyone called can be a priest clericalism loses its grip. Clericalism requires exclusion of one or more groups or someone our group can be greater than to succeed in its purposes of control and manipulation of others.

From what I have witnessed, I believe there is a purpose for ordained priests as long as we open it to all men and women called to serve. Hierarchy has a purpose by giving structural strength as long as it is egalitarian but patriarchy serves only to manifest sexism while causing our church to continually diminish and self destruct.

Father, you need to stand up for women's equal ordination and get other priests to join you because of all the possible causes that might lead to priests abuse of children, only one, has had any real evidence to back it as a correct and direct link to our churches' pedophilia-clergy crises and that is sexism and patriarchy.

I beg you to stop the self pity party and challenge you to become the holy priest that you and I both so greatly esteem.

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
1 month ago

This is brilliant. Thank you.

Tim O'Leary
4 weeks 1 day ago

Nora - your Idée fixe of women priests colors everything you blog about. You see child abuse, clericalism, sexism, masculinity and everything Catholic only in negative terms. Like the fraudulent mother appealing to Solomon, you would rather the priesthood be destroyed if you cannot have women priests. You also chide priests for striving to be holy. So, what gives? Will you be a holy woman if the Church makes a woman priest? What religion would you strive to be holy in, since ordination of women would actually prove the Catholic Church false (contradicting its prior infallible teaching)? Or, like some Genghis Khan of destruction, would you move on to another denomination, attempting to destroy it from within? I beg you to stop the whining and self pity and try holiness rather than politics.

Nora Bolcon
3 weeks 6 days ago

It is fascinating Tim,

That you, not I, group together all things masculine with pedophilia and clericalism and sexism. I have no problem with masculine discussion topics as long as they are based on reality and are not used to degrade women or be pushed to make people believe that men and women are called by God to different ministries or roles in life or marriage, as there is no proof this is accurate. Being married now, and a mother of two teenagers, I can tell you that I have a genuine appreciation for masculinity for the purpose God did intend it to serve and that is procreation. However, when the ideas of masculinity are pushed beyond what God ever intended the differences to represent, so men find cause to abuse and oppress women, or vice versa, this is when men or women have developed a kind of sick fetish for the differences and one which creates a reality that makes sexual difference which should be bringing the sexes together into something which tears them apart into disunity and damage.

Yes, I do believe sexism, clericalism and pedophilia are all awful and I believe I and everyone who considers themselves a Christian has an obligation to fight against their presence in our church. I am not at all embarrassed to say these things are complete evil, unlike you apparently.

I don't chide priests for being holy but for not being holy. Watching your Sister in Christ get their humanity beaten while you do nothing isn't holy in God's view or anyone elses. You must really hate Martin Luther King, jr and Ghandi?

The bias in our church laws against ordaining women priests and equal to men is not an infallible dogma as it does not now, nor did it ever in the past, have proven agreement as a right bias by all our bishops, nor was it declared ex-cathedra, nor can it ever become so because it directly breaks the written dogma, in the gospel, where Christ demands we treat all the same as half of the greatest commandment.

I have no intention of leaving my church and I have every intention of staying and fighting for her to become the just church, for all members, that she claims to be. You are right, in that I fully intend on rocking this boat until women are treated the exact same as men, with all the same sacraments and opportunities made available to them. That's not evil according to scripture Tim but a just mission for Christians!

So don't worry Tim - I am not going anywhere!

J Jones
1 month ago

Fr James, you are an exceptional priest: you sacrifice yourself in a very real way every day in an effort to prevent the RCC --- of which you, as a priest, are a privileged leader - from doing harm to God's LGBTQ children. You use your God-given voice and your Church-given privilege to stand with persons who are excluded in the church and outside it and who, to a great extent because of centuries of Catholic teaching, are at hugely increased risk of suicide and violence, including murder, simply because they are who God made them to be. That makes you are target of anger, harassment and verbal abuse from lay people and other clerics alike and, yet, you continue to stand for and with vulnerable persons. You sign your name to it.

What we know is that men who make up the RCC --- priests every one of you, save a few brothers --- often knew that other priests were sexually abusing others and yet did not act to stand for and beside the known victims by saying "I know s/he is telling the truth" and they knew and did not act to prevent further abuse of that victim by that priest and and they knew and did not act to prevent further abuse by that and other priests in the Church.

You are right that most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by the biological and non-biological fathers or father-figures of victims.

Your analogy doesn't work, though. Sexually abusive fathers and father-figures are participants in a metaphorical "institution", not an ACTUAL institution with an actual HQ and an unparalleled level of involvement in each other's personal and professional lives, with the result that it is almost unheard of that abuse happened without at least some other priests knowing or suspecting and not acting appropriately in response.

I agree clericalism is the context and the primary ***pressure***. But the cause is, first, the individual priest who decided it was his right to sexually abuse another person and, second, the other priests who decided it was their right to remain silent and inactive when they learned about the abuse and/or when they learned that HQ was going to be silent or inactive, thus allowing the continuation of the abuse or the continued opportunity to abuse.

Each and every single one of you who knew or suspected that another priest was grooming or sexually abusing another human being is implicated in the abuse that occurred. Indeed, the only way in which the priest sexual abuse scandal is analogous with sexual abuse by fathers and familial father-figures is this: priests who knew and did not prevent existing and future abuse are the moral equivalent of the mother who knows and fails to protect her child from her sexually abusive husband or partner. (Yes, there are all kinds of pressures and, yet, it is a failure of profound proportions when a parent or priest or knows and does not act to protect and end the abuse once and for all).

Please, Father Jim, don't engage in opportunistic claims of discrimination ("what if the headline had been about Imams or Rabbis). You are wiser and more honest than that.

When we are privileged members of institutions and we do not act through word and behavior through the point of resolution when we know great wrongs are committed, we are complicit. We now know that untold numbers of you priests were complicit through your failure to act in word and action when you knew great wrongs were being committed by your fellows up and down the hierarchical line.

PS

The analogy re: imams doesnt work either: mosques and their imams are independent localized institutions; they do not have a worldwide HQ with a CEO who hires, fires and makes the rules for every layer of leadership down to the individual leader. You guys do. For that reason, none of your analogies work, Fr James.

L Hoover
4 weeks 1 day ago

J Jones, you make good points, but are not we, the laity, also complicit? How many lay Catholics, knew or should have known, and did not believe or report. How many defined victims as trouble-makers? Clericalism might partially be to blame here as well, with laypersons believing the hype about priests. I see all of this Catholic anger towards priests and little acknowledgment of complicity from laypersons (myself exempt as I tend to evaluate individuals separate from their social standing).

J Jones
4 weeks 1 day ago

It truly is okay, L Hoover, to focus on the accountability of persons in power for their violations of the rights and dignity and trust of others.

As I noted below, it was only this summer that we began to have factual evidence that not only did the hierarchy cover up sexual abuse, the clerical community as a whole developed the capacity to see a fellow cleric's predation as just another facet of that fellow's identity.

This reveals a community of men who believe their own participation in the priesthood is more essential to the Other than the Other's freedom from abuse.

In any other context, we call that the moral bankruptcy of the individual who privileges his or own desires by declining to engage the full humanity of the Other.

The dehumanization of the Other by looking the other way while that Other is violated simply cannot be mitigated.

And that means "time's up" for Catholic clerics just as it is for every other privileged group that has tolerated the dehumanization of the Other as the cost of their individual participation in that privileged group.

The complicity of the laity is a related but separate subject, L Hoover.

rose-ellen caminer
4 weeks ago

Thanks for echoing my now 3 day old comment, J Hoover.[Part of it].

As you too point out, clericalism was a norm. A norm which some, even at one time most of the laity subscribed to also. Part of the laity's sincere religiosity.

The very same "woked" laity today lambasting the hierarchical and patriarchal structure of the Church, as well as the clerical abuse and cover up of course, are only too apt to hide behind the "lowly" lay status, as a defense for the laity's past inaction;willful disbelief towards a victimized lay person, even their own kids, pitted against the inherent prestige and moral authority of the cleric, or complicity with covering for the hierarchical Church Both the laity and the clerical hierarchy were blind , for different reasons and in different ways sometimes [and some same ways such as; don't bring scandal to the Church] but both blind non the less.[IMO].

J Jones
4 weeks ago

Rose-Ellen -- help me understand what you mean by laity "hiding behind" that status? Do you have examples?

sheila gray
1 month ago

I disagree with Father Martin that James Carroll was trying to stir up hatred for Priests in his recent article. I felt he was trying to say something much more profound: that the very idea of a Priesthood, which hovers righteously just above unordained humanity, existing for the purpose of saving humanity, is itself the problem. It is a recipe for the very disaster we are in... we have given priests and nuns and Bishops and Mothers Superior and Popes way too much power. It’s time now to take this power back. It’s time for us to grow up, time to take full responsibility for our spiritual lives and destinies.

Paul Hierholzer
1 month ago

"...existing for the purpose of saving humanity, is itself the problem." What you're saying, I think (and I tend to agree), is that the problem lies within Christian doctrine itself--ie the traditional emphasis on saving people from hell. "Save us from the fires of hell." If a priest sees that as his purpose, how could he possibly NOT become clericalist? It takes judgment and power and a sense of being "saved" himself before he can go about saving others from hell.

Tim O'Leary
4 weeks 1 day ago

Paul - you hit the nail on the head. All the critics of the Church in this post have a problem with the Church primarily because it presumes to teach the Truth, the teaching of Jesus Christ, its founder and Head (the pope being only the vicar and servant of servants). They do not value the sacraments and the priesthood and are proto-protestants. They complain about sex abuse only by priests because it is a convenient cudgel against the Church. They do not care about 99% of the child sex abuse, in families, in public schools, on porn sites and the sex trafficking across the borders. They actually defend the ultimate child abuse of millions each year, and want zero legal protection for the unborn. Such transparent hypocrisy.

Maria Alderson
1 month ago

Father Jim, thank you so much. Your analogies to abolishing other institutions (marriage, public schools) make so much sense. And thanks for reminding us that the percentage of priest abusers is actually LESS than of men in general. But the haters -- James Carroll, James Woods, and a lot of people who read America for some reason -- ignore these facts and this logic, so they can hate some more.

J Jones
1 month ago

Maria, analogies only work if the facts are analogous. I don't believe the priesthood should be abolished. I think justice requires some radical revisions.
And I believe that the only situation analogous to sexual abuse by Catholic clerics (aka priests of any rank in the RCC) and the cover up of that abuse by other clerics in the Catholic Church is sexual abuse of civilians and other military members by military members and the cover of that abuse by military members in a given nation's military.

Tim O'Leary
4 weeks 1 day ago

The single most obvious difference between the sex abuse in the general society and the priesthood is the sex of the victims, with male minors the overwhelming target. There is a similar homosexual element in the boy scouts. The cover up and fear of scandal is also a feature of the Church's crisis, although this seems to play a role in every organization, as the recent news about the boy scouts reveals. In the public schools, the teachers unions also seem resistant to any reform.

Annette Magjuka
1 month ago

It’s hard to know what would help solve this crisis the church has brought on itself. What WON’T help is more obfuscation, stalling, and cover-ups. More misogyny won’t help. More homophobia won’t help. More “religious liberty” (to discriminate) won’t help. We cannot know if the number of abusers is large or small (it seems like there are thousands of cases! That is a lot). The priesthood is a closed, hierarchy last system of self regulation. This amounts to no regulation. And people are disgusted by it. We are appalled. The church should be in the forefront of protesting ripping babies from their mothers and putting them in cages. The church has lost its moral authority. Time’s up, guys. You can’t just keep on going as you were. It’s a contaminated system.

Annette Barfield
4 weeks 1 day ago

I agree - the system itself is the trouble and I don’t think it’s easy to separate the priesthood from clericalism.

Annette Barfield
4 weeks 1 day ago

I agree - the system itself is the trouble and I don’t think it’s easy to separate the priesthood from clericalism.

Annette Barfield
4 weeks 1 day ago

I agree - the system itself is the trouble and I don’t think it’s easy to separate the priesthood from clericalism.

rose-ellen caminer
1 month ago

Now that the Church is aware of pedophilia as a real disorder, now that the culture accepts homosexuality as a norm,the abuse and cover up that has disgraced the Church, has no oxygen to continue. The attack on the priesthood is also the fallout of the cultural shift in society at large; the recognition that patriarchy and misogyny exist and need to be dismantled, which the church as an institution has epitomized. Add to that the all male and hierarchical structure of the church, and the theological belief that priests are altered, by God, and you have a perfect storm for attacking the institution. It is simplistic;. for all the sins and faults of the priesthood that have been exposed did not occur in a vacuum. It was fallout of the cultural norms at large in society.; ignorance about pedophilia,, prejudice and ignorance about homosexuality including by gays themselves, near idolotry if not deference to authority figures i.e., clericalism which the laity too believed in., and marginalization of women .
Once the society changed [ got woked]and the abuse was exposed, the priesthood for many, encapsulated all the sins and faults and yes mistakes due to ignorance as much as to malice of the society at large. Society has changed and so this easy scapegoating of the priesthood as embodying all that we now know to be wrong. will also dissipate. Nothing succeeds like success.
The majority of priests are not and were not sexual abusers[ and there is a difference between sex with prepubescent kids and sex with adolescents; even in relation to teachers and students] but because there was a cover up by the institution of the Church for so long, along with the clamor against the exclusion of women in the priesthood, this has prejudiced the minds of many people.
It is one one thing to make a case for wanting to abolish the all male all celibate clergy, but to scapegoat the institution of the priesthood, for the attitudes, beliefs , and norms of the past ,which was not limited to the priesthood, is virtue signaling by finding a convenient scapegoat. for the way we[society at large] were.That is what is going on , in labeling the priesthood toxic[imo].The society we lived in was toxic to many; women gays , children, others, and people taught to defer to prestige .

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

The problem isn't clericalism. The problem is the celibate and all male priesthood. It has been shown that the Catholic church has multiple times the child sex abuse by clergy than other Christian denominations combined.

"There are comparatively few allegations of child sexual abuse by ministers of religion in other churches. There are some, as there are in all other organizations involved in work with children and young people. With colleagues I have done a study of the prevalence of abuse in the Anglican Church across Australia. I have some knowledge also of what has happened in other churches. Reliable statistics are not available, but in my opinion, and based on the available data, there has been around six times as much child sexual abuse by clergy and religious in the Catholic Church as there is by ministers of religion in all the other churches in Australia combined - and I would regard that as a conservative figure ..." - Restoring faith: Child sexual abuse and the Catholic Church ... https://www.abc.net.au/religion/restoring-faith-child-sexual-abuse-and-the-catholic-church/10100180

Paul McNelis
1 month ago

Excellent discussion. Carroll's article also reminds me of a book by Garry Wills, Why Priests? Yes, we know that in the early Church our present structure of orders evolved slowly. But there is a reason why we have clergy: we want our ministers to be well educated in Theology, Scriptures, Moral Theology, Psychology so that they can be effective servants of the people of God. There are many and varied ministries, but those who minister the Eucharist should be scrutanized and selected for these duties in a special way. Call it ordination, or becoming part of a clerical state, but it is a special ministry requiring specialized formation. I also cannot understand why Carroll is denying himself the gift of the Eucharist, Christ's parting gift to his disciples for all ages.

Maria Alderson
1 month ago

I thought of Garry Wills, too -- and he is also an ex-priest. My theory is that some priests who leave the priesthood must spend their lives justifying their decision to themselves and to the world. That's true of many lay ex-Catholics, too. Some spend the rest of their lives trying to explain to themselves why they left and feverishly trying to get others to join them.

Al Cannistraro
1 month ago

Not so sure if was ordained a priest or not. He was in the seminary, however. See the following:
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/07/the-loyal-catholic/305802/

Paul McNelis
1 month ago

Garry was not ordained, he left the Society of Jesus during Philosophy years at St. Louis. I knew him when I was a graduate student in Economics at Johns Hopkins and he was a writer in Residence before moving to Northwestern. He was active in the Catholic community in Baltimore, a regular participant at Sunday Mass I cannot figure out why he and James Carroll want to deny themselves the gift of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, a gift by Christ to his disciples for all time and all places. OK, we can argue about who is admitted to orders in the Church but the gift is the Body and Blood of Christ. The fundamental right is the right of all disciples to the Eucharistic self-giving of Christ with his body and blood.

Paul McNelis
1 month ago

Garry was not ordained, he left the Society of Jesus during Philosophy years at St. Louis. I knew him when I was a graduate student in Economics at Johns Hopkins and he was a writer in Residence before moving to Northwestern. He was active in the Catholic community in Baltimore, a regular participant at Sunday Mass I cannot figure out why he and James Carroll want to deny themselves the gift of the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, a gift by Christ to his disciples for all time and all places. OK, we can argue about who is admitted to orders in the Church but the gift is the Body and Blood of Christ. The fundamental right is the right of all disciples to the Eucharistic self-giving of Christ with his body and blood.

Christopher Lochner
1 month ago

I can easily imagine James C. contacting The Atlantic or vice versa and, while noting The Church is frequently front page news, hitting on this discussion as an idea which hasn't been properly mined. Magazine sales will be up. The name James C. will be on many lips. There will be even more speaking engagements. There will be good profit. He might even move quite a number of his old books. I really doubt that he is addressing an issue as much as making good income. J. C. has to make some sense in the article but this is an unintended consequence. After all, one has to be subtle at it to fool the greatest number of people. Praise the Lord and watch the money roll in. Let's get real here! It's the Prosperity Gospel writ large for himself. Some individuals look at the Cross and see gold. I suspect this is true of James C.. Believe his claims of piety in your own error. I've known people like this who were Priests. Believe me when I say they do not give a damn about anyone but are adept at selling themselves. And that's all.

J Jones
1 month ago

I love most Carroll's cry of freedom: we ARE Catholic, with or without permission. Born in 1963, I never believed otherwise and, still, Carroll's hopeful words are mending little breaks in my heart.

Maybe priests will heal, too, and quit doing petty and unChristlike things like denying sacraments (baptisms, first communions) to children whose parents aren't married.

James M.
1 month ago

The priesthood is not necessary, for all Christians are “a kingdom and priests”. There is no basis for distinguishing between lay and cleric, apart from practicality. A priest is - or should be - simply a lay person who has been given the functioning of presiding at the Eucharist. The whole edifice of ordination, degrees of clerical authority, degrees of clerical jurisduction, ranks of clergy, and all the rest of it, needs to be abolished. There is no need of popes, cardinals, nuncios, archbishops, metropolitans, bishops, priests, curates, seminarians, vicars-apostolic, parishes, eparchies, eparchs, hegumens, and all the rest of them; Christ did not say. “Go forth and build basilicas, cathedrals, archabbeys, abbeys, priories, convents, presbyteries, and the rest of them”.

The CC is so cluttered and weighed down with possessions, laws, precedents, book-learning, and all manner of entanglements, social, political, religious, intellectual, historical, moral, that it is absolutely useless for its original function.

St Peter to a paralysed man “Silver and gold have I none, but that which I have, I give thee: in the Name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk”.

How many Popes, “princes of the church”, papal vicars, archbishops, bishops, assistants at the Papal Throne, monsignori, vicars forane, archdeacons, priests and deacons can say what St Peter said ? Not a single one. Get rid of them all, and return the Church to what she was before hob-nobbing with the mighty of this passing world ruined her.

William Guglielmi
1 month ago

I beg to differ with your entire argument concerning the concept of priesthood of all believers. The Church has never been an organization where priests (ministers, if you like) were simply lay persons given the function to preside over the Eucharist. Jesus selected the Twelve, the Eleven selected Matthias, and that Twelve and Paul selected (ordained) presbyters in the churches they organized. Today’s first reading reading (Acts 14: 21-27) recounts some of Paul and Barnabas’ action in this regard. I have not found anything in Scripture that shows otherwise, the construct was adduced by Luther; who himself may have been influenced by the Lollards. The traditional view of a separate, ordained clergy is held by the four most ancient branches of Christianity; Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Assyrian Church of the East. This fact speaks volumes to the historical justification of role of ordained clergy. Secondly, I disagree with your apparent bias against an educated clergy. While I agree that some people educated in theology can, and do, get to tightly engaged in minutiae (the old story of how many angels can dance in a the head of a pin is the classic example) I must argue that those engaged in presiding over the Eucharist must have some level of education.

Christopher Lochner
1 month ago

When the motive is primacy and the financial benefit is strong the wise person would question the intent.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month ago

this is a very self-serving article. Why is clericalism always talked about as if it were something "out there" created by other people, when in fact it is part and parcel of the ethos of priesthood perpetuated by the Catholic Church. Priests are very special and always to be revered the Church tells us, and they are apparently worth sacrificing the reputation of RCC by hiding and covering up their misbehavior and criminal activity. I would be more impressed if Mr Martin had resigned the priesthood out of shame and disgust at being associated with such a terrible institution. Try telling victims of clergy abuse the names of all the good guys like you do here and see if it cures their PTSD. James Carroll does not have to stir up contempt against priests, it already exists and you and your bosses have only ourselves to blame. You could always go out and try and get a real job.

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
1 month ago

The RCC is like the NYPD, both decry being painted with a broad brush and claim "a few bad apples" while completely ignoring their complicity in covering and protecting the"few bad apples". Like the RCC, bad cops are suspended never fired and never prosecuted even after wrongfully killing someone, Eric Gardner's murderer is still on the force . This is made possible because the system that enables and protects bad behavior is in place. The priests that Fr, Martin claims are "good" really are not if they have participated in covering up the misdeeds of their colleagues.
Beyond the sex abuse scandal the very nature of priesthood is misogynist.
I would love to meet a priest that isn't sexist , an attitude that is communicated in various ways. Most are condescending and smug and I can count on one hand the number I have met who are indeed "holy men".
Most are peevish narcissists with scarce life experience.
What is corrupt is the church itself and the priests are footsoliders of that system, which embodies structural misogyny.

Tondalaya Gillespie
1 month ago

I don't think James Carrol's article fosters hatred of priest, or that he is trying to make a
buck. But I do think Fr. Martin (whose articles for the most part I admire) is trying to make us think he is. By doing this, clericalism is front and center. He mentions the widow, the widower, the single sibling, the unmarried aunt as though they have taken the vow of chastity like himself, why would he think this, it seems to say....see they are "good" like me! When you have an intellect like Fr, Martin accepting some misguided dogma that women cannot be ordained, you know the CC has big problems! The church is so mired in dogma and doctrine and fiats from Rome, it has lost the message of Jesus. If I were to subscribe to all of this I would be mired in bigotry, hubris with all the smugness that goes with it. I am not the Catholic the Vatican wants but I am trying to be the Catholic Jesus wants, but the Church is my biggest impediment.

Nora Bolcon
3 weeks 5 days ago

That is the sad truth indeed. It is hard clinging to the RCC that has real power in Christ and the part you know God wants us to stand up for and protect - namely, the sacraments when they are used to heal and not harm are worth fighting for and are worth protecting but the patriarchy and the unjust biases it supports at all costs, even at the cost of our children, are hard to deal with. Thank you for staying with me to fight what is evil in our church until those things are gone.

Tondalaya Gillespie
1 month ago

I don't think James Carrol's article fosters hatred of priest, or that he is trying to make a
buck. But I do think Fr. Martin (whose articles for the most part I admire) is trying to make us think he is. By doing this, clericalism is front and center. He mentions the widow, the widower, the single sibling, the unmarried aunt as though they have taken the vow of chastity like himself, why would he think this, it seems to say....see they are "good" like me! When you have an intellect like Fr, Martin accepting some misguided dogma that women cannot be ordained, you know the CC has big problems! The church is so mired in dogma and doctrine and fiats from Rome, it has lost the message of Jesus. If I were to subscribe to all of this I would be mired in bigotry, hubris with all the smugness that goes with it. I am not the Catholic the Vatican wants but I am trying to be the Catholic Jesus wants, but the Church is my biggest impediment.

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
1 month ago

This was a pretty whiny response to Carroll's article. The bottomline is that a priest and the church lack sufficient distance to address their shadow side. A friend worked for the Jesuits for years and her job was to file away the many unread complaints from parishioners. No one responded because they wouldn't bother to read what their parishioners' concerns were. RCC is still not listening. Sex abuse is the extreme behavior that is produced by patriarchy, there is also narcissism and arrogance and racism. It is worth noting that the worst engineers of our current govt disastrous policies are white Catholic men, one of which a sexual predator himself, now sits on the Supreme Court.

sheila gray
1 month ago

I agree. Father Martin’s response to James Carroll’s very thought-provoking article surprised me. Unless and until the Catholic Clergy, including nuns, realize how close they are to losing All credibility, the future for Catholicism does not look bright.

Nora Bolcon
3 weeks 5 days ago

So hideously true! It really does make one's skin crawl.

ARGENTINA ESTEVEZ
1 month ago

This was a pretty whiny response to Carroll's article. The bottomline is that a priest and the church lack sufficient distance to address their shadow side. A friend worked for the Jesuits for years and her job was to file away the many unread complaints from parishioners. No one responded because they wouldn't bother to read what their parishioners' concerns were. RCC is still not listening. Sex abuse is the extreme behavior that is produced by patriarchy, there is also narcissism and arrogance and racism. It is worth noting that the worst engineers of our current govt disastrous policies are white Catholic men, one of which a sexual predator himself, now sits on the Supreme Court.

Eddy LeRoque
1 month ago

The most radical anti cleric I met was a son of a Nazi war criminal. He (the son) lived under a cloud of dark depression. He let me know all priest should be killed. Another Hitler lover let me know all priests were pedophiles. These people wallow in their own ignorance as pig wallows in its own vomit.
( Neither) thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:10
and that is what they are. Incredibly materialistic they swindled and cheated.
So we eliminate all priests ? Who is next as we purify the earth? The 20th century is loaded we corpses caused by the new Puritans, Lenin compared himself to John Calvin, The Nazis killed nearly every priest in Poland. The communist sent priests to the Gulag. To amuse themselves, the new Puritans dripped water on the priests heads. The priests gradually froze. The priest-less Calvinists in the south had millions of slaves. to be sure a minority of Catholics had slaves,
In Scotland the godly John Knox had sex with his step-daughter according to the Scottish artist John Bellany (see death knell for John Knox). Luther was a common adulterer. When Luther wrote to Erasmus asking Erasmus to join the Reformation, Erasmus responded NO.
" I have never entered their conventicles, but I have sometimes seen them returning from their sermons, the countenances of all of them displaying rage, and wonderful ferocity, as though they were animated by the evil spirit...." and Calvinist minsters still scream at their unfortunate audience.
Name the priest less societies today. Would any sane person want to be a part of them? God judges nations. A priest less Russia was punished unmercifully. Nazi Germany which wanted to destroy the Church was reduced to ashes. (see George Patton Speech in Los Angeles on youtube)

sheila gray
1 month ago

Um, Eddy: are you seriously comparing people who criticize the Catholic Church over the clergy abuse crisis, even to the point of writing about abolishing the Priesthood, to Hitler-lovers? To Nazi war criminals? And you wonder why it’s all falling apart? I am a 67 year old survivor and I’m telling you as politely as I can that unles The Catholic Church changes radically it will eventually only have a very small number of followers, and they will all be just like you... But you would love that, wouldn’t you?

Neo White
4 weeks ago

xo

Neo White
4 weeks ago

x

Eddy LeRoque
4 weeks ago

No, I said have not said that. I said two hitlerites spoke to me directly. I did not say all people who criticize the abuse crisis are hitlerites. . And it wasn't about clerical abuse. So stop judging me when I report facts. As far as your prognostications are concerned , I doubt it The church isn't falling apart. I go to church in Dallas. we have 8 Sunday Masses. Most are packed. We have hundreds in our RCIA program. at just one church We now have 70 young men in seminary formation. as opposed to 7 just years ago. I deal with numbers , not opinions.
As far as the police raid , yeah we will get a rehash of what we already know. And that which has already been reported.
And you want another Reformation? I suggest you google Erasmus on wiki. The reformers committed the same sins as everyone else did. As far as child abuse it is a crime and must be reported. Teachers in the Dallas Independent school district have an 800 number. Catholics can call the police, How child sex abuse still occurs in the Dallas ISD.
In conclusion just deal with facts and stop your cheap slanders against posters. You need to stop talking down to people. "um"

Tondalaya Gillespie
4 weeks 1 day ago

Heaven help us! Such ignorance, such "burn them at the stake" intolerance.

Catherine McKeen
1 month ago

James Carroll was interviewed this evening on NPR. In fact, he told the interviewer he no longer considers himself a Catholic, so it seemed to me there was nothing he could say that would persuade me he has the good of his former church at heart. I listened politely, hearing him repeat the formulaic attack on "clericalism," but he had nothing enlightening in any way beyond what many others have said. Except my dinner was ruined. Why is it so often the Catholic church, and in this interview Pope Francis too, that arouses so much hatred out there in the world of opinion? Thanks to Fr. Martin for pointing out the obvious.

sheila gray
1 month ago

So, please pray share with us all what you think is the way forward on clergy abuse? What are your solutions? Do you have any at all? Or do you actually believe this is all going away somehow? James Carroll had the guts, the fortitude, to write about the obvious: The Church is doomed if we don’t, all of us, especially the Hierarchy, get this right in the next year or two. I believe if we get it right, if we can devote ourselves to Healing the Abuse Crisis by helping Survivors to heal and maybe even prosper a little before we die, we could turn it around. If The Church survives it will be because Christ’s message of Love for all and each of us has triumphed over complacency, superficiality and arrogance.

Joseph O'Leary
4 weeks 1 day ago

What do you mean by "clergy abuse"? The Philadelphia report did not seem able to come up with any instances of abuse of minors since 2002.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.]

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