Is Catholic Church crisis about sex abuse -- or leadership?
The sexual abuse crisis that dominated U.S. headlines in 2002 is back, with an international focus this time. And with it comes the parallel attacks on media that brought news of the crisis to light. And, now, as then, the Vatican has defensive -- as if this were an attack on faith, not on human failings.
The faces at the top of the Catholic hierarchy are different than in 2002. The headlines, for the most part, come out of Ireland or Germany. But the fundamental call from the public and media is the same: Accountability.
USA TODAY's editorial today notes:
In case after case, the church has faced choices between protecting children or protecting itself. It has consistently chosen the latter, and in doing so has protected neither.
On CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday, media reporter Howard Kurtz interviewed Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times, whose coverage of a Wisconsin predator priest brought the crisis back to the front pages of U.S. papers last month. (The Orlando Sentinel has the full transcript.)
One exchange highlights why the religion reporter burrowed in to the case of the deaf community in Wisconsin pressing for the Vatican department, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict, to defrock a priest who abused 200 children decades earlier...
Goodstein: It came up in the course of looking at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. That's the office in the Vatican that used to be headed by the man who is now Pope Benedict. We were looking at how they handled cases from bishops around the world that came to the Vatican. This was one of them. I found this one by, you know, calling many sources. And spoke to an attorney who has handled a lot of lawsuits against the church.
Kurtz: Short answer: old fashioned reporting.
Later in the interview, Goodstein wraps up by saying:
It's not just 50s, 60s, and 70s. By the 1980s you had a very big scandal. It began (with) a priest in Louisiana. From that point the American bishops and also the Vatican began reconsidering how to confront priest abusers. So they have had an awfully long time at which they said at several points, "Now we have it under control. No -- no need to worry."
And so its been an awfully long time for them to figure out how to manage it in a responsible way.
Bob Schieffer at CBS' Face the Nation blew off calls for the Church to fix up its public relations (with prominent Vatican voices making major gaffes during Holy Week). Schieffer says the failure is not theology but bureaucracy.
And in today's Washington Post, an essay by Timothy Shriver very elegantly places the scandal in the larger context of the eternal truths and daily good service to humanity Shriver sees offered by the best of his Catholic Church. It is a church rooted in Jesus, served by "heroic and dedicated" priests and nuns, and bringing "the gospel to life for billions," he writes.
We were raised to love the gospel, to seek the truth, to serve justice, to grow in the bosom of the sacraments. But we will not do it under (these bishops) leadership unless they change.
What's needed is a conversion of the bishops and the pope himself. That's right: It's time for the pope and the bishops to 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 is time for them to listen to the deep and authentic witness of the people of faith, to trust the spirit that blows where it will, to abandon their defensiveness of their positions and trust only the gospel, and not their edifice of control. Conversion is a total experience -- letting go of the old and putting on the new.
And the editorial of the latest issue of the Jesuit weekly, America Magazine, spells out the steps they think the Church must take: "See out the victims... Come clean... Be accountable... Empower the laity" It concludes:
Humility should be a virtue for all to embrace just now, but especially for church leaders in seeking the guidance of the faithful.
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The Guardian - U.K. April 5, 2010
This is a crisis of clericalism
The Catholic church survived the French and Russian revolutions. It will survive this crisis too, but humbler, poorer, and more honest
by Austen Ivereigh | Commentary
The clerical sex abuse crisis is not the worst for the church since the Reformation. Remember the French Revolution, which executed clergy and nationalised church property? It was imitated, on the whole less violently, by the states of Europe and Latin America in the nineteenth century which stripped the church of its land, privileges, funds and autonomy. The relentless media stories fuelled by angry abuse victims stepping forward to remember abuse of 20 or 30 years ago may be excoriating, but they do not compare to what the Mexican, Russian and German states did to the church and Catholics in the early twentieth century, in the era of totalitarianism.
But their effect is in many ways just as dramatic. Unlike those assaults on the church, the sex abuse crisis is an internal one, a crisis of leadership and governance in which the perpetrators are the priests and the bishops who failed to act against them, and the victims are – or were – powerless adolescents. What makes the crisis especially purgative is that both the abuse and the cover-up are historic, yet their consequences are felt now. They took place at a time of clericalism, a culture which fostered power, privilege and secrecy, when the priesthood of the 1950s-60s saw itself as a caste set apart. The voice of the victims, which did not begin to be heard properly in the media until the 1980s, was suffocated by the need to preserve the image of the institution. That has now changed: not just in the guidelines and procedures put in place in the church from the 1990s which ensure reporting to civil authorities of any allegation, however old, but in the Vatican's revision and enforcement of its own canon law, whose strictures against abusive priests used to be simply ignored.
Although these changes make it impossible for the abuse crisis to recur in the present – in fact, abuse allegations dropped off sharply from the mid-1980s as the cases were investigated and acted on – the crisis will continue for some time yet. It is in the nature of sex abuse that its victims take a long time to step forward, mostly when they are in their thirties or forties and are turning to therapy after suffering depression and shattered relationships. As allegations are made and reported by the media, others are encouraged to step forward, and like a snowball the coverage grows; this is what happened in the US, the UK and in Ireland, and has begun to happen in central Europe.
Spain and Italy are likely to be next; then Poland. Each time, the toxic combination of clericalism and blindness to the suffering of victims will be revealed, and the outrageous stories of cover-up and denial will splatter the front pages. As they investigate the allegations, journalists will be sniffing for the "smoking gun", the story that reveals that a Vatican cardinal once took a decision to reassign a priest when he was a bishop. They may, eventually, find one that is more convincing than the ones so far; but even if they did, what would it reveal? The Pope, too, has undergone a conversion typical of the church leaders of his generation, and since at least 2001 has been a key architect of the church's reform of its procedures.
Like all powerful institutions, the church has little capacity to reform itself, but it can embrace purgation as an opportunity for change. As the crisis spreads from country to country, one after another the hierarchies will be bewildered by the onslaught and anger. Some will blame the media for its often crude and misleading reports, others will retreat more tightly into their bunkers, others will point out (correctly) that clerical abuse has nothing to do with celibacy or an all-male priesthood. Some will have the courage to recognise that it is, however, a consequence of a culture of clericalism which still prevails, an attitude that places concern for a priest's reputation above the welfare of a child, and a mindset that leads to dissident theologians being prosecuted more swiftly than abusers of children. This recognition, gradually, will lead to a new mindset – a humbler, poorer, more penitent church, which hears the voice of the victims not after the rest of society, but long before it, as Christians should.
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New America Media - March 31, 2010
The Catholic Church's Dirty Little Secret
by Blase Bonpane | Commentary
More than 40 years ago I, was automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church for "attempting marriage." Our “attempted marriage” was conducted at my parents’ home with four priests presiding together with my bride, the former Sister Maura Killene of Maryknoll who had served in Southern Chile. We have now celebrated four decades together and now have two children and five grandchildren. There is nothing “attempted” about it. It is a wonderful marriage followed by a life of full-time work for justice and peace.
The excommunication has never upset me, mostly because of the guidance of my mother who had admonished me to “take it with a grain of salt.” This was her comment on many ecclesiastical directives, including celibacy. She was very disturbed that I went off to the seminary to become a priest in the first place.
”Why don’t they marry? It’s not normal,” she insisted. Both of her parents were born in Italy and they had a wonderful understanding of the irrationality of Canon Law. That’s right. They loved their church and were very comfortable criticizing it and even making fun of it. But as is becoming increasingly clear amid almost daily revelations of sexual abuse among the clergy, much of church behavior is really not funny.
While tens of thousands of us priests have married (or "attempted marriage," followed by automatic excommunication), we can’t help but look at what happens to pedophiles in the clergy. They are not excommunicated, but are simply sent to another parish! Church leaders are accessories to crime; the bishops are told to send all of the evidence to the Vatican immediately, with a mandate of absolute secrecy.
Many issues have come to the fore in this scandal. One of them is clerical class privilege, or clerical impunity. That includes impunity for those who remain subservient to ecclesiastical authority. It does not include any impunity for dissidents. Obfuscated clerical thinking might say, "Well this sinful priest has gone to confession and therefore must have a firm purpose of amendment." Sorry folks, that does not cure a pedophile. Silence is not an option. Silence is complicity.
Celibacy is not the problem; both Jesus and St. Paul spoke of it as a personal choice. However, the Law of Celibacy – which came with the Second Lateran Council of 1139 AD -- is part of the problem.
Another part of the problem is a cult issue. A clerical class is expected to have both impunity and immunity. This is the delusion of all cult leaders. We can look back to Pius IX who declared himself infallible and declared his Infallibility to be both retroactive and future active. And here is where much of the problem resides. It is called doctrine. Since the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, the focus of the church has been on doctrine. In effect, the church is saying, “We will tell you the truth about God. Other religions don’t have that truth.” This is called imperial religion and was the product of Constantine the Great. The unbeliever was to be granted death because error has no rights.
In the 20th century there was a strong movement against this imperial religion. In 1962, a revolutionary old man known as Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council in order to bring some fresh air into a very stuffy church.
The Council had a profound effect on those of us who were in the field at that time. I was in Guatemala in the midst of a civil war. We heard directives from the Vatican that turned us loose: Enter into the hopes, desires and anxieties of your people …hasta las ultimas consequencias..(wherever it takes you). This led us to practice what was later called liberation theology. The objective was to focus on the virtues of pre-Constantine Christianity--that's right, on the teachings of Jesus. Fundamentalist doctrinal rigidity is not the defining factor of liberation theology. On the contrary, the defining factor is a life that radiates the fruits of the spirit: justice, peace, joy, courage, love, compassion and endurance.
The goal is not to say how much we know about God, but rather how little we know about God and how we must respect the sacred stories of others religions in order to be reverent.
But there was a Grand Inquisitor within the church who frequently attacked liberation theologians. This was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI.
If he had paid attention to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Ratzinger would not have spent so much time trying to claim that he knew so much about God and that he, as the Grand Inquisitors of old, was going to be a hammer of heretics. If he were concerned about morality more than his ideas of doctrine, he would not have wasted his time trying to protect the “image” of a church that was suffering from abhorrent legalistic formalism. Rather than attack and silence some of the finest intellectuals in the church, he would have openly denounced the behavior of sexual predators in or out of the clergy.
Now sexual abuse, which was allowed to continue for decades, has burst into the open, precipitating a crisis of credibility for the Vatican.
So what is to be done?
First, the church should immediately end the nonsensical law of celibacy in the Roman Rite, and invite the clergy to marry rather than be excommunicated for "attempting marriage." Priests who have married should be invited to resume their ministry. Women should be allowed to be ordained as priests. Finally, the Vatican should end the cult of silence that is also the law of the mafia, the CIA, the FBI, the military, and corporate headquarters.
None of this will end the evil of pedophilia, but it will no longer be anyone’s “dirty little secret.”
Blase Bonpane, Ph.D., is director of the Office of the Americas and author of “Guerrillas of Peace: Liberation Theology and the Central American Revolution,” (Excel Press).
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