29 March 2010

Abuse & Scandal: what went wrong?

I've been getting a lot of email about the brewing global sex abuse scandal, asking me to explain "what went wrong."  Catholics are justifiably angry, demoralized, and worried.  There seems to be no end to the revelations of perversion and cover-up.  

We search for explanations b/c we believe that knowing what happened will allow us to fix things and ensure that none of this will happen again.  Unfortunately, human history throws a cold bucket of water on these sputtering embers of hope.  Fortunately, however, salvation history fans the flames into a holocaust. 

While the bigots in the media scurry around looking for damning memos and faux-victims eager for a payday from the Church, Catholics must keep two essential truths in mind:  1) we are all sinners and 2) the war against evil has already been won.  We have allowed the lawyers, the therapists, the talking-heads, and the ecclesial bureaucracies to distract us with statistical reports, financial reports, psychological explanations, and legal wrangling.  Yes, all of these go into the mix of figuring out how we need to respond.  But none of them address the core issue of the fallenness of human nature and the offer of redemption in Christ.

People sin.  Always have, always will.  Married clergy, women priests, new policies and procedures, legal victories or losses, popularly elected bishops--none of these will change the hard, cold fact that people behave in ways that hurt other people.  Despite the goodness, truth, and beauty we all participate in as the redeemed children of a loving God, we still manage to allow our disordered passions to rule our divinely gifted reason.  We still surrender to our appetites even when doing so is clearly the worst possible thing we could do.  We still allow ourselves to forget the evil that results from disobedience and despair. 

The fallenness of human nature explains the abuse and scandals. . .it does not excuse them.  Nothing excuses them.  If priests followed the teachings of the Church faithfully, there would be no abuse to report.  If bishops governed their dioceses according to the teachings of the apostles, there would be no cover-ups.  We can point fingers at the repressive sexual formation that dominated the seminaries in the '40's and '50's; the sexual/doctrinal permissiveness that followed Vatican Two in the '60's and '70's; the rise of the so-called "Pink Palaces" and the CEO-model of episcopal administration in the '80's; and the Old Boys' Club mentality of the Curia throughout the Church's history.  All of these contributed to this crisis.  But none more than old-fashioned sin.

The decline in vocations post-VC2 made bishops reluctant to dismiss much-needed priests.  Academic and psychological admission standards were changed to allow otherwise questionable candidates into the seminaries.  Ideology often kept men with no allegiance to the prevailing feminist agenda out of seminary.  Add to this the constant assault on orthodox moral theology from within the Church and the rapidly eroding sexual ethics of society in general, and the abuse became almost inevitable.  But none of these caused the abuse or the cover-ups. 

The cover-ups seem even more insidious than the incidents of abuse themselves.  Here we had otherwise faithful bishops and priests aiding and abetting the molestation of children and teens by allowing the molesters to move from assignment to assignment.  We might be willing to think that a child-molester is mentally ill, but what are we supposed to think about a psychologically healthy bishop who knows about this man's abuse and continues to allow him to function as a priest?  Again, all kinds of reasons for a cover-up come to mind.  But no excuses.  Bishops had to come to a point where they are more afraid of legal prosecution than they are of religious scandal.  We reached that point in 2002 with the "Dallas Charter."  Now, it seems, they run to process, procedure, and "safe-environment" training certification in order to address what is essentially a matter of sin and redemption. 

All of this is bad news, no doubt about it.  The Good News, however, is clear:  the war against evil has already been won.  This week, the Church celebrates the Passion of the Lord, climaxing on Easter Sunday with his glorious resurrection from the tomb.  Read the reports of abuse and scandal.  Pray first and foremost for the victims of these crimes.  Pray for the men and women who committed them.  Pray for the men and women who helped to cover them up.  Pray for the media vultures who believe that they are circling the wounded, dying body of the Church, waiting for their favorite ideological opponent to croak.  And as you pray, remember. . .every Passion Week, every week of suffering, ridicule, betrayal, every week comes to an end with the Resurrection!

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  1. Father Powell:

    The most erudite, insightful
    understanding of this insipid
    evil that will affect the Roman
    Catholic Church for the next fifty
    years. Good, honest, balanced men
    have been turned away from formation because vocation directors, etc., were afraid of anyone who was devout in belief
    and action-OLD CHURCH as it were-who wanted to serve as priests.

    I know you disagree with this, Father. Maybe it's time for a
    limited married clergy,(based on
    the witness-dare I say it-of our
    Orthodox brethren). At the very
    least, we should expand the ministerial faculties of our own
    church's permanent diaconate.

    Nevertheless, it is time for metanoia-a complete change of heart-for all God's ministers and people to repent and strive for
    righteousness! IN JESUS' HOLY NAME
    WE PRAY-

    Art Uvaas
    Ontario, CA.

  2. Art, you are right, I strongly disagree. Changing anything about the fundamental structure of the ordained ministry in response to this mess is a tacit admission that the structure caused the mess. No sure thing is possible...when the structure is followed faithfully.

    Any change would set a precedent for any future crisis and play into the hands of the revolutionaries.