I suppose it is just another paradox of life that to get anything done in this world one must obtain and exercise power. And as soon as you do, your path to corruption begins.
I have been thinking about this a lot in connection with our church. Boston, Philadelphia, Ireland — all places where the church had real temporal influence, where priests, bishops and archbishops were respected, honored and trusted. Local churches struggling in out-of-the-way places don’t seem to have fallen into the den of iniquity like these big influential archdioceses have. It’s possible that it is just not reported on, but I doubt it.
I would imagine that a pastor in 1970s Alabama didn’t enjoy the presumption of trustworthiness that a pastor in Ardmore, Pennsylvania enjoyed. As a result, this probably made our hypothetical priest a little tougher, a little more focused on the job. Maybe even a little holier? Who knows.
A work colleague recently traveled to Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland, the magnificent church was almost empty, and the only young people present were dragged there by parents. The priest lamented the lack of attendance by the next generation and frankly had no answers, and according to my colleague, seemed despondent.
In Scotland, the church was packed and vibrant. Catholicism has been a minority faith in Scotland for generations and cannot presume to command the allegiance of a majority of the citizens. Small, focused, holy communities — I have sensed it while attending church in South Carolina. These anecdotes reinforce a creeping sense that our church may have to shrink to holiness.
I am 57 years old. Pope John Paul II was elected while I was in high school. There was a man who obtained power and wielded it, but he didn’t seem ever to be corrupted by it. Perhaps his power was deeper and richer, a power based on the Word and not on the world. Maybe in Philadelphia, in Boston, and in other big American cities we got too close to power, too comfortable with worldly success.
I also think a lot about the responsibility that the laity have for this situation. It’s easy, and sometimes even appropriate, to express anger at the priests who acted in depraved ways and for leaders who failed to stop it or who enabled it. But what part did we play in the creation of a culture that would permit this to occur?
The laity were too deferential in many ways to the clergy and to the institutional church. We sent our children to Catholic schools, we went to Mass and thought our duty ended there. We failed to demand accountability.
I am afraid our lack of paying attention has created other problems that are yet to be revealed. I can’t begin to imagine the scale of financial malfeasance. When a body is sick and corrupt in one part it generally affects other parts. Too much cash flowing through the system, like too much rich food flowing through the body, tends to make the body sluggish and susceptible to a continuing need to be fed in such a manner.
What this all means for bishops I do not know. I do know we need holy men more than ever. Archbishop Charles Chaput will no doubt be required to guide the Archdiocese of Philadelphia through some rough water; all options for shepherding this unwieldy structure are to be considered, I suppose.
It would have been easier to be archbishop during good times, when the church was growing and the bad news wasn’t ever-present. Easier, but not more ennobling.
I can’t really explain why I write this letter, but I feel a need to respond somehow. Anything that distracts Catholics and potential Catholics from the message is a problem. We have 2,000 years of the richest intellectual and spiritual wealth, and we have to preserve and propagate it. It may be presumptuous of me to write these thoughts, but I don’t know what else to do.
Thomas A. Kennedy is a member of St. Monica Parish, Berwyn.
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PREVIOUS: Let’s be clear on ‘reparation’ for clerical sexual abuse
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I have thought long and hard about Tom Kennedy’s commentary. I recently had a conversation with a neighbor who, angered by the Pennsylvania grand jury report, asked me, “where are the three hundred priests in Pennsylvania who knew the child sexual abusers and tried to stop them.” Stumped by the neighbor’s and Tom’s commentary, I was determined to become informed on the subject.
My search for understanding led me to the work of the late Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine priest, prominent Catholic educator, prolific writer, researcher and psychotherapist who testified extensively on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests (find his works at http://www.awrsipe.com). His research was based on hundreds of interviews with sexually abusive priests from which he developed a pathology for clerical child sexual abuse and derived insights into why the Church has been so blind to it. Sipe’s books and commentaries were first published in the early 1980’s, ten years after he left the priesthood and married a former nun.
Pedophilia is a clinically diagnosed mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Association defines a pedophile is an individual who fantasizes about, is sexually aroused by, or experiences sexual urges toward prepubescent children for a period of at least six months. Sipe observed that the psychosis was identifiable in about four percent of males, and that the priesthood provides a unique environment to foster it. In 1974, when I was a fourth grader at Maternity BVM elementary school, there were about a thousand priests in the archdiocese. Statistically speaking, about forty of them were pedophiles. By comparison, today, there are slightly less than eight hundred archdiocesan priests, about twenty percent were ordained before 1970, when seminarians at little to no exposure to a curriculum that included self-understanding and the development of emotional and psychological competence necessary for celibate life. According to a report prepared for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2011 (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf), increased levels of deviant behavior in the general society and among Catholic priests were driven social and cultural changes in the 1960s and 1970s.” Incidents of child sexual abuse in the Church increased steadily from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, then declined in the 1980s and continue to remain low.
Sipe’s research led him to conclude that clerical celibacy rewards psychosexual immaturity resulting in a supply of psychosexually impaired priests, to quote Sipe, “whose level of adjustment is adolescent at best and tends to create a psychic and moral field and situation in which immature liaisons with young children not only become more possible but are psychosexually over-determined because children are actually on a developmental par with these men.” Of course, there are many devoted priests and laypersons committed to celibacy. I have had the great gift of knowing a few who have inspired me to live a better life and doubly gifted for never having been impacted the horror of child sexual abuse.
Unequipped to recognize the clinical pathology of child sexual abuse, pastors dealt with incidents as they would with other immoral behavior among their clergy. Abuse was rarely reported to civil authorities. Priests who were reported or found to be engaged in sexual behavior would be sent on sabbatical to reflect on and reconcile their sins. Forgiveness and reconciliation are, after all, tenets of the Catholic faith. Offense would be reported to the bishop and offending priests would be sent to counseling, transferred to another parish within the diocese (because transfer out of the diocese requires agreement between bishops), or, at worst, suspended from clerical activity. The scandalous behavior of a priest would be a career-limiting embarrassment for a presiding bishop (vanity being one of the devil’s favorite sins). A recidivist priest might recover upon a fresh start in a new diocese under the close supervision of the bishop. How could it happen? How could it not happen? I would guess we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. As we have witnessed in the judicial confirmation hearings, sexual abuse can go unreported for decades.
In 2009, the Church issued new canonical regulations to punish clergy guilty of grave offenses. Prior to 2009, the highly cumbersome process of laicization (or “defrocking” in non-canonical terms) was rare and typically granted upon a priest’s personal request (the most common reason is to marry). Since then, hundreds of priests have been laicized, most recently in September when Pope Francis ordered the laicization of a Chilean priest convicted of child sexual abuse.
Returning to my friend’s question, I will take a lesson from the Gospels and answer with another question: Where were the hundreds of Enron accountants who knew about the company’s willful corporate fraud and corruption and failed to report it? It took our federal government over a decade to establish a program to award whistleblowers who voluntarily report securities law violations that lead to successful enforcement actions. Of course, child sexual abuse is orders of magnitude more grievous than accounting fraud, but the comparison is useful in considering the extremes of organizational behavior and a possible solution. The archdiocese’s Office of Investigations under the leadership of former Philly district attorney, John Delaney, is responsible for investigating allegations of sexual abuse among our archdiocese. The office’s ultimate actions remain under the authority of the Archbishop and Vicar of Clergy.
In the longer term, perhaps the Church will relax its celibacy requirements. It was only in the last 40% of the Church’s history that priests were forbidden to marry. The implications of clerical marriages will open a can of worms that has been sealed since the Medici’s walked the streets of Florence, but these worms may be preferable to the carrion crawling within the Body of Christ today. Given the Church’s pace of change, I do not expect to see a priest on the top of a wedding cake in my lifetime.
The Book of Numbers describes the Jewish people’s forty years of wanderings in the Sinai Desert. Jewish off-spring would enter the Promised Land without the emotional scars of slavery in Egypt. How long must our Church wander in the desert? I believe that the resolution of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church will take a generation until our children’s children can be born into a Church whose leaders are not scarred by child sexual abuse. The Church is a work-in-process, and we must all work together to build it.
Not a bad or new concept. A smaller, ‘remnant’ Church with smaller parishes [and also fewer church buildings spread farther apart] might work, centered on a feeling of wanting to belong yet wanting to continue to be part of a bigger world-with and without a moral conscience, much like the Jews among the pagans. The concept of building the Church via conversion and evangelization was aimed at numbers. And we have what we have. Maybe better to adopt the attitude I think is in ‘Evangelii Nuntiandi’ that evangelization is bring the Good News is the job of everyone who lives the Gospel. Not just to build up numbers and fill churches, but to be a witness to the world of the life lived in the Gospel. Not to ‘Convert’ people of good will or no will, but to exist side by side as a visible, audible lifestyle alternative. Becoming a holy people set apart is a good goal, as long as we do not separate from the world, but rather, continue to be a light, even if a small one, among the nations.
When I attended Catholic school back in the early 1950’s there were three classrooms for each grade. Each class had a St. Joseph’s nun. They ruled with an iron fist or yard stick wrapped with tape. In my grade we had 30 children in each class. If you were guilty of something, or not, you felt the wrath of these saintly women. And if you went home and told your parents that Sister hit me with her yardstick or her three edged wooden ruler across the knuckles, innocent or not, you were reprimanded by one or both parents. “Sister would not have hit you if you hadn’t done something wrong,” was always the response.
So understandably how could you expect a young boy to tell his parents that the good Father was molesting him?
We who still attend Mass on Sundays are good Catholics, and we go to worship God, and hope that this tragic thing is not happening in your parish.
Through all of this Jesus’ words to the scribes and pharisees keep ringing in my mind. They, too, had become caught up with their positions of authority and enjoyed the honors and privileges they demanded for themselves:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matt. 23:27, 28)
May God have mercy on the souls of those who through these scandals are being called to repentance. Their lies and denials reveal their lack of virtue, but we have to pray that this opportunity will bring them back to faithfulness for their salvation and the good of the Church.
Dom Chautard in his classic work “Soul of the Apostolate” wrote: “If the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless.”
What then if the priests and bishops are godless? What is the Church to become with examples of leadership like this?
Could it be that this crisis is a manifestation of a much deeper problem in the Church; the reluctance on the part of our leaders to teach the Faith faithfully including the nitty-gritty bits, the bits that so many would avoid, using the excuse that this was too much “hell and brimstone”. How many Catholics today know that to attend a “gay wedding” would be a serious sin? How many Catholics understand why IVF is forbidden? And, how many Catholic priests have been told to tone down their sermons on Humana Vitae? We, the laity have a serious part to play; we need to support the priests who are faithful and raise our voices against those who are not.
Margaret, not just “gay weddings”, but the whole homosexual lifestyle. They need to teach that homosexuality is a mortal sin. The Church leaders cannot change this teaching. This whole sense of sin both mortal and venial and how we worship has been downplay too much these past 60 years. And this was done on purpose.
Like every good Catholic I am shocked at this SECOND round of hidden abuse. US Church standards were raised some 15 years ago. How you doing ? Each and every Bishop should provide a public answer for the past 15 years. And accept the consequences from Rome and local criminal trials as needed. That said, their sins are theirs. And they aren’t any near enough for me to turn my back on Christ, the Living Son of God. My job now is to pray more consistently, more sincerely that the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit bring a good cleaning and a rebuilding of the true proper love of God in all our bishops, priests, and laity. Let us all come closer to Christ and live a life of honor, integrity, and personal responsibility.
Yes I agree that some of the fault does fall on the adults of the Catholic church because they knew always knew what we going on & did nothing about it, just sweep it under the rug as the saying goes. The priests as well as the nuns could do no wrong but that wasn’t the case with many of our priests & nuns. There was a lot of wrong being done by our clergy & the adults just turned their heads in the other direction thinking that it was the right way to handle it. I suppose those people who turned their heads received some favors in returned. Parents should have never let some priests baby sit their kids so they could go out for the night or go away for a weekend. The church needs to straighten out a lot of things & the parents as well as the Catholic community needs to do their share of helping the church right the wrong & keep it that way. It’s a never ending job that should have a happy ending. Every person has to be held accountable for their own actions. The church hid all of these horrible crimes & shame on them. It’s not God’s way so why are they priests. Go get a job elsewhere & stop trying to a free ride. The church is not above the law by no means. So I blame the people in charge of our church for not handing these criminals over to the law when it happened & now. The heads of the church are not doing the members of the church any favors by not monitoring these pedophiles. It seems to me they are only trying to protect their own free ride in this world. I know all this evilness will never end until God let’s it but He taught us to fight it & conquer it until our judgement day & others should do the same.
The saying power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutly is unfortunately correct more often than not .
Adoration and the Rosary are the spiritual defense we need to employ against a real enemy in the devil who has many tools to attack and weaken us . Pray morning noon and night .
Thank you for writing this. You were able to say what I have been feeling, but haven’t been able to put so eloquently into words.
Holiness, which is separation from the lusts of the world, is produced by the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). This is not emphasized in today’s Church; but it is the only thing that can give the peace and strength to be chaste. There are too many other things that the Church prefers to be occupied with.
I agree that some of the responsibility is with us, the laity, for failing to hold our church leaders accountable. But how do we turn that around? Frederick Douglass had it right, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” So how do we now fight for ourselves and our children to demand justice and reform from our church leaders?