“Q: How do you know the pope is infallible?
A: Because he said so. In 1873″
-(Scott Pomfret, Since My Last confession)
“Assigned power is just that: assigned (usually by he elite in favour of the elite) but masquerading as divinely ordained, cosmically correct and unquestionably true.”
-Virginia Mollenkott, “Reading the bible frm Low and Outside: Lesbigaytrans People as God’s Tricksters”, in Take Back the Word
There are three ingredients for creating conditions ripe for clerical abuse, as shown by Robinson and many others: excessive centralisation of clerical power, compulsory celibacy, and maladjusted individuals. Directly or indirectly, we all (inside or outside the church) been to a greater or lesser degree, acquiescent- and hence to some extent complicit.
In meekly surrendering to a bureaucracy that insists on imposing its own world view on areas where it has neither real knowledge nor legitimate authority, we have fallen into the battered wife syndrome. We have accepted the bullying, denying the occurrence or defending the church to outsiders, yet unable and unwilling to either end the bullying, or leave.
The modern concentration of power is not based in Scripture, nor on the practice of the early church. For the greater part of church history, the great councils of the church included not only clergy, but also prominent lay people. Vatican II was announced 50 years ago, just as the great wave of decolonisation, followed by democratisation, was breaking across the secular world. The council itself promised a start, even in just a small way, to a similar move to greater collegiality and accountability within the church. Pope John Paul II was instrumental in the downfall of Communism, and hence in the democratisation, of Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. Why did we allow him to arrest and reverse the tiny moves to democratic reform in his own domain? For I believe, it was indeed our connivance that did it. Sure, bureaucratic inertia played a part, as did the desire of some in the Curia to maintain their grip. But you cannot impose democracy on people unwilling to accept (consider modern Russia): it has to be taken, and used, by a willing people. That, we have not been. Too many Catholics prefer to have their thinking done for them, to be told what to believe. As we have been hesitant to accept the responsibilities we have been offered, it has been too easy for a powerful bureaucracy to simple roll back the minor concessions that had been granted.
We are frequently told “The church is not a democracy”, to which my standard reply is, “Why not?” The earliest church was intensely communal, while the modern history of other denominations shows that they are entirely capable of taking decisions with the participation of all sections of the church.
Compulsory celibacy is another patent absurdity that collectively, we have tolerated, even though it is obviously undesirable in a world of desperate shortages of priests. Married clergy were accepted for 12 centuries in the Western church, and were always a part of the Eastern Church, as they have been since the Reformation in the protestant denominations. None of these appear to have found the marital state a hindrance to clerical effectiveness. Even the Catholic Church has itself allowed married priests – but only if they have been first ordained in the Anglican or other communion, and then converted.
Married clergy would not only alleviate the shortage of , it would also introduce greater realism to the teaching on sexual and family matters, while priests’ families can be expected to provide a useful contribution, and to be much loved by congregations, on their own account. Substantial proportions of Catholics, and many bishops struggling for manpower, would dearly love to introduce to end a policy which is unique to the (relatively) modern history of the Catholic Church. Yet the official policy is that the matter should not even be discussed so meekly, the majority of us keep quiet, or at best do a little quiet tut-tutting amongst friends.
But evidence is clear that compulsory celibacy is not simply undesirable, it is unhealthy for individual priests, destructive (as shown by Bishop Robinson & others) & contrary to Scripture (Paul recommends celibacy for those who can cope, marriage for those who cannot). It is time to end the quiet tut-tutting of our disagreement: we should be shouting our opposition from the rooftops!
So, quite clearly we have collaborated with the institutional church in creating two of the conditions that have created the scandal of clerical abuse. What of the third? Clearly, we cannot be held responsible for the immaturity or mental maladjustment of individual man. But the two other conditions, coupled with the attempts to exclude well-adjusted, openly gay men, have tended to discourage or exclude the psychologically healthy and well-adjusted, thus leading to a disproportionate number of the unhealthy. So, indirectly, we have contributed to this too.
In acquiescing to these damaging conditions, all Catholics are to some degree responsible. But there is one final way in which the culpability is shared also by pretty well everybody else.
It is well known that press reports of clerical abuse have tended to focus mostly on prosecution of individuals, and on legal claims for compensation from individual dioceses, and on the abuse of boys. This perception has been seized on by the church authorities as an excuse to claim that by dealing with individual cases, and by keeping unrepentant, self-affirming “homosexuals” out of the seminary, they are resolving the problem.
This is nonsense. The problem extends way beyond boys, affecting twice as many girls, and also adult men and women as victims. The figures suggest that homosexual priests are less, not more likely, to have been perpetrators, and of these, those who are openly gay, who have come to terms with their sexuality, are likely to be better integrated personalities than those in the closet. It may be that the men the Vatican is seeking to exclude to “resolve” the crisis are precisely those least likely to be offender.
This attempt by the authorities to shift the blame onto gay men, and individual priests or clergy, is not a realistic attempt at problem-solving, but the age-old strategy of scapegoating.
In this, by allowing this rhetorical sleight-of-hand, we have all, Catholic and non-catholic alike, collaborated.
In claiming that by acquiescing in the creation of hese conditions, we are “all” responsible, I stress that I have tried to make it clear that I mean only in some way, to some degree. I say this in the sense that I used when writing about the South African experience of their Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where even so illustrious an opponent of apartheid as Rev Beyers Naude, who had himself been a major victim and worked so hard to effect a solution, saw himself in his own testimony as part of the problem, and aoplogised f0r not having done enough. In the same way, here too we are all “to some degree” responsible – but some much more, or much less than others. And if the judgement appears harsh, remember that I make the charge together with my earlier claim that we have all, to some degree, been victims. Later, I shall conclude the series more optimistically, by showing how we are also all, to some degree, part of the solution.