Clerical Abuse: How We Are All Complicit, Part 2

“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.

6 Responses to “Clerical Abuse: How We Are All Complicit, Part 2”

  1. Jayden Cameron Says:

    Found this wonderful quote/suggestion by Schillebeeckx which may seem too idealistic to implement (though who knows?), but it inspires dreams of intriguing possibilities when dealing with the crisis of ministry in the church:

    It was Schillebeeckx who contended in his 1980 book Ministry: Leadership in the Community of Jesus Christ that the church had gone awry by connecting the faithful’s right to Eucharist to some “magical power” of the hierarchy to ordain, thereby disconnecting it from the community of Christians. He noted that the Council of Chalcedon in the fifth century had declared any ordination of a priest or deacon illegal, as well as null and void, unless the person being ordained had been chosen by a particular community to be its leader.

    Because the church has basically ignored that clear directive of the early church throughout the second millennium, Schillebeeckx recommended “new possibilities” for reconnecting the Eucharist to its community roots, even if such actions contradict current church law. In “Church and Ministry,” the newly released document, the Dominicans put forward such “new possibilities” as this: “Men and women can be chosen to preside at the Eucharist by the church community; that is, ‘from below,’ and can then ask a local bishop to ordain these people ‘from above.’ ”

    If, however, “a bishop should refuse a confirmation or ordination” of such persons “on the basis of arguments not involving the essence of the Eucharist, such as a requirement that deacons or priests be celibate, parishes may move forward without the bishops’ participation, remaining confident “that they are able to celebrate a real and genuine Eucharist when they are together in prayer and share bread and wine.”

    taken from interview in NCR December 14, 2007

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Jayden, this is brilliant. I have come across his suggestion previously, but it is good to have the source. I agree absolutely. The church began as intensely democratic, it can become so again. Apartheid began to crumble when people simply started to disregard unjust laws. If we as the faithful withdraw our consent and compliance, the current abusive power structures will likewise begin to disintegrate.

  2. Jayden Cameron Says:

    (sorry for using up so much space)
    On the same topic, this may be old news, but it’s news to me, and it seems to be a real solution to the present ills -resist the bullys.
    Great article here:
    Dutch Dominican priests are proposing a bold solution to the priest shortage in the Netherlands: Have the laity select leaders from their own faith communities and designate them as the official presiders at Mass.

    Using a model based in the early church, the Dominicans propose that the communities then present their chosen local leaders to bishops and request that they be ordained.

    The leaders selected may be men or women, homosexuals or heterosexuals, married or single, the Dominicans say in a 38-page booklet, Kerk en Ambt (“The Church and the Ministry”), which was widely distributed to Dutch parishes, religious orders and bishops on Aug. 31.

    The Dominican authors of the booklet, subtitled “Toward a Church with a Future,” maintain there is no theological barrier, but only a clerical impasse –the law of celibacy–to ordaining a lay clergy. They cite, for instance, a statement made by the fifth-century Pope Leo the Great: “He who has to lead all should be chosen by all.”

    Although the booklet reflects questions being raised not only by many of the 4.4 million Catholics in the Netherlands, but by the faithful in many parts of the Catholic world, the primate of the Dutch Catholic church, Cardinal Adrianus Simonis of Utrecht, quickly objected.

    Dominican Fr. Jan Nieuwenhuis, one of the booklet’s four authors, noted in an interview that Dominicans had anticipated official displeasure over the booklet’s distribution without the cardinal’s permission. “We knew if we requested it, it would be forbidden, so we went ahead,” Nieuwenhuis told NCR.

    • queeringthechurch Says:

      Jayden, please do not apologise for taking space- your comments are always valuable (see above). But if you feel you are taking too much space for a comment box, you are very welcome to submit a longer piece here as a guest post as your own.

      Some of us have been thinking about establishing a collaborative blog on a single site: see Bill Lindsay’s second comment on my piece yesterday on Ignatian spirituality. What do you think?


  3. Jayden Cameron Says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Terrence. And I love the idea of a common forum!

    And here is an even more ‘radical’ solution to the issue, something I’ve been feeling for some time. It comes from the blogspot:

    “Was thinking as a result of the recent Episcopal and Lutheran conventions in which thousands of dollars or more is spent to bring everyone together to have cantankerous battles over women bishops, gay and lesbian clergy and relationships, married priests, not to mention the upkeep of church buildings, that perhaps another way exists for being Church. (Large national synods are coming in the Roman Catholic Church soon here in the States, with the impetus coming from 99% of the church membership–so-called lay folks–not from the hierarchy–so this applies here as well).

    Why don’t we look to our Jewish brethren for some guidance? Perhaps we could move ‘church’ back into the home. It seems to me that we could ordain one or two members of a family to serve as celebrants for the household or extended family. This would be similar to Passover or weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners in which bread and wine are blessed in the middle of the family. Ordinations could be held in monastery or convent chapels. Perhaps we might have places to celebrate great feasts with a larger community for those who so wish. We might have servant-bishops as resource persons not rulers.”

  4. Jayden Cameron Says:

    ooops I keep putting two “R’s” in your name. (old age)

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