Friday, September 11, 2009

Readers Write: The Abuse Scandal Goes to the Heart of What Is Wrong with the Church

And one more posting this evening that involves a dialogue sparked by a previous discussion. This discussion occurs in the thread following my posting a week ago arguing for the rationality and informed coherence in discussions of religio-political issues. Several thoughtful readers replied with thought-provoking comments about the abuse scandal in the Catholic church--that is, the scandal caused by the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clerics, and by the cover-up of this behavior by church authorities.

Since significant discussions on threads following a blog posting are often overlooked by readers, I'd like to lift that discussion out of the comments section of last week's posting and offer it here in a separate posting.

Terry: It is abundantly clear that this entire abuse scandal goes to the heart of what is wrong with the modern Catholic Church: the dogmatic insistence on excessive, centralized power, and totally unrealistic criteria for entry to the priesthood. We are driving away or excluding from the clergy precisely those people who would be most valuable in framing sensible pastoral care on sexuality: sexually active and responsible straight men, out gay men, and women. Instead we welcome and protect the sexually frustrated and closeted, immature men who have been unable to integrate their sexuality, of whatever flavour, into their personalities.

In researching and writing my own series of posts on this topic at Queering the Church, I have reached two key conclusions: I agree with many of the right wing critics that part of the problem of the secrecy and cover-ups is that too many influential clergy feel the need to protect each other for fear of exposing the myth of clerical closet, of exposing the high proportions of clergy, both straight and gay, who are ignoring the rule. A rule that is not widely kept is not worth maintaining, and brings the entire authority into disrepute.

The victims are not just the individuals, girls and boys, women and men, but to some degree, the entire church which is damaged. The creation of a healthy church requires that we all treat as a priority finding appropriate ways to respond to the mess. "Appropriate" here does not include settling for financial reparations alone, nor the shameful attempts to deflect the blame by scapegoating the "homosexuals". We must insist that the church take responsibility for its own institutional culpability, and begin dismantling its own assumed power structures.

Colleen: Terry I agree with your assessment, but if the 'we' doesn't include a significant number of clergy and hierarchy willing to admit to the system and commit to changing it, 'we' will get nowhere.

VOTF sure seems to prove that fact.

Bill: I agree with you, Terry, that the pastoral authorities of the church have shielded (and even promoted) clerical abusers of minors because doing otherwise would open the can of worms called celibacy. Many priests are simply not living the vow of celibacy.

Unfortunately, the trade off for the illusion is that the church accepts in ministry many men who are ill-equipped psychologically to live not only generous, fruitful lives of ministry, but generous, fruitful adult lives, period. The system by its very nature fosters stunted psychological growth.

One has to wonder whether the church likes it that way. The immature and psychologically ill-equipped are, after all, more manageable than the mature and psychologically whole. Since the church places such a premium on authority, obedience, and control, it positively invites into its inner governance ranks people who enjoy giving orders and/or being ordered about.

The real elephant in the living room is, to my way of thinking, the clerical system itself--the assumption that the ordained have a separate (and exalted) status within the body of Christ; the belief that the ordained should have rights denied to the laity. Until we confront that system and begin to look at it critically through the optic of the gospel, I don't think much will change, and we will see a continuation of the abuse (and the cover-up).