Friday, September 24, 2010

Tom Doyle on the Catholic Clerical Sexual Abuse Situation: Circles Inside Circles

A few weeks ago, I noted that Dominican priest Fr. Tom Doyle had begun posting a series of articles analyzing the roots of Catholic clerical sexual abuse of minors.  Tom Doyle's series of articles analyzing this situation are appearing in Voice of the Faithful's e-newsletter "In the Vineyard."  As my 12 September posting summarizing Doyle's analysis in the first article in the series notes, he sees the sexual abuse situation implicating all Catholics, and not just the hierarchy.  It implicates all of us because it is rooted deeply in structures of the church itself that involve all of us, and that, collectively, we all have the power to change--if we use that power.

The second in Fr. Doyle's series of articles has just come out, and it continues this theme (once again, for page one of the article, click the link to that page at the upper right-hand side of the article to which I've just linked).  Fr. Doyle notes that four concentric circles comprise the "overall phenomenon" of clergy sexual abuse of minors.  These are

1. The "actual physical center" of priests abusing minors;
2. The much larger inner circle of bishops and religious superiors enabling and hiding the behavior of the inner circle;
3. The very large circle beyond that, the laity, who provide 100% of the material/financial resources for the two inner circles;
4. And an outer circle that is not comprised of people, but is "the ideology that provides the basis for the way the papacy and hierarchy have reacted to clergy sexual abuse."

Re: the second and third circles, Fr. Doyle has particularly insightful comments to make.  Re: many bishops and religious superiors, Fr. Doyle echoes the analysis of Irish moral theologian Fr. Vincent Twomey, who did his studies under the tutelage of Joseph Ratzinger, the current pope.  As I have noted previously, Fr. Twomey says that the most frightening aspect of the abuse crisis and its cover-up for many Catholics has been the discovery that our religious leaders have failed to demonstrate the "expected emotional response" that one would expect at revelations about the sexual abuse of children.  Instead of demonstrating compassion and an immediate desire to protect children, many of our religious leaders have, instead, shown an incomprehensible visceral reaction of protection for the church as an institution.

Fr. Doyle notes that as legal documents have come to light, showing how many bishops and religious superiors have reacted to revelations about clerics abusing minors, the picture that emerges has "revealed a side of their personalities that many found almost impossible to believe because what we saw was so contrary to what we had been formed to believe about bishops."

But the huge outer circle of laity surrounding (and supporting) the inner circles of abusing priests and enabling religious authorities is not exempt from blame, either.  As Doyle notes, though all the financial power is in the hands of that lay outer circle, Catholic laity seem oblivious to the power that lies in our hands to change church structures. 

And so,

The majority [of Catholic laity] however are either removed and indifferent or angrily reactive to the revelations of internal Church corruption and the consequent demands for accountability. The complacency or negative reaction of the laity is perplexing in light of the harsh reality of what the clergy abuse “crisis” is all about.

What has to change, as well, is the ideology that has grounded the totally inappropriate response of many Catholic pastoral leaders (and the indifference of many Catholic laity).  As Fr. Doyle notes, this ideology is rooted in a dysfunctional understanding of human sexuality:

Finally, the completely inappropriate responses of the bishops and clergy to the horrific accounts of all manner of dysfunctional sexual exploitation and their excuses that they did not realize the serious effects of molestation and abuse can be partially explained by the traditional teaching on human sexuality and the impact of mandatory celibacy on the emotional and psycho-sexual formation of clerics.

Wise words, as with everything that Tom Doyle writes.  And words that implicate every member of the church.  If anything is going to change in the Catholic church, the change has to start with the outer circle of laity that holds financial power in its hands--and then move to the inner circles that hold all the institutional governing power in their hands.

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