Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jamie Manson and Fr. Andrew Hamilton: More Good Commentary on the Catholic Abuse Crisis

Another good article in National Catholic Reporter by Jamie Manson, on the horrific situation with Bishop Robert Finn and Father Shawn Ratigan in Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese.  Manson turns her focus on the laity, and what she sees disconcerts her.  She wonders why, when we would not tolerate a public school official behaving as cavalierly as Bishop Finn did when a letter went to diocesan officials suggesting that Father Ratigan posed a threat to children, many Catholics continue to tolerate and excuse such behavior on the part of bishops.  Her answer to the question: many lay Catholics have internalized a clericalism that is akin to the response of a damaged child to a punishing, authoritarian parent.

Manson writes: 

Critics of the institutional church frequently point to the corrosive arrogance of the Catholic clergy as the root cause of so much abuse of power. It is important, however, to consider the extent to which the clericalism of the laity enables these abuses to take place, and to reflect on the multitude of ways this phenomenon affects a spectrum of Catholics, including some of our most progressive voices.

I have seen the effects of lay clericalism among professors at Catholic colleges and universities, who fret about discussing controversial issues about gender and sexuality in an academic forum. Tenured scholars, who are exponentially more educated than most Roman Catholic priests, can quickly become terrified of the reactions of bishops to their academic programs.

I have seen lay clericalism in parishes considered “prophetic” because of their commitment to social justice, service to the poor, and welcoming of marginalized Catholics. And, yet, in many cases these progressive voices will not challenge the parish priest, even when he makes decisions that compromise a parish’s legacy of advocacy.

I know many lay women and men who have labored on parish staffs and have suffered the fruits of lay clericalism. Regardless of a lay minister’s education level, years of experience, and ministerial gifts, parishioners almost always have a submissive “preferential option” for the priest -- even if they disagree strongly with his policies and practices. A lay person’s degrees and pastoral presence are no match against the power of simply being “Father.”

So often it is the clericalism of the laity, rather than the clericalism of the clergy, that undermines the power of the laity in our church.

And she's right.  What she notes about the strange, cultivated silence of academics teaching at Catholic universities re: issues of gender and sexuality--about homosexuality, in particular--is precisely what I was getting at two days ago, when I wrote about how many centrist Catholic academics in the U.S. persist in asking the wrong questions about the abuse crisis, and why it continues to unfold in one story after another, all with the same predictable plot of episcopal malfeasance (and lying), decisions to put the welfare of any and all priests above the welfare of vulnerable children, obtrusive attempts to manipulate the media and public awareness, etc.

The final question I asked in my posting about these matters wondered why Catholics of the intellectual center of the church continue to remain silent about the almost unanimous non-reception of Catholic teachings on sexual ethics, including the teaching on artificial contraception, while they continue to put up with and tacitly collude in the hierarchy's attacks on those who are gay and lesbian.  I ask that question because I think there's a strong, intrinsic link between the refusal of Catholics of the intellectual center of the church in the U.S. to address the question of the injustice done by church leaders to LGBT persons, and the willingness of these same folks to give a more or less free pass to bishops as they hide and transfer abusive priests.

Both stances are rooted in an internalized clericalism that makes our intra-Catholic academic discussions of issues of sexual morality as beside the point as are our intra-Catholic academic discussions of the real reasons for the abuse crisis.  The elephants in the living room loom so large that they occupy all the space in the room, leaving no room at all for meaningful discussion--since we won't advert to the fact that the huge elephants are lounging all about our conference room.

Catholic scholars teaching in Catholic universities won't touch these questions, won't talk about the elephants, for fear of losing their jobs.  For fear of reprisal from the clerical system that rules the church.  And so we end up with official Catholic spokespersons at the intellectual center of the church who tacitly collude in the injustice church officials exhibit towards both survivors of clerical sexual abuse and towards LGBT persons.  We end up with official Catholic spokespersons at the intellectual center of the church whose witness to social justice, human rights, and catholicity itself is radically undermined by their cowardly silence.  Whose witness to catholicity itself is undermined, since we cannot profess to be truly catholic when we treat any brothers and sisters as invisible and less human than we ourselves are . . . . 

The really significant discussion of these issues is occurring today not at the intellectual center of the church, but on the margins of the church, with survivors of clerical sexual abuse.  And with gay and lesbian persons and their allies, struggling together for justice.

Also worth reading today: Father Andrew Hamilton's analysis of the recent John Jay report in the Australian publication, Eureka Street.  In a previous diptych of postings (and here) I featured Hamilton's response to Cardinal Burke's presentation this March to a group of Australian Catholic students, in which he stated that the West is in decline because it is ditching Christian values.  Burke encourages Catholic young people to respond to this purported decline in Western culture by reasserting Catholic identity, à la John Paul II and Benedict and their notion of a countercultural church that forms a small, inward-turning enclave of resistance to the culture at large.

Hamilton's take on the John Jay report offers an interesting slant I have not seen elsewhere.  In his view, if the abuse crisis did peak in the 1960s, it did so not primarily because the sixties were a period of cultural fragmentation, but because the priests abusing minors during the sixties had been trained in seminaries in the 1940s and 1950s.

Hamilton notes that the Catholic culture of the post-war period prior to the 1960s placed a heavy emphasis on authority and compliance.  This was particularly true of seminary culture in the post-war period.  When the 1960s opened new critical avenues of analysis of authoritarian and conformist cultures, priests trained in the "brittle" culture of authority and compliance did not know how to cope, and--if the data we've been provided by the bishops about the historical parameters of the crisis have any validity at all--the abuse crisis was one manifestation of the inability of priests to cope with the new cultural situation.

In Hamilton's view, then, the 1960s are not to blame for the abuse crisis.  The brittle culture of authority and compliance of the church of the post-war period was responsible for the crisis.  And therefore the proposal of conservative Catholics like Cardinal Burke and his allies to return to the Catholic ghetto culture of the post-war period is dangerous, since that back-to-the-past strategy would only replicate the situation that laid the groundwork for the abuse crisis in the first place.

Though the 1940s and 1950s did afford priests unquestioned and unlimited power and privilege--and that is perhaps the bottom line for the Cardinal Burkes of our period, as they hanker for a return to the church of the post-war period.

P.S. Later the same day: just now getting to blog reading and seeing that Colleen Kochivar-Baker had already posted about Jamie Manson's article at her Enlightened Catholicism blog--with, as usual, stellar commentary by Collen.

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