Friday, October 27, 2017

The Catholic Clerical Sexual Abuse Crisis, Clericalism, and Pope Francis: Michael Boyle's Take — "The Problem Is an Elevated Theology of Who Priests Are"

In February this year, I recommended to you the four-part series by Michael Boyle on his A Sound of Sheer Silence blog site entitled "How Did This Happen?" In these valuable essays, Michael walks through an assessment of the clerical culture that produced the crisis around sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic church, and its cover-up. He's responding to the report of the Australian Royal Commission on Abuse. 

A few days ago, as we were discussing the ground-breaking study of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church entitled Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: An Interpretive Review of the Literature and Public Inquiry Reports by Desmond Cahill and Peter Wilkinson of Melbourne University's Centre for Global Research, Michael made a comment pointing to the third installment in his "How Did This Happen?" series. Michael's comment states,

I have written about how the culture of the clergy is grounded in the notion that no one is actually taking seriously any of these rules. I believe this contributed (and contributes) to the sex abuse crisis in that it creates a culture where no one looks into what other clergy are doing, because it is generally accepted that if you look you will probably find someone doing something that they ostensibly shouldn't. So, you just stop looking--never ask a question that you can't handle the answer to. 
Basically, everyone in the Roman Catholic Church is dissembling to some degree. The laity are ignoring HV, and the clergy know it and do nothing because the clergy themselves are ignoring the strictures on celibacy. And, meanwhile, the request of lots of people (not all of them young) "hey, can we cut this out and get some sort of reasonable, practical guidance for navigating the complicated waters of sexuality?" is ignored.

I'd like to point you, too, to some scintillating commentary in the final part of Michael's series of articles responding to the Australian Royal Commission abuse report. Here, Michael addresses the clericalism that many of us have long known is at the very heart of the abuse crisis, and critiques the response of Pope Francis to it:

Part of the unwillingness to make changes stems from a lack of understanding of what the problem really is.  Pope Francis is a good example of this.  His favorite bugaboo/punching bag is "clericalism," which he sees as a sense of superiority among clerics with regard to the laity, as well as a high handed manner.  Pope Francis is absolutely correct to identify this as a critical problem.  But every time Pope Francis talks about clericalism, he talks about it as if it were a character flaw in the priests in question, as if clericalism was an attitude that one freely chooses to embrace or not embrace.  At no point does Pope Francis ever acknowledge or recognize that clericalism is a product of a set of theological and operational realities built into the structure of the Roman Catholic Church.  Priests act like they a superior form of life as compared to the laity because they are superior to the laity in the context of the way the Roman Catholic Church operates.  Priests act like the opinions of the laity don't matter because the opinions of the laity don't matter.  If you have a theology that says that priests are different and special on a fundamental level, and that they are not subject to review from folks who are not special in that way, then the special people will act accordingly.  This is a product of the system as it is designed, not a character flaw in the participants.  Pope Francis haranguing priests about clericalism is sort of like the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps lecturing his Marines about being too aggressive.  Every bit of the culture and institutional structure of the U.S. Marine Corps is geared toward inculcating an aggressive, warrior ethos.  One guy, no matter how senior or respected or liked he is, is [not] going to change that through a couple of speeches. 
If Pope Francis is serious about rooting out the idea that priests are superior to laity, then he should make it so that priests are not superior to laity operationally.  And, no, I don't mean having a handful of lay officials in the Vatican; I am talking about giving real operational power to laity at the lowest level.  You want a bishop who cares about preventing child sex abuse in his diocese?  How about having that bishop be selected by a board that includes a bunch of moms and dads, such that if those moms and dads are not convinced of the potential bishop's seriousness on the topic, he never becomes the bishop in the first place?  You want a parish priest that doesn't treat his parishioners as dim children?  Make those "dim children" responsible for selecting the pastor in the first place; that will cure that attitude real quick.

Michael concludes,

The problem is not primarily about attitudes; the problem is an elevated theology of who priests are (even in that theology's toned-down, post-Vatican II form) and an institutional structure that is unreconstructed from the pre-Vatican II maximal vision of the priesthood.  If the Roman Catholic Church doesn't change that, then all of the rest of this is talk.  The clerical culture, which allowed and facilitated the sex abuse crisis, needs to be torn down for good and for all.  This move is not sufficient to prevent future abuse of children, but I believe it to be necessary.  It is what needs to be done.  

Today's Guardian carries a long-read article by Andrew Brown entitled "The war against Pope Francis." In this essay, Brown quotes a "prominent English priest" who has told him, 

"We can’t wait for him [i.e., the pope] to die. It's unprintable what we say in private. Whenever two priests meet, they talk about how awful Bergoglio is … he's like Caligula: if he had a horse, he'd make him cardinal." Of course, after 10 minutes of fluent complaint, he added: "You mustn't print any of this, or I’ll be sacked."

This English priest spells out to Andrew Brown precisely what elicits his hatred (and, he claims, that of many other priests) of Pope Francis:

"What I care about is the theory," said the English priest who confessed his hatred of Francis. "In my parish there are lots of divorced and remarried couples, but many of them, if they heard the first spouse had died, would rush to get a church wedding. I know lots of homosexuals who are doing all sorts of things that are wrong, but they know they should not be. We're all sinners. But we've got to maintain the intellectual integrity of the Catholic faith."

I care about the theory. (Obviously, not about pastoral practice or the people of God . . . .)

I care about maintaining my exalted ontological status as a priest, vis-a-vis the people of God.

I care about having the right to lord it over the people of God and preach down to them.

I care about my ability — resting on clerical power and privilege and my exalted ontological status as an ordained priest — to control my parishioners, by inducing guilt in them for their transgressions of moral dictates I present to them as immutable and as something coming to them from God's mouth.

While those "immutable" teachings are clearly mutable, were developed over time, and do not, in their current articulation, reflect what the church said at previous points in its history about these matters, or how the church said what it said . . . . 

I want to present these moral teachings as immutable and divinely ordained because they secure my status as a little lord ontologically superior to the people against whom I use them as a bludgeon — that is, the people of God.

I know lots of homosexuals who are doing all sorts of things that are wrong, but they know they should not be.

I, and the kind of Catholic church I represent, want "homosexuals" to be full of guilt, insofar as they affirm their God-given natures and love according to those natures.

I want "homosexuals" to be sick. I need "homosexuals" to be sick, because my clerical status depends on treating "homosexuals" this way. 

And isn't it odd that Father Prominent English Priest (aka Father Pep) knows "lots of homosexuals" who are eager to lap up his message of guilt, to lap up the Catholic magisterial understanding of their lives and very nature as "intrinsically disordered"? 

Where are these "homosexuals"? Is Michael Voris truly a role model for Catholic "homosexuals," and truly representative of Catholic gay folks?

Who really lives in the alternative universe that the Father Peps of the world want to construct for themselves and hapless victims of their "pastoral" abuse in order to assure themselves that they are little lords and masters of the ontologically inferior? All of this is intellectual integrity, Father Pep proposes

In what meaningful, rational universe?

The engraving of a Meigs elevated train is from Wikimedia Commons and was originally published in Scientific American, 10 July 1886. The Wikimedia page for the illustration points to the Catskill Archives as its source for the Scientific American picture.

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