For about a week now I have been giving considerable thought to how to summarize our month-long overview of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and how to apply it to Church life—our communities, and particularly to ourselves. Writing such a response has proven to be much more difficult that I could have imagined. In the first instance, the original investigation became attached, like it or not, to the scandal of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and to continuing investigations in other dioceses and states. This leads me to think we are enveloped in a long period of self-reflection on a number of questions, not just the matter of protecting youth but also the matter of “Quis custodes custodiat” or “who will shepherd the shepherds?”
Such matters will be an ongoing discussion of Church life for a long time. I have heard, as have you, that many people believe homosexuality is at the heart of the abuse question. The “greying and gaying” of Catholic clergy is a reality, but there is no correlation of sexual preference to child abuse. The issue of celibacy is another matter thought to cause clerics to abuse children, that allowing priests to marry would make the problem go away. The irony of this argument is that the clear majority of abusers are in fact married men. [One of my professors at Rollins College years ago quipped that “incest occurs in the home with the best lawn on the block.”] Yet another matter of discussion is the need for women priests, that the abuse crisis would never have occurred or will never again occur if women had been considered as candidates for Holy Orders.
Everything I have cited above—the immediate searches for solutions to situations such as Pennsylvania’s—are important issues in their own right and bear honest, frank, and charitable discussion, but not in direct consequence to U.S. child abuse in the 21st century of the Catholic Church. The 2011 John Jay Study and a very recent CARA study concur that in the present-day, abuse of children in Catholic settings is virtually zero. The dynamic of homosexual candidates and ordained ministers needs examination: the challenge of homosexual males and females in same-sex intimate living conditions such as seminaries, monasteries, convents and rectories are no trifle. It is hard for both homosexual and straight clergy, and it is hard for lay Catholics who live in homophobic times. But these are issues of adults and do not bear upon the immediate discussion of protecting the young.
Similarly, the issue of priestly celibacy—which seems to be reckoned, rightly or wrongly, as a panacea for many ills in the Church—is much more complicated than it appears. A married priest with a family will be less available to his parish than in our present time, and his housing and compensation must be greater than what we presently pay our clergy. Among Protestant clergy I have treated, their wives often resent the congregation’s expectation that they serve as full-time, uncompensated workers in the administration of the church.
The question of women’s ordination is even more complicated. There is the sacramental theology question of whether a woman can assume the sacramental sign of Jesus Christ in the celebration of Mass. For nearly all our history the predominant answer has been no. But this answer has been handed down by a male hierarchy. A less complicated part of the discussion involves the rights of women—particularly women religious—to shape policy in the Church, particularly as it applies to them. The sacramental optics of episcopal synods and Vatican task forces [all male] discussing the role of women in the Church—as if women are not already Baptized equals in the Church—is very odd and to me, anyway, insulting.
We have all been through a lot this summer, and having grieved for several weeks now, I can finally bring myself to look constructively at ways we can move ahead and exemplify the holiness of the Body of Christ. The first point is to come to understanding that in the final analysis it is our personal response and connectedness to Jesus Christ upon which salvation rests. By fortunate coincidence I had been studying Martin Luther earlier in the summer, and I came to see that Luther, who was so demoralized and broken by the corruption of Church leaders, including the popes of his lifetime, came to a rebirth in his study of St. Paul where he came to appreciate God’s gift of saving justification. I have heard of people leaving the Church this summer, and at times I wondered what I was doing here, too. But Church leaders and sinful deeds are separate from the real Church of those who seek Jesus Christ. Like Luther, our personal reformation is to return to our roots and draw the holy bible closer to ourselves than we have ever done before.
The second need is for a Church where membership is a matter of learning and activism. Here is where Catechetics enters the picture. We need a better sense of our history, our ecclesiology [the nature of the Church], and the power conferred upon us by the sacraments of initiation [Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist] to ensure that our understanding of what Church life needs to be is thorough and correct. I feel bad[TB1] ly saying this, but despite their usefulness in local matters, church bulletins and diocesan papers rarely venture into the penetrating insight of the Catholic press and the raft of excellent theological works that have come forth in the 21st century. I address myself particularly to those with college and advanced degrees, CEO’s, skilled professionals, and those immersed in catholic [small “c”] reading. This is an area where the Café can be much more helpful in its publicizing of Catholic media, advanced religious studies, and major publishers.
A well-informed Catholic becomes by nature an active Catholic who feels responsibility for not just his or her parish’s social outreach, but also for its public face and effective management. Certainly, one of the factors in the child abuse crisis was the sense among many of the faithful that the issues involved bishops and police. Even before 2002 Catholic writers such as Jason Berry, Richard Sipe, and Thomas Doyle were documenting and publishing cases of clerical child abuse and the cover-up by many bishops, but few Catholics of my acquaintance search out best selling works of theology and Church life. Sadly, the Catholic ministry in the United States has been crippled by the expense of billions of dollars for damages inflicted by Church personnel, so the crisis is our crisis, too, not simply the victims’ and their families. We need to familiarize ourselves with matters of admission to seminaries, for example, as well as the quality of religious education in our parishes and the public statements of our bishops.
An educated and forthright congregation—at the parish and diocesan levels—needs to address what all the various investigations have discovered—the danger of clericalism. I can only describe clericalism as an occupational hazard of the clerical life, hubris. When a man is trained to believed that he is ontologically different, as the Catechism puts it, set aside and above all other humans in his very essence as an ordained priest or bishop, it takes a mighty soul to maintain a humility in which a priest lives and works elbow to elbow with all the baptized in his community. One of the best ways to sanctify the Church is to learn enough about its nature that one can intelligently talk to his or her pastor or bishop about ways and means to enrich the life of the Church as well as those circumstances that need correction and constructive criticism.
I feel better. Not great, but better, and I look forward to resuming the educational routine of the Café that I, with you, may continue to meet the Christ of the Bible and make holy his Church.
On My Mind