Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bayou Renaiscance Man has an excellent series of four articles discussing the crisis erupting globally within the Catholic church over sexual abuse of children by clergy. 

He discusses the basic structure of the church, the process of becoming a priest and how it might add to the problem, priestly celibacy, and the churches response to the crisis.

Go read his articles, then come back for my commentary.

First, some background:

As some of you know, I consider myself a lapsed Catholic.  I was born into a Lutheran family, and celebrated my faith in that mostly Catholic environment until my parents divorced when I was 12.  My mother then went on a tour of all the local denominations, and took us along for the ride.  When she met my step-father, she, along with all of us kids, entered the Catholic church.  The stability and serene environment of the Church after several years of holy-rollers and snake handlers brought a lot of comfort to me, and I stayed in the faith even after I was divorced and could no longer take part in all of the sacraments.

When Irish Woman and I met and wanted to marry, a problem was found.  You see, it was hard to get an annulment of my previous marriage when all of the witnesses were scattered to the four winds by military life.  After a year and a half of working with the local diocese, we decided that it would be best if we went outside the Church for our marriage and life afterwards.  It wasn't just the issue of the annulment, but let's just say it was the final straw.  The way that the church in Louisville specifically and the U.S. generally was dealing with the sex abuse scandal, along with other issues, led us to look elsewhere.

Luckily, we found a small Episcopalean congregation that accepted us, flaws and all, as full members of their family immediately after we entered their chapel.  Other than the fact that the Father is really a father, the sacraments and beliefs are very close to what we were both used to.  And when we go for counseling to our priest, he can empathize with us about our problems as a couple and as parents. 

Here is my take on the abuse scandal within the church, and they mostly parallel what BRM has to say:

  1. Clergy who have harmed their parishioners, child or adult, male or female, in such a reprehensible manner need to be defrocked.  They can be forgiven for their acts if they express true contrition and sin no more, but they should never be trusted in a capacity that would allow them to have authority in the Church.  If a priest breaks his vow of celibacy with a willing adult woman, he can be defrocked.  Why should the penalty for forced sex with a minor be less?
  2. The Church should be open and transparent on how it deals with these fallen men and women.  Nothing cleans out a problem like sunlight.  The secrecy and stonewalling the Church has practiced so far have done more to harm Her than anything wayward priests have done.  It's not the crime, it's the cover-up that causes the most harm.  Bishops and other church officials who have facilitated this abuse by trying to either ignore the problem or shuffle problem priests around after "treatment" should be removed from their vocation.
  3. Each and every bishop in the church should meet with the victims of sexual abuse in his diocese and sincerely and vociferously apologize.  He should offer any and all resources of the Church that can be used for treatment of the harm done to these people.  He should also offer any and all measures available to atone to them for the heinous crime that a representative of the Church inflicted on them.

I have no expertise in how a seminarian should be indoctrinated on his responsibilities to his flock, or how those who are at great risk of doing such horrible things should be filtered out of the seminaries.  I also will not comment on the applicability of celibacy in our modern world.  All I can say is that celibacy is one of the punches on the ordination ticket.  If someone does not feel that they can faithfully remain celibate as a condition of their ordination, then they should not be ordained.  Whether or not we should allow Catholic priests to marry and all that that entails, I will leave up to those who know more about it than I.

Those who harm children are the lowest of the low.  Those who enable them are just as bad.  The leadership of the Church needs to be honest with itself, with its parishioners, and with the world at large on this problem.  Only when the light of day is shone on those who harm those entrusted to their care, those who have been harmed have been healed, and a way is found to prevent such things from happening will the Church regain its reputation in the world.

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