When wrongdoing becomes widespread to the point of seeming endemic – as has the horrid evil of clerical sex abuse – blaming the individual culprits isn’t enough. We also desire to know who allowed the wrongdoing to spread, who failed to stop it, and under what conditions it was allowed to metastasize.
That’s understandable and natural – but it would be misguided to blame the following people and situations for the evil of clerical sex abuse.
Vows of celibacy and chastity
“Just let them get married” – we’ve probably all heard this “solution” too many times to count. But it simply doesn’t hold up under logic.
A priest is breaking, not keeping, his celibacy promise by engaging in sexual activity with anyone. Remove the celibacy requirement to tackle sexual abuse? That’s like dropping the marriage vow in order to eradicate adultery.
Where is the logic in blaming a rule for behavior that involves breaking that rule, and breaking it in the worst way imaginable? Whatever valid arguments there may be for removing the priestly celibacy requirement, the sex abuse scandal is simply not one of them.
The male-only priesthood
Latching on to the sex abuse scandal to advance the women’s ordination agenda? I haven’t seen much commentary along those lines yet, but it is out there.
For instance, there’s this recent comment by John Hurley, president of Canisius College, a (surprise, surprise) Jesuit school in Buffalo: “Could anyone imagine women being in charge of matters like this and not doing everything possible to protect the children?”
Hurley apparently thinks women would never abuse kids and would never fail to “do everything possible” to protect them. Apparently, he’s never heard of the widespread child abuse (and the covering-up of it) in public schools, whose teachers and administrators include more than a few women. He also seems unaware that a majority of child abuse in secular society is committed by women.
How would admitting women to the priesthood – which, having been ruled out in solemn proclamations by numerous popes, isn’t possible anyway – “fix” the sex abuse disaster? It wouldn’t.
Most sexual abuse of minors by priests occurred many years ago. Priests serving today are rarely accused of it (more on that later). The situation has greatly improved, and ordaining women wasn’t necessary to achieve it.
Besides, ordaining women would have zero impact on the fact that the massive majority of clerical sex abuse has been the doing of priests with same-sex attractions.
Speaking of which…
I wish I had 110 yen (the rough equivalent of a dollar where I live) for every news report on the Church’s “pedophilia” scandal. That’s one of the biggest myths out there.
From the 2004 John Jay Report to this year’s Pennsylvania grand jury report, the results are the same: the vast majority of the victims of sexual abuse by priests and religious have been physically mature boys. Not girls in that same age group, not younger children of either sex – but post-pubescent boys.
Therefore, that the problem has largely involved homosexuality – not pedophilia – is undeniable.
This doesn’t mean that most men who sexually desire other men are molesters. Nor does it mean Catholicism is “against homosexuals.” Catholic teaching stresses the God-given dignity of all persons, including those with same-sex attractions – who, like all Catholics, are called to chastity.
Nor does it mean that there aren’t any solid, faithful priests who have wrestled with same-sex attraction. But it’s an issue to be worked out fully in a man’s spiritual and psychological life before entering seminary.
Earlier this year, the supposedly “gay-friendly” Pope Francis said that if any doubt exists as to the suitability of a priesthood candidate with deep-seated homosexual leanings, he should not be admitted.
That’s nothing new – no fewer than three Vatican documents since the early 1960s have said the same thing. Its directives should have been followed all along. So much emotional and spiritual devastation, not to mention grave damage to the Church’s moral voice in the world, could have easily been avoided.
The first step in fixing any problem is identifying its true nature. Pegging this scandal as “pedophilia” fails in that regard.
The secular media
The news media are guilty of spreading the “pedophilia” myth, and they should be called out for it. However, one common accusation against them should be dropped: that they “single out” the Church for a problem that exists in many other societal institutions.
It’s not fair to blame bad news on the news-bearer, first of all, but there’s more to it. Yes, minors are molested by all sorts of men (and women) who have frequent interactions with young people – such as teachers; counselors; sports coaches; and, most of all, kids’ own relatives. But when “men of God” do it, it simply stands out more – like it or not.
All crimes are bad – but in a real sense, it’s more societally objectionable when the offender is a police officer or a judge. They, of all people, should be fully aware of the importance of obeying laws.
In a similar way, when a young person’s sexual assailant is a man dedicated in a unique way to serving Christ’s Church – which means advancing by word and deed Catholicism’s beautiful and solemn teachings, many of which involve sexual purity – it takes on an added dimension of evil.
So can we really blame the media for giving high-priority coverage to such hypocrisy, particularly when young people’s well-being is involved?
The media have done the Church a favor in the long run. Would the massive Boston Archdiocese sex abuse scandal have ever come to light if not for the press, particularly the Boston Globe, exposing it in 2002? Probably not, and that was what sparked the Church’s ensuing cleanup act in Beantown and the rest of the country.
As a result, the incidence of sexual molestation by priests today is very low – which leads to something else that clerical sex abuse shouldn’t be blamed on.
The priesthood today
Clerical sex abuse is not a “past thing,” even though most of it happened many years ago, because its survivors still live with massive emotional and spiritual scars. That cannot be emphasized enough.
That being said, this evil behavior (which was rare enough among priests in the past, today’s sensational news stories notwithstanding) is extremely rare among today’s priests. There are some people out there (including, sadly, some Catholics) who think it’s still relatively frequent. The statistics (24 allegations, six substantiated, against priests by current minors in 2017) don’t bear that out.
This issue shouldn’t be boiled down to statistics – just one priest molesting any young person is one too many. While priests are certainly not sinless, they are supposed to be better than that. Today, nearly all of them are.
There are still some bishops who, in the recent past, failed to shield the young in their flocks from certain shepherds in wolves’ clothing, and they still haven’t answered for their negligence. We should call them out – but as for today’s priests, they’re almost all innocent.
The survivors of past abuse should be high on the list of people for whom we pray each day. Next on the list should be currently active priests – nearly all of whom are good and innocent men now bearing a cross of scorn and anti-Catholic ridicule.
The Catholic faith
“Why even bother practicing the faith anymore?” a cousin of mine wrote on Facebook recently regarding the latest sex abuse news. He was angry, to the point of posting a “they should rot in Hell” follow-up regarding the guilty clerics.
The anger is understandable, but fleeing the faith is a huge mistake.
The truth and beauty of the Catholic Church’s teachings are not invalidated by the sins of anyone – no matter how horrid the sin or who the guilty person is, even a priest or bishop.
A Catholic contemplating leaving the Church over the sex abuse scandal should first ask: Do I believe in God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Do I believe that Christ suffered, died, and rose again to save my soul? Do I believe in the Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings? Do I believe in the sacraments, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?
And did I believe all of these things before the sex abuse scandal broke – as opposed to seeing the Church as a social activity centered on a priest or other people I liked?
If the answer to these questions is an authentic “yes,” then no act of evil by any human being should ever change that. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And when Christ established the Church (Matthew 16:6), He didn’t make a mistake – no matter how imperfectly the people within it may at times behave.
Our faith should rest not on the bishops and priests, but on Christ and His sacraments. Our bishop or parish priest might be the holiest man on Earth, which would be a great blessing – but even so, being Catholic isn’t about him. It’s about Him.
Christ said that not even the powers of Hell would prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18-19). Those powers have surely tried, in all sorts of ways – persecutions, wars, schisms, “bad popes,” corrupt bishops, financial scandals, priests who molest kids, and more.
The master of these powers, Satan, wants to destroy not only the Church, but also our souls, and he will use every trick in his sinister book to make us abandon the faith. Let’s not give him the satisfaction.
Ken Foye is an American Catholic living abroad, teaching English writing, reading, presentation, discussion, and conversation classes at a four-year university in northern Japan. He is an Oblate of St. Benedict and is married to a Japanese convert to Catholicism. Among his academic research interests is the inclusion of faith and religion discussions in the English language classroom.