The horrifying news from France in early October that some 3,000 priests sexually abused 330,000 children over 70 years points to another scandal within the Church: too many priests who have little fear of God and scant regard for core Catholic teachings.
The perpetrators’ behavior is not typical of those who believe in the Catholic doctrines of hell, purgatory, and justice. Many of them may not believe in God at all (or may not have believed, in the case of the deceased). Other deviant priests and bishops likely adopted the New Age concept of God being some kind of impersonal life-force. Still others no doubt consider God as being all love and mercy and no justice, in which everyone goes to heaven regardless of what wrongs they do.
The sexual abuse scandal is part and parcel of the corruption of Catholic seminaries that took place in the 1970s and especially 1980s as described in Michael S. Rose’s Goodbye! Good Men. He focuses on American seminaries, but undoubtedly the same thing was happening in France and elsewhere in the world.
The good men he refers to were orthodox-minded seminarians who only wanted to embrace and deepen their knowledge of age-old Catholic concepts. Shockingly and ironically, in many cases they were dismissed from seminaries, or were forced to keep their orthodoxy under wraps. They were considered “rigid and uncharitable homophobes.”
While not the case at all seminaries, in many of them homosexual activity and pornography flourished – and official Church teachings as laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church were scorned by many professors, seminary deans, and vocations directors. In fact, it could be argued that those places were positively anti-Catholic.
At one seminary, “a large number of students had been convinced by some liberal teachers that sexual promiscuity with the same sex was not a violation of celibacy,’ an outrageous distortion of Catholic teaching.”
As Rose tells it, it wasn’t uncommon throughout seminaries that non-marital sex was considered fine, homosexual acts normal, and contraception morally acceptable. Celibacy was discouraged. Other anti-Catholic viewpoints among professors included: the Bible isn’t to be taken seriously, all religions are equal in the eyes of God, the Pope isn’t infallible, the Real Presence is a myth, Jesus isn’t divine, and his miracles were fabrications. One formation program even pushed Gnostic and New Age practices such as crystals, tarot cards, and Ouija boards.
Seminarians lost their faith, as did priests of that era, many of whom abandoned their vocations. Many faithless men continued in the priesthood. In an interview with LifeSite’s Jonathan Van Maren, Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts professor and Crisis contributing editor Anthony Esolen spoke of priests who lost almost all of their faith and who are in a state of apostasy. “And they’re still priests – that’s the job they were trained for, they don’t know how to do anything else. And they infest the churches.”
Without faith in God, especially in a God of justice, people are more prone to doing bad things. With scant regard for the teachings of the Gospels or for the moral precepts of the Catholic faith, some priests may have been in a constant state of mortal sin (absent confession) either from engaging in illicit practices themselves or by signaling to others that it’s fine to do so.
“The notion that God is watching you even when others are not is probably the most powerful civilizing force in all of human history,” writes author and commentator Jonah Goldberg. In the Catholic tradition, not only God is watching your every move, but so are angels and devils, the latter all-too eager to testify against you on your judgement day. But a sexually abusing priest of weak faith is devoid of any perception that God or any other supernatural entity is watching him. Or he has a New Age notion of God. Or he thinks God is only love and mercy and that there’s no hell. In accordance with authentic Catholic teachings, God is certainly full of love and mercy but He’s a God of justice as well.
To test whether people change their behavior if they think supernatural entities are watching them, some years ago while at the University of Arkansas, professor Jesse Bering and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they had undergraduates take a test on which it was easy to cheat. A portion of them were told the ghost of a (fictitious) dead graduate student recently had been seen in the testing room. Sure enough, that group as a whole cheated a lot less than the control group.
Pedophile priests, many of whom scorn authentic Catholic teaching, likely think no one is watching them whether natural or supernatural entities. By contrast, those who fully believe in Catholic doctrines think God always is watching. “God knows what you did. God is going to punish you for it. And that’s an incredibly powerful deterrent,” the University of Edinburgh’s Dominic Johnson told National Public Radio. “Everywhere you look around the world, you find examples of people altering their behavior because of concerns for supernatural consequences of their actions. They don’t do things that they consider bad because they think they’ll be punished for it.”
The type of God one believes in can make a big difference as well. While it isn’t popular these days to paint God as being judgmental and punitive, that perception of God elicits better behavior. In another experiment, Azim Shariff and Ara Norenzayan of the universities of Oregon and British Columbia, respectively, administered a math test to several dozen undergraduate test subjects, who afterward were asked about their views of God. Atheists and agnostics cheated significantly more than those who considered God to be punishing and justice-minded. As for believers in an exclusively loving and forgiving God? They cheated as much as the atheists and agnostics. “How much you believe in God matters less than what kind of God you believe in,” wrote the researchers.
Lacking a belief in God and/or a belief in authentic Catholic doctrines of a loving, merciful, and justice-minded God, there’s much less incentive to stay on the straight and narrow. It’s what led to the priestly sexual abuse scandal in France, the U.S., and elsewhere.
Fortunately, today the seminaries by and large are in much better shape. The vast majority of the sexual abuse took place in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in the U.S. and France – although from reading today’s news, one wouldn’t realize that since media outlets wish to push the narrative that the situation is still as bad as ever. And thank God that compared with older generations of priests, the younger generation of priests tend to be more religiously orthodox. They’re more cognizant that God is keeping close tabs on them. That’s a strong deterrent against sexual immorality and abuse.
Photo: Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology via Unsplash.
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