• Our Blogger

    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

  • Recent Comments

    Mar on Ask a Priest
    Talei N on Ask a Priest
    Talei N on Ask a Priest
    Talei N on Ask a Priest
    Anonymous on Ask a Priest

Abuse Scandal & “Vos Estis Lux Mundi”

popabuse

Having read this article in THE CATHOLIC STANDARD and the document on the Vatican website, I am hopeful but unconvinced that this will prove sufficient. Can Church leaders still be trusted to police themselves? Will this satisfy demands for transparency? While not mentioned at all, did not the crisis with Cardinal McCarrick clarify that the roots of the scandal were not in pedophilia but rather an active homosexuality? Can the problem we face be resolved without first a purification of the Church, next a rededication to celibate love and most importantly a renewed call to holiness?

We are Called to Live & Minister in Fidelity to Christ 

The Holy Father is quite right that we are all called “to give concrete witness of faith in Christ in our lives and, in particular, in our relationship with others.”  No one is excused from the demands of the moral life.  Indeed, our fidelity to our calling to holiness finds its demarcations within the parameters of our vocations of service, particularly in the mutual life of support and affection shared by spouses in marriage and by the cleric in his surrender to a celibate love that finds its direct source in God.  The motu propio rightly speaks of this truth but it must be asked, does it ever really target by name the key issue behind the current crisis about priestly misbehavior and abuse?

Yes, sexual abuse is obviously an offense to God and it certainly causes “physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm to the community of the faithful.”  I would also add, that as a sin, it also brings ruination to the soul and character of the perpetrator.  Efforts to prevent further abuse will certainly require an openness to the grace of the Holy Spirit; however, it will also require sufficient “concrete actions.” Measures already taken proved their value even though they were not fully effective, given their application to the laity and to accused priests while leaving the bishops largely immune or detached from the reach of child protection initiatives.

The Shepherds of the Church are Entrusted to Safeguard the Flock

We have seen a peculiar development in the response to the abuse of children in the Church.  Initial initiatives focused on the laity (parish staff and teachers) with the clergy almost entirely outside the purview of child protection programs.  Then as more and more priests were charged and judged guilty of abusing minors, religious and parish priests were added to the mix.  Recent efforts at deflection failed for the bishops when attorneys targeted them by name as either abusers (themselves) or as protecting, enabling or hiding  priests who harmed children.  Can we now trust them to do what is right?  The papal initiative continues our efforts to deal with dangerous priests but also places bishops on the radar.  While we are all called to a moral life, the practical focus here is specific to the clergy, given the current scandal.  The scope of the misbehavior begins with violations of the sixth commandment (You shall not commit adultery).

Yes, the bishops have a singular role to play as the successors of the apostles possessing the fullness of priestly authority.  They must edify their flocks “in truth and holiness,” not as pampered princes but as humble servants who live out “the evangelical counsels” in obedience to the Lord.  They must keep trust with God’s people, placing the needs of the faithful centermost in all they say and do.  Will these new universal procedures be sufficient in combating ecclesial betrayal?  Frankly, the document looks to the future while many of us are still concerned about the past and present.

Yes, there should be “mutual listening” and openness “to the contributions of those who care deeply about this process of conversion.”  But where does this place agnostic clinicians that continue to work for the Church who once counseled the return of abusers to assignments and later couched the scandal as one of pedophilia while it was in actuality one of homosexual pederasty?  How can we trust those who treat priests when an unspecified number of their centers are suspected as hotbeds for homosexuality and dissent?  How does a Church express sorrow and reach out to victims so that they might find real healing and peace when the leadership apparently places an inordinate emphasis upon hiring savvy lawyers so as to avoid liability or fault?  What becomes of truth when both shepherds and attorneys employ a plethora of words that baffle the mind and fail to answer pertinent questions? Where is true transparency when the critical and revelatory letters of a high profile prelate like Archbishop Viganò can be dismissed, even by the Pope, himself?

The Strengths & Weaknesses of the Papal Intervention

What are the positive elements of this document that build on past efforts to stem the abuse of minors by clergy?

  • Episcopal cover-ups are now deemed as crimes in the Church.
  • Dioceses cannot be indifferent and must render material and physical help to victims.
  • There is finally a system to report the malfeasance of bishops.

What might be the negative or problematical points in this document?

  • Homosexuality is not named as having any part in the problem and scandal.
  • We must still trust bishops to investigate their fellow bishops.
  • No penal actions or disciplines are dictated.
  • The new policies are not retroactive to older cases.
  • Nothing dictates transparency, either in the investigations or the subsequent punishments.

Given the nature of the crisis, the document singles out clerics and religious.  This is as it should be but many remain deeply worried about priests who are wrongly accused.  The document speaks of a presumption of innocence; but in truth, what constitutes “credible” accusations has never been sufficiently or universally defined.  Allegations going back decades and lacking forensic evidence, still result in suspensions. The stigma from charges will always remain and frequently Church authorities feel that these men cannot be reassigned. Those who are dead cannot defend themselves but they can have their good names and reputations destroyed.  The methodology we follow would require that even if allegations should later be proven untrue, we must approach each case as if a wrong did occur.  Many bishops did not seem overly concerned about possible injustice, that is until attorneys and victims turned their sights upon them.

While it is lamentable that priests known as abusers were shuffled around; it is just as sad when possibly innocent priests are not convicted of crimes but are still convicted by the court of public opinion (largely uninformed) and a bias media.  They are frequently left out in the cold and attempts to defend them, especially from conservative voices, are often rewarded with charges of intolerance and homophobia.  It may simply be a matter of cynical over-reaching, but some have noticed that the prosecution of cases of priestly misbehavior are not handled the same by different bishops and in varying locations.  If the new document brings uniformity then that may be a definite improvement, providing that justice is real. Too often it seemed that certain priests, even where a preponderance of the circumstantial evidence pointed to guilt, got off easier than others.  We have seen this in a number of cases where men charged with homosexual indiscretions or misbehavior were either defended or quietly returned to ministry.  While we must not be uncharitable or fall prey to calumny, the question does logically arise, were they being specially protected by friends in high places (perhaps with similar inclinations)?

How Should We Punish Bad Bishops & Priests?

Note here that “no penal actions or disciplines are dictated.”  This is a serious matter that should become part of the global discussion.  What do we do with bishops and priests who are not incarcerated?  Priests suspended from ministry and/or lacized often have to find new  employment.  The Church loses track of them.  If they are registered sex-offenders in the US then the government might track a few of them.  Given their tarnished reputations, it may even be hard for them to find a place to live.  Some places post signs and various people have taken it upon themselves to warn neighbors and to alert nearby schools.  God forbid that the man is actually innocent; however, if he is a predator, many of these men are serial offenders.  They seem unable to stop themselves.  The homosexuals among them, and this is the majority, seem drawn to multiple partners.  Many of these priests, themselves, suffered trauma in experiencing a homosexual encounter when they were teens.  Yes, the abuser was himself abused.  All the while our society has sought to make the disorder of homosexuality normative.  That is why the media often falls over itself in attacking the abuse scandal in the Church while desperately trying to sever it from homosexuality.  Can we keep the priest abusers in Church run facilities indefinitely?  Must they accept chemical castration?  Can we mandate that they live in special monastic centers far from populated areas?  What do we do with a priest when all he knows is being a priest, even if a bad, sick or criminal one?  The Church has been condemned for keeping these men in Church facilities.  The Church has also been criticized for letting these men go and not supervising them.  We need to do something but I am unsure that we can do anything that will please everyone.

Abuse of Priests as Spiritual Incest

Although the attitude of certain shepherds makes it hard to believe, we are traditionally taught that the relationship of a bishop to his priests should be that of a father to his son.  If this is the case, then we have a problem in the Church that is more complicated than a few sick bishops having sexual relationship with priests.  Fathers nurture and care for their children.  They treat them with justice and compassion.  They hear them out.  They may even discipline them when such is necessary.  We cannot excuse past abuse or enable clergy to hurt others.  But the question must be asked, would a father disown his son?

Clarifying the delict, we read that it first applies to “forcing someone, by violence or threat or through abuse of authority, to perform or submit to sexual acts.”  I recall years ago a bishop in Hawaii who was accused of sexually abusing some of his priests.  Along these lines, the situation with McCarrick (former cardinal in Washington) is an egregious tale of deception, complicity and perversity.  However, it would still be a scandal even if these acts with priests or other men were consensual.  Are we not limiting ourselves to that which might be prosecuted legally?  Further, I have a hard time imagining an “innocent” priest (as a grown man) submitting himself as a sexual pawn to his bishop so as to avoid punishment.  I would either walk away or more likely give him a quick punch to the face.  Many of the stories imply that such misbehavior was to incur favor and plum assignments, maybe even elevation to the episcopacy. These are not abused innocent men. These are homosexuals victimizing their own fellow homosexuals.  It would seem to me, after proper investigation; that a number of these so-called adult priestly victims would also have to be dismissed from the clerical state.

Minors, Vulnerable Persons & Trust

Point number two is where most of the gravity in the current scandal can be found.  It is also a matter that will need further development.  For instance, what is a minor?  Currently in the US it is regarded as someone under 18.  Many other places in the world lower the age of majority to 16 or even 14 years of age.  Again, it seems that we are giving an emphasis to legal liability.  Is this not somewhat capricious?  Children and young people should not be abused.  That should be a given.  But what is deflected is that the priest or bishop is not supposed to have sexual relations with anyone, of any age, and of either gender!  If priests remain true to their promises, then youth and other vulnerable persons are safe.  The issue here is one of morality and holiness.

Practically speaking, there has been more than a little confusion as to what constitutes a vulnerable person.  During a conference with archdiocesan officials a few years ago at St. Jerome’s hall in Hyattsville, I asked a recently hired official if the protection guidelines included the intellectually challenged and the elderly.  He said no, just minors.  I argued with him.  Now it seems he was indeed wrong.  Left unsaid is how does one protect both the vulnerable persons from harm and the clergymen from false charges?  We are told not to be alone with children and yet many parishes still have reconciliation rooms with closed solid doors.  Would it not be better to insist upon the traditional confessional with a wall and screen?  Are we consistent in not having clergy alone with people suffering intellectual challenges?  When a priest does sick calls, is he alone or accompanied by others?  There was a recent case where Fr. Gerold Langsch was charged with groping a woman in hospice care after he was summoned to give the last rites.  Are our priests never to be trusted?  What does this communicate about the clergy?  Our Lord sending his disciples out “two by two” is making ever more sense.

All Pornography Poisons the Soul

Certainly I would agree that it is grievously wrong for the clergy to possess child pornography.  However, it is also sinful and inexcusable for priests to collect adult and/or gay pornography.  Where are the programs to assist priests who are addicted to pornography and self-pollution?  Even if the filth is not of the type that will land the priest in jail, it is still sufficient to posit him in hell.  How can a priest authentically care about persons while he looks upon the bodies of others as commodities to satisfy his own lusts?  Pornography is literally a form of virtual prostitution— others are devalued as persons by the very one who should be praying for them, to raise their dignity, and to save their souls.  The priest who would exploit others has forfeited within himself the grace that others need to be spiritually enriched.

Giving a Name to the Sin that Fuels the Scandal

The sixth commandment (against adultery) is interpreted by the Church as pertaining to all sorts of sexual misbehaviors.  Many feel that the document would have been stronger with an elaboration of the crimes or sins that made this document necessary.  As it stands, there is arguably a level of ambiguity.  The universal catechism gives us a list of sins that violate the sixth commandment and offend against chastity: (1) lust, (2) masturbation, (3) fornication, (4) pornography, (5) prostitution, (6) rape, and (7) homosexuality.  While today we must deal with a whole list of deviant sexual practices, like pedophilia and bestiality, it is apparently presumed in the catechism that all but homosexuality would be universally condemned and hopefully quite rare.  The last sin listed here is very important to this discussion.  The universal catechism states that when it comes to homosexuals, “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”  No reference is made to this sin by name in the papal document.  Deliberate or not, is this a fatal oversight?  The popular characterization of pedophilia is grossly false. Pedophilia is a psychiatric malady in which an adult has a primary or exclusive sexual disorientation toward prepubescent children.  By contrast, well over 80 percent of the abuse cases with priests in the United States involved older or teenaged boys. Nevertheless, this misdiagnosis of pedophilia is what has allowed the US bishops’ conference to wrongly conclude that homosexual priests are no more likely than heterosexual ones to enter into abusive behavior.  How many cases of active homosexual clergy (as with McCarrick) are known to the bishops?  How many have similarly been protected and promoted when they should have been severely disciplined?

Just at a time when we are called to embrace the truth, the reality of the situation is often carefully worded by churchmen in a way that seems inexact if not explicitly deceptive. Further, many people are themselves so morally bankrupt that they cannot distinguish what is right or wrong, particularly when it comes to human sexuality.  They are formed more by our secular culture than by the Christian kerygma.  It is in this light that some may complain that these new measures should have better spelled out what sins violate the sixth commandment.  While it would probably be widely unpopular and condemned as intolerant, should not some mention have been made about homosexuality as at the root of the current problem?  The failure to do so will make it easy for the harshest critics to say that nothing has changed… that the Lavender Mafia is still pulling the strings and protecting its own.  It was not long after Pope Benedict XV asserted that homosexual men should not be ordained as priests that he called it quits.  He apparently had neither the health nor the strength to fight this powerful enemy from within… this proverbial “smoke of Satan.”  Those who would dissent on homosexulaity would likely be the first to liberalize teachings about fornication and adultery.

We need a priesthood that is unassailable in its individual membership and that speaks with one voice as the sentinel of Christ.  Priests must be witnesses to the whole world of a calling to be living signs of contradiction to our times.  Ironically, the world attacks the priesthood for the very corruption with which it has infested the priestly soul.  The scandal is not that we have faithfully stood up against the world but that too many have succumbed.

The current crisis in the Catholic Church is one of homosexuality; no matter how many bishops and their so-called experts would say otherwise. It would NOT be “unjust discrimination” to remove them (any who have experienced even one act of homosexual intimacy) from the seminaries and from the active priesthood.  This should be a given if we want to insure the high moral character of the priesthood and the reputation of the Church. Homosexuals are loved by God and his Church; but they must remain chaste.  They can serve the Lord in many ways, albeit outside of holy orders.  No one deserves to be a priest or bishop.  It is a gift from God and his holy Church.  No women are called and few men.  No one can demand ordination as a matter of justice.  I am fearful that without this purge, the scandals and problems we face will remain to haunt us for many years to come.

Can We Find It in Ourselves to Trust the Hierarchy?

Not new is the level of care that many local churches already offer to those who come forward as victimized.  God stewards have welcomed them to come forward and have listened to their sad stories.  They were treated with respect and their dignity was acknowledged as children of God.  Many good bishops have offered both spiritual and therapeutic assistance.  However, we as a Church are ashamed that charges of abuse were sometimes not taken seriously and clergy were allowed to continue in preying upon innocence.  Those with any moral conscience are deeply troubled by allegations that officials threatened victims to be silent and that hush money was paid.   The institution of the Church failed a number of her own.  All the while, Mother Church with Mary’s immaculate heart weeped for her children.  I suspect there are still tears pouring from heaven.

The provisions call for the submission of reports through the institution of a specific ecclesiastical office and to Ordinaries.  Reports could also be sent directly to the Holy See. The Metropolitans would regularly take the initiative in commencing investigations of higher clerics.  (This is much as Cardinal Wuerl had suggested some months back; has Pope Francis put his name to the cardinal’s plan?)  I have not yet read any other critiques but I can well imagine that a number will complain.  Are we again being asked to trust that the bishops of the Church can police themselves? We read that the proposed procedures will insure “confidentiality” (to protect the applicant) and yet no one will be obliged to secrecy.   It will be interesting to see how this will work.

As an alternative, many of us urged the further establishment or expansion of independent lay review boards.  Canonical changes would be required so as to give these boards some teeth against slippery and guilty higher level clerics.  At present, given this document, it seems unlikely this will happen.  Did the cries of many fall upon deaf ears? It is indeed possible that our shepherds know better than many of us as to what must be done.  The problem is that earlier assurances proved shortsighted and McCarrick (a principal spokesman for the American bishops) was revealed as part of the problem, not the solution.   As I first said, I hope this new stratagem will bear fruit.  Be that as it may, it is hard to shake off a nagging pessimism that this effort of the Holy See will satisfy the level of transparency for which critics and victims are clamoring.  We pray that this is not more of the same.  Have we been down this road before?  Are we trying to fix with a bandaid what needs surgical intervention?  Are we seeking to resolve a major challenge to the Church’s life and authority with a gentle tweaking of policies when what she really needs is a full-blown reformation?

A Few Links to the News About This Blog Story

CNA – Analysis: Is Pope Francis’ new abuse plan the answer Catholics are looking for?

Vatican News – New norms for the whole Church against those who abuse or cover up

Catholic Telegraph – Q & A Regarding Pope Francis’ Motu Propio VOS ESTIS LUX MUNDI

Intermountain Catholic – US Bishops’ Conference Statement on Motu Proprio

America – Pope Francis’ new sex abuse rules are a revolution for the Catholic Church

CRUX – Reaction to Pope’s abuse letter: ‘Nice words, but it’s time for action’

NC Register – Pope Francis Signs Motu Proprio to Prevent and Denounce Abuses in the Catholic Church

2 Responses

  1. At the behest of a friend I removed some adjoining material about the centers that treat priests.

  2. Clergy or religious with a liking for pornography – of any kind whatsoever – should be kicked out of the priestly or religious state. It is intolerable that people whose vocation is meaningless without holiness should be involved in such things.

    Or is holiness not important these days

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s