I’ve seen Spotlight. In fact I watched the DVD twice. I know what happened, and believe the victims, although I know nothing like this abuse happened to me, or to anyone I know personally. But then, we came from ‘privileged’ homes, small city, suburban, professional, more stable than most for longer than most. We weren’t the “type” whatever the type was, to attract the attentions of abusive priests. That said, I’m not inclined to offer any more explanations, any more explications, and certainly not any rationalizations for why the Catholic Church as an institution can’t get its act together to prevent abuse at the hands of its ordained clergy. I would rather simply go ahead and say it — the institutional Church could start to implement some serious reforms if it could manage to divest itself of some ancient mythologies and modern biases.
Let me start with some of the modern ones. No, Monsignor Malaprop, gays in the priesthood are not your major source of pedophiles and ephebophiles. [NewRep] It’s entirely too convenient to blame gay priests for the malfeasance of others. After all, (1) statistically speaking most sexual abuse occurs in family settings, and therefore (2) a solution to ‘the problem’ isn’t to screen out gays from seminary training — it’s to screen out pedophiles and ephebophiles from seminary training. Here’s a thought: How about NOT ordaining individuals who have a predilection for abusing children. Blaming gays merely adds to the homophobic stereotyping all too common in, and entirely too counter-productive for the modern ministry.
Secondly, there’s an old wisecrack out in the pews about priests who have an inclination toward “Punch and Judy.” (That would be booze and women, the major reasons for most exits.) So, arguing that celibacy causes sexual abuse doesn’t quite come off as a complete response to the problem of pedophiles and other abusive members of the clergy. A man can be celibate or non-celibate and still not have any desire to molest children. What the Church needs to see the back of are the abusers, celibate, non-celibate, whatever. And to do that it needs to talk about sex. At least the Archdiocese of Seattle is able to mention that universal human attribute with regard to the training of individuals in its seminary:
Human formation is really concerned with someone’s growth as a healthy individual. It even includes the integration of human sexuality so these men are able to live as a joyful, happy, fruitful and celibate priest. Obviously it takes time to grow into these vows, so this seminary environment provides a great environment to pray and reflect upon how they can sustain their life in the church and in their ministry. [Arch/Seattle]
This comes close, but I find the phrase “even includes the integration of human sexuality” a bit off-putting. “Even?” As if the discussion of something as basic as human sexuality is a topic to be highlighted and remarked upon? Prayer and reflection are great, as far as they go, but those conferences and instructional sessions better include some good old fashioned education, and the mentors and spiritual advisers better be capable of offering more than bromides and superficial information. The following description of ‘human formation’ doesn’t leave me with a warm feeling about the practicality of seminary training in human sexuality:
“Regularly scheduled Human Formation Conferences seek to address issues surrounding the seminarian’s physical well-being; habits of good nutrition and exercise, freedom from addictive behaviors; as well as addressing the essential issues in the development of a healthy emotional life; the establishment of mature friendships, maturity in dealing with authority, the formation of a settled disposition for celibacy and the qualities necessary for leadership and positive social interaction within a community.” [SCBS]
All right, they’ve addressed the “Punch” part, but “Judy” is left, I presume, under the heading of the establishment of mature relationships, healthy emotions, and whatever a “settled disposition” might be. One can hope that some obviously unhealthy emotional issues like attraction to under-aged children comes up regularly enough to make a difference.
For a moment let’s assume a happy premise, that modern seminary training is going to address human sexuality in a way that allows seminarians and their mentors to sort out and exclude from the priesthood those who display a potential for abuse, especially the abuse of young people. Would ordaining women make a difference? Maybe, but let’s not put too many eggs in that basket. Remember, the task is to sort out and exclude abusers — all abusers. So, ordaining women simply because they statistically don’t have the “record” of their male counterparts doesn’t pass the no tolerance test for ordination. However, it might help along some other lines.
Ordaining women would move the priesthood out of the good old boys environment. One of the primary complaints against the institutional Church is that the good old boys are very good at protecting the good old boys. Some good old girls tossed into the mix might help? There are profound theological and institutionally historical arguments for maintaining the all male priesthood, however the ordination of women hasn’t caused the spires of Episcopalian churches to collapse, nor their naves to cave, so there is that. Further, there’s a tiny handful of priests who’ve moved from the Anglican to the Roman church complete with wives and children, and those spires and naves haven’t fallen into debris either. A few good women might also have the salutary effect of addressing the “Judy Problem.”
However, we’re still moving around the periphery of the issue. Children were abused. The abusers were protected. The victims were silenced. Thus, it’s the silence that needs to come to an end. There’s some hope to be taken from Article 4 of the “Dallas Charter” from the USCCB.
“Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities with due regard for the seal of the Sacrament of Penance. Diocesan/eparchial personnel are to comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord with the law of the jurisdiction in question. Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor. In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities and support this right.” [pdf]
Even with the Confessional seal notation, there’s some good news herein, especially in the clear enunciation of regard for “the law of the jurisdiction in question.” That would be the civil authorities, not those of the Church. Additionally, it’s not enough to advise a victim of the right to report abuse to the civil authorities, the leadership is to support that right. At least the system looks good on paper. It’s a start.
A move closer to the finish line would be to say that not only must the Church cooperate with civil authorities when the victim is no longer a minor, but the Church will also stop opposing efforts to extend the statute of limitations on child abuse. There’s also a tricky element of canon versus civil law to deal with in these matters. A bishop is to permanently remove an abusing priest from ministry for an act of abuse if “admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law.” Inserting “if admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon or civil law,” might tie things down a bit more tightly?
As for the ancient mythologies… could we just get over the “sex is sin” stuff? Please. Could we get over the sex is just for procreation thing? Please. Could we stop telling boys they’ll go blind if they’re in the bathroom too long? That girls shouldn’t touch their Satan Spot? Please and Please again. Could we get to the point where the Padre’s eyes don’t have that baffled look when the woman in the confessional says her favorite position is “The Lioness on a Cheese Grater?” Could we get to the place where a healthy intimate relationship is to be prized to the same extent as the successful healthy acceptance of celibacy? Could we get to the part wherein sexuality is part of our human existence. Please.
Could we stop burying a discussion of human sexuality under tons of euphemisms like “mature relationships,” and “healthy emotional lives?” For the institutional Church to deal with sexual deviancy in its midst it’s going to have to start talking, realistically, publicly, about sex. It’s going to have to talk to its seminarians, its parishioners, and its leadership. It’s going to have to move the action from the paper of the Dallas Charter to the pulpit and the pews. Then, perhaps, it can deal with issues of ordination, clericalism, seminary training, and pastoral evaluation. I think I’ll just go ahead and say it: It Can’t Happen Too Soon.