Sunday, June 17, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Child Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church

I think one of the most important tasks facing the religious Dissident Right is trying to determine why Christianity has been unable to stop the assault of Modernism. In my mind there are many reasons for the failure however I think the main culprit is the Church hierarchy. There is something seriously wrong with the generalship.

Anyone with any exposure to the media cannot be unaware of the ongoing saga with regard to child sexual abuse which just seems to go on and on. Here in Australia, two weeks ago, one of the Australian archbishops was forced to step down after it was discovered that he covered up instances of child sexual abuse. Then there's Chile, where the entire Chilean Catholic leadership was forced to resigned as a result of their inept and criminal response to the sexual abuse of minors in their jurisdiction. Not only did they try to discredit the victims, but they seemed to have covered up some of the crimes and lied to the Pope.  In Ireland, the U.S., parts of Europe and Australia, a consistent pattern has emerged of a leadership that has been either inept in its dealings with the matter or outright criminal. 

Here in my home town, Melbourne, most of the crimes occurred during the reign of a liberal Church environment, while in Chile and Ireland, the crimes occurred within a conservative institutional framework: It's a problem that crosses factional lines. Furthermore, investigations into the abuse show that it has historically extended all the way back, well before Vatican Two, so it's not a problem, as some "conservatives" would like to say, of Church liberalisation, Many of the crimes occurred during the papacy of "conservative" Popes and during periods of  traditional orthodoxy. These statements are are not my opinions, they are statements of fact.

A lot of rubbish has been written about the issue but as I see it, the sexual abuse saga needs to be considered on two levels; that of the personal and of the institutional.

With regard to the personal level, in any institution of any size there are always going to be members that are going to go bad. the Catholic Church is no exception.  The job of a priest is hard, temptation is constant and the selection criteria are going to favour either the holy or the weird.  Furthermore, priests are men and like all men, sinners: it's a fact of life that you're going to get a few bad eggs.  From the figures that I have seen,  it appears that roughly ten percent of priests were child sexual predators, a figure that appears to be less than that seen in the general community. 

I grew up in a working class migrant community and in my childhood stories of "bad priests" were a not infrequent thing; the issues involved usually implied illegitimate children, fraud and alcoholism. The thing is that most of the community could make a clear distinction between the actions of the an individual priest and the institution of the Church. Individual priest may have been bad but the Church as a institution was good.

It's my opinion that it is at this, institutional level, where the sexual abuse saga seems to have done the most damage. It's at this level where the Church has been undermined most grievously. It's widely acknowledged that sexual abuse saga was a significant factor in the dechristianisation of Ireland.

The church is in an unusual position because, given its moral nature, it must be seen as an exemplar of what it preaches. If it fails to do this it seen as a corrupt organisation with all the negative sociological and religious implications that entertains. When you espouse high moral standards yet turn a blind eye to the corruption in the ranks you're going to be seen as a hypocrite, which totally undermines your original moral position. The bottom line is that the church, as an institution, failed to adequately deal with the problem of sexual abuse at the institutional level. And now it is paying the consequences.

And this institutional failure needs to be seen in a broader context. While sexual abuse allegations are the salacious topic du jour, the financial shenanigans of the church have proven to be just as resistant to eradication as well. Theft does not generate as much moral disgust as the sexual abuse of children but it's a moral evil none the less, and it's an evil that's been extremely difficult to eradicate. A healthy institution would purge itself of these corrupt elements and yet it can't. Rather, it has taken secular outsiders, sometimes quite hostile to the Church, to expose and force change upon an institutional apparatus which seems blind to its own failings and responsibilities.*

A common theme which emerges from investigations into the matter is that a repeated motivation among many of the clergy for keeping the abuse quiet was the desire to avoid scandal. In other words, the clergy were more concerned with need for the church to appear to be good rather than it actually being good. I don't know how to phrase this less bluntly but this, dear readers, is Pharisiacism 101, all done with the most noble of intentions of preserving the the image of sanctity while turning a blind eye to corruption, and in the worst instances, persecuting those who exposed the crimes.

What's very interesting in this whole saga is that the laity seem to have had a greater grasp of the seriousness of situation than their clerical superiors, but given the monophoric structure of the Catholic Church, meant that their concerns went unheeded. Bishop Long, himself a victim of sexual abuse, highlighted this mentality in his testimony to the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse here in Australia.

MS FURNESS: You've also heard evidence that clericalism has been described as a factor or playing a role in the abuse of children and the response to that abuse and the connection between the deference and power that is part of clericalism and the more traditional approach of some seminarians. Now, do you see it like that?
BISHOP LONG: I do, and I see the clericalism as a by-product of a certain model of Church informed or underpinned or sustained by a certain theology. I mean, it's no secret that we have been operating, at least under the two previous pontificates, from what I'd describe as a perfect society model where there is a neat, almost divinely inspired, pecking order, and that pecking order is heavily tilted towards the ordained. So you have the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, religious, consecrated men and women, and the laity right at the bottom of the pyramid.

I think we need to dismantle that model of Church. If I could use the biblical image of wineskins, it's old wineskins that are no longer relevant, no longer able to contain the new wine, if you like. I think we really need to examine seriously that kind of model of Church where it promotes the superiority of the ordained and it facilitates that power imbalance between the ordained and the non-ordained, which in turn facilitates that attitude of clericalism, if you like.

and

BISHOP LONG: Accountability in that perfect Church model only works upwards. You're accountable to the person above you. As long as the bishop has the backing of the Pope, he's safe. As long as the priest has the backing of his bishop, he's safe. There's no accountability that reaches outwards or downwards, and that's the critical problem, as far as I see. That discipleship of equals calls into question that upward accountability that is in operation as a result of that ecclesiastical model of a perfect society where everyone knows their place and the pecking order is strictly dictated by ordination.
I personally think that this is a superficial analysis but does illustrate the institutional mentality of the clergy and their hierarchy of "holiness". The problem with this institutional mentality is that it a fertile breeding ground for the Pharisaical mentality and it's a mentality that those of conservative temperament are particularly prone to.

What the child sexual abuse saga has illustrated is that there is something seriously wrong with the institutional governance of the Church, and while it does appear to be making some attempts to change church procedures in order to protect children it--as an institution--still seems clueless as to why the problems occurred in the first place. As I see it, the institutional cancer still remains.

Traditionalist interpretations with regard to the failure of Christianity in the 20th Century tend to see the issue as one of disobedience of the faithful to the hierarchy, i.e. a failure to respect authority. But clearly a obedient faithful which which knowingly kept quiet about the abuse--under the authority of a bishop-- would have been just as morally reprehensible as the hierarchy which turned a blind eye. The institutional church is much like a general blaming his troops for a battlefield loss, it never occurs to them that he problem may be with the quality of the generalship and the decisions made. It's this blindness which is the core of the problem and it's one of the reasons for the dechristinisation of the West.  I have this sneaking intuition that the clergy may have inadvertently set themselves against God.



*A long report commissioned by the Catholic Church into the nature and extent of the sexual abuse crisis.

10 comments:

Duggus said...

In America, it very much was a post-Vatican II scandal. The American bishops (with the exception of two, if I recall correctly, one of them having a relatively new diocese with no recorded sexual abuse incidents) agreed to provide information back to 1950 for study and found a definite arc to sexual abuse. There was some in the 1950s and early 60s (and almost certainly had been throughout history), but it rose in the mid-1960s and then began a decline by the early 1980s to pre-Vatican II levels. The ordination class of 1970 (again, if I recall correctly), was the high point of the scandal with 10 percent of men ordained in 1970 later being accused of sexual abuse. The study is here: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

Anonymous said...

The church is a hierarchical institution. But the key question is with respect to what domains the higher levels of the hierarchy have authority over the lower.

My understanding, and I hope this is not an idiosyncratic understanding but one grounded in the perennial teaching of the church, is that superior levels of the hierarchy are to instruct the lower levels in the content of church doctrine, and to administer to those lower levels the sacraments of the church.

These functions are essentially official functions of the church, in that they inhere in the specific offices of the ecclesial structure. But it is not the case that we are to presume that those higher up the hierarchy are, by their office , intrinsically morally or spiritually superior, or even necessarily more wise with respect to practical matters.

If the clericalism of the first half of the 20th century was in error - and based on my interpretation of that history as expressed to me by previous generations of my family I suspect that it was - it was precisely in confusing the office with the person.

A lay person is to accept with docility the doctrinal and moral teaching of the clergy. A lay person is to respect the "higher" state of the clergy with regards to their relationship to the holy things and sacramental life of the church.

But a lay person is not to formally cooperate with manifestly immoral conduct on the part of the clergy. And in the case of sexual abuse we are beyond manifestly immoral and in the terrain of the demonic.

That a corrupt, weakly believing clergy can poorly instruct the laity in church doctrine, thereby subtly replacing valid respect for the structure of the church with an empty clericalism, is a weakness of hierarchical structures like the church.

So you are correct that the problem is not per se a problem of traditionalism vs. modernism. But it is also logical to suppose that modernism accelerates these problems, as it empties the church hierarchy at all levels of sound belief and worship. And I think we can see that it did just that.

Bruce Charlton said...

I found a memoir called A Path From Rome, by the philosopher Anthony Kenny, to be interesting as an example of a fast-track-to-mitre insider leaving the RCC (and becoming an atheist). My recollection is that a sense of crushing social isolation (loneliness) - at several stages of his life - which was a major factor. Being a normal Parish Priest sounds a miserable existence (in mid 20th century England, anyway). This social isolation also implies lack of oversight, supervision and control (in a bureaucratic sense)... but in general a lack of attention of the extreme difficulties an unnaturalness of the celibate life, and lack of any attempt to deal with this.

I don'tknow how the Eastern Orthodox experience compared - presumably homosexual paedophilia is not a problem with their married priests; although the Orthodox hierarchy were (I think) more easily corrupted under communism than the celibate RCC priests... at least that was what a Romanian friend (RCC) told me.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Duggus

If you look carefully at my post you'll see that I've linked to the same study at the bottom. While it's true that the reported number of sexual abuse cases peaked in the early 70's my point was that the perpetrators of the crimes can from both sides of the liberal/conservative spectrum and from priests who had their training before and after Vatican 2.

@Bruce.

Catholic Ideological corruption did occur. Quite a few priests were informers for the Communist Party in Poland but it was the exception rather than the norm. In the Orthodox countries its seem to be the opposite.

As for celibacy I can understand why the Church upholds the standard but it's very hard, especially for those in isolated parishes.It's a discipline of the Church and not really a dogmatic position and I've got a lot of sympathy with ditching it.

@Anon

Thanks for your comments. I'll try to reply to them at length tomorrow but I'm a bit short of time today.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon

If the clericalism of the first half of the 20th century was in error - and based on my interpretation of that history as expressed to me by previous generations of my family I suspect that it was - it was precisely in confusing the office with the person.

I think that this conflation was a very real phenomenon but it, in turn, rested upon a notion of an institutional ranking of "holiness". i.e the bishop was holier than the priest and so on. Interestingly this placed the laity at the lowest levels of holiness.

But a lay person is not to formally cooperate with manifestly immoral conduct on the part of the clergy. And in the case of sexual abuse we are beyond manifestly immoral and in the terrain of the demonic.

Manifest evil is quite easy to spot but it's the subtle less overt evils which worry me. In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis remarked.

“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The docility that the clergy expects from the laity may have the unintended consequence of suppressing conscience. The Pre Vatican 2 Church was definite in its assertion that the authority of the clergy trumped the conscience of the faithful. This is a dreadful state of affairs which habituates the faithful to silence their conscience in the presence of any authority.

That a corrupt, weakly believing clergy can poorly instruct the laity in church doctrine, thereby subtly replacing valid respect for the structure of the church with an empty clericalism, is a weakness of hierarchical structures like the church.

The problem is not only one of poor instruction of the laity but it also fosters a kind of religious legalism that misses the intent of the law.

A lay person is to accept with docility the doctrinal and moral teaching of the clergy.

The expectation of "docility" is, in my mind, indicative of the mindset of the clergy which saw the laity as a passive mass to be managed, with any pushback against the clergy automatically being seen as malevolent dissent: In other words, the clergy is never wrong. The interesting speculation here is that should God chose to criticise the clergy through the laity then message would go unheeded, since the mindset of the clergy would be closed to correction by virtue of their assumptions with regard to the holiness of the Church. This was the vice of "monophorism" which Blondel alluded to.

But it is also logical to suppose that modernism accelerates these problems, as it empties the church hierarchy at all levels of sound belief and worship.

I agree that Modernism is an evil but it's of little comfort to be so focused on fighting Modernism that you ignore the Pharisaicism thriving in the ranks.

Anonymous said...

I think that this conflation was a very real phenomenon but it, in turn, rested upon a notion of an institutional ranking of "holiness". i.e the bishop was holier than the priest and so on. Interestingly this placed the laity at the lowest levels of holiness.

Church doctrine is indeed that certain vocations are more oriented to holiness than others. For example, the contemplative religious life is more oriented towards holiness than the married life. But because a station of life is more oriented to holiness does not mean that everyone who occupies that station is automatically holier than those occupying "lower" stations.

So the question of office vs. person reappears with respect to questions of holiness.

Similarly the priestly vocation does have more "potential for holiness,"so to speak, then the married life, but I don't know if the Church makes these claims with respect to gradations of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (deacon -> priest -> bishop -> cardinal -> pope).

Manifest evil is quite easy to spot but it's the subtle less overt evils which worry me. In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis remarked.

I agree. Maybe "manifestly immoral conduct" was not the right choice of words.

There is an objective moral law. When the priests violate that objective morality, there is no obligation on the part of the laity to ignore it, excuse it, or be in anyway complicit with it. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not in conformity with Church doctrine.

The docility that the clergy expects from the laity may have the unintended consequence of suppressing conscience. The Pre Vatican 2 Church was definite in its assertion that the authority of the clergy trumped the conscience of the faithful. This is a dreadful state of affairs which habituates the faithful to silence their conscience in the presence of any authority.

It is not true that the Church teaches, or taught, that, in some general sense, "the authority of the clergy trumps the conscience of the faithful." The Church does not teach that priestly authority overrides the moral law, or that it is the declarations of priestly authority that constitute the moral law.

That said, it is a mistake to replace knowledge of objective morality with consulting one's conscience. There is no intelligible sense of "conscience" that can be disentangled from knowledge of right and wrong. Someone with mistaken ideas about morality will do poorly consulting their conscience.

So if you deny the role of the Church, broadly, and the priest, specifically, in forming and correcting the layperson's conscience, you are also in error.

The expectation of "docility" is, in my mind, indicative of the mindset of the clergy which saw the laity as a passive mass to be managed, with any pushback against the clergy automatically being seen as malevolent dissent: In other words, the clergy is never wrong.

Your understanding on this matter is incorrect. Receptivity to being taught by the divinely instituted Church (docility) does not mean: "the clergy is never wrong."

The Christian religion is a revealed religion. The Church is the custodian of revealed truth. You cannot know revealed truth outside of receiving it from the Church. This does not mean that the clergy are never wrong. They frequently fail to pass on revealed truth, distort revealed truth, and outright lie about revealed truth.

But if your fundamental orientation towards the Church is not: I want to understand what the Church - not this or that particular priest, but the Church herself - teaches on revealed doctrine so that I can follow it respectfully and diligently, then your position is not orthodox.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to do this in two comments, but apparently I was running afoul of length restrictions. Maybe that was a hint that I failed to take.

You: The interesting speculation here is that should God chose to criticise the clergy through the laity then message would go unheeded, since the mindset of the clergy would be closed to correction by virtue of their assumptions with regard to the holiness of the Church. This was the vice of "monophorism" which Blondel alluded to.

God may choose to criticise the clergy through the laity. There are major crises in the church hierarchy when the human element of the Church completely fails in its duties and the laity must keep the faith without much support from their priests. We are in one such time right now.

There is no contradiction between my holding that view, and my holding every other view that I have articulated in both of my comments.

You: I agree that Modernism is an evil but it's of little comfort to be so focused on fighting Modernism that you ignore the Pharisaicism thriving in the ranks.

Can you please define Pharisaicism? And give me examples of that definition being applied? Because I don't understand what you mean by the term.

There is an objective moral law. We are obligated to conform our behavior to it. But to merely conform our behavior to it, with inappropriate inner motivations, is also defective. So as Christians we are to do the right thing for the right reasons, no matter our station in life.

And one last question, if you find the discussion fruitful and want to continue it:

Surely you agree that the church is hierarchical. Can you specify in precisely what respects it is hierarchical? When is a layperson to obey the clergy?

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon

Thanks for the considered response, and I do find the discussion fruitful as I feel the issues discussed here go a long way to understanding the collapse of the faith.

But because a station of life is more oriented to holiness does not mean that everyone who occupies that station is automatically holier than those occupying "lower" stations.

I agree that's the theory but it's not how it's played out in practice.I mean the whole point of a teaching hierarchy is the the one above "knows" more than the one below. The whole justification of teaching authority is premised on the notion that the teacher is closer to God than the one taught. Hence the bishop's opinions on faith and morals is subordinate to that of Pope, who by virtue of his authority, "knows better". And clearly the closer you go by virtue of lack of error the greater the holiness. Even when popes have been manifest failures than human beings, their office confers upon them a honour that is not warranted by any objective measure of sanctity.

When the priests violate that objective morality, there is no obligation on the part of the laity to ignore it, excuse it, or be in anyway complicit with it.

Yet the fact remains that this was just the state of affairs during the whole sexual abuse crisis. The laity did reasonably well out of this whole saga but the clergy really dropped the ball. And I'm talking about the clergy that were meant to clean the mess up.

It is not true that the Church teaches, or taught, that, in some general sense, "the authority of the clergy trumps the conscience of the faithful."

The real problem comes with authoritative statements (i.e statements which may contain the possibility of error). The Church teaches that these statements demand the Obsequium Religiosum. i.e there is a demand to submit to statements which contain the possibility of error. The problem here is if the laity identify some error of doctrine, either explicitly or implicitly, then this concern is rendered illegitimate. The right of the clergy trumps the laity.

That said, it is a mistake to replace knowledge of objective morality with consulting one's conscience. There is no intelligible sense of "conscience" that can be disentangled from knowledge of right and wrong

I agree that the concept of conscience has been abused. Conscience has both rights and obligations. I have no problem with the notion of the Church helping form conscience where I have the problem is the notion that conscience is reduced the expression of the clergy in the mind of the laity, with the laity's role being that of simple assent. I agree that for the majority of the laity this is probably a good thing but for those who delve deeper into the truth the ability to question and to oppos, if necessary some aspects of non infallible teaching needs to be recognised as a potential error corrective mechanism in the Church.

The Church is the custodian of revealed truth

That really depends on what you mean by "The Church". If the laity are also repositories of the Truth then theoretically a situation could arise where the laity are right on a moral issue and the clergy wrong. On the other hand if The Church is synonymous with clergy this state of affairs cannot occur.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Anon part 2.

There are major crises in the church hierarchy when the human element of the Church completely fails in its duties and the laity must keep the faith without much support from their priests. We are in one such time right now.

Respectfully, it does appear from your statement that laity needs to hold firm passively till the clergy sorts itself out and then it's back to traditional command-control structure. Once again, implicit in your statement is the notion that the laity cannot be originators of spiritual insight and, dare I say it, amendment to authoritative teaching. I think this was the point that Blondel was trying to make with his term monophorism. Religious and moral insight goes one way only.

Surely you agree that the church is hierarchical. Can you specify in precisely what respects it is hierarchical? When is a layperson to obey the clergy?

Well firstly, as in any large organisation there is an administrative hierarchy which deals with the usual run of the mill organisation issues of an institution of its size.

Secondly, as teaching organisation, there is the "curriculum" that needs to be taught and that is by and large determined by the hierarchy that has been entrusted to the task.

Thirdly, as a "truth discovery" organisation, it is the role of the "whole body" of the Church to keep an eye out for new discoveries or insights and to incorporate them into the curriculum. The important insight here is that new insights may come from unexpected places and the role of the curriculum crew is to incorporate these insights in a timely and effective manner.

Finally, when things are going hay-wire, management needs to ensure that they don't get into the habit of blaming the workers for their mistakes.

When is a layperson to obey the clergy?

Never. The laypersons duty is to obey God. The clergyman is meant to educate the faithful in the ways of God so that the faithful can obey God more perfectly. The clergyman is not the proxy of God but his prophet. Do not conflate the clergy with God.

As for pharasiascism I plan to write a post about it in the next week or two since the concept isn't an easy one to get across in one or two sentences.




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