Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Theology of Sexual Abuse

As I've said before, before the restoration of the West will only occur once its  religious underpinnings are re-instituted. Most bloggers on the subject of Western restoration tend to focus on political and immigration reforms but these things are all moot if the culture underpinning them is rubbish. Religion matters, particularly the Catholic religion, which IS the foundational element of the West.

One only has to pick up a newspaper or browse online to realise that there is something seriously wrong with the Catholic Church and while many, including many in the leadership recognise this the fact is that the leadership is floundering. As someone who has been following events for a while now it's quite obvious that most of the Church's governing class and commentariat are clueless  So it was quite a surprise to see that  Pope Emeritus Benedict weigh into the conversation by publishing a series of notes with regard to his reflections on the sexual abuse crisis.

I felt that they deserved some comment.

While I admire Benedict's first rate intellect, one whole, the notes themselves did not seem to rise to his usual level of theological insight, and seemed more an interpretation of events as you would expect from some traditional provincial priest. This is worrying as it is a reflection of the thinking that was occurring at the top during his pontificate and goes a long way to explaining why the Church has not been able to adequately deal with the issue.

Benedict seems to blame the the following for the crisis:
a) A loss of belief in the real presence of God in our lives.
b) With consequent loss of reverence towards the Eucharist.
c) The cultural/sexual revolution of the 60's which infected the Church and legitimised many previously illegitimate sexual behaviours including pedophillia.
d) Liberal theology which denied any kind of intrinsically wrongs acts.
e) Canon law which made it effectively impossible to get rid of a bad priest.
Leon Podles does a good takedown of Benedict's claims, while I agree with a lot of what he says I don't agree with him on the subject of clericalism. In my mind clericalism is only a minor component of the abuse crisis. It's malign effects are felt elsewhere. Rather, the problem is much deeper, rooted in modern "orthodox" theology  and I get the feeling that Benedict is only just now  beginning to grasp the true nature of it. The other guys are clueless.

To illustrate the true nature of the problem you have to perform a thought experiment. Consider the following:

Suppose Pope Francis, JPII or Benedict were put in charge of a prison-or for a matter of fact any senior cleric: How would they deal with the  inmates? Suppose a prisoner came up to the Pope and said he was sorry for what he did and promised he'd never commit a crime again. How do you suppose the Pope would react. I think it's reasonable to think that the Pope would pardon the prisoner and either commute his sentence or let him free. The justice owed to the victim of crime would not be factored in at all.

This, in a nutshell is the story of the whole sexual abuse saga.  i.e the redemption of the sinner takes priority over justice for the victim. Focusing only on the sexual abuse aspect misses the bigger picture; which is that the welfare of the sinner always takes priority over the justice owed to the victim in Catholic practice.  And it doesn't just affect how the Church deals with issues of sexual abuse but also how it deals with all other crimes such as fraud, embezzlement and murder. A slap on the wrist and all is ok.

For example, here is the rationale for the impermissibilty of the Death Penalty as taken from the Catechism:
“Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption,”

Note:  The redemption of the criminal matters more than the justice owed to the victim. Massimo Faggioli is absolutely right, the Church is incapable of punishing crimes and requires state intervention to do so. (This is going bring a whole lot of pain in ways that people can't imagine including the "punishment" of innocent priests by the State who aren't politically correct.)

Now, I get the impression that Benedict is finally beginning to see that there is something wrong with the Church's kumbayah approach when he writes:
A balanced canon law that corresponds to the whole of Jesus’ message  [ED] must therefore not only provide a guarantee for the accused, the respect for whom is a legal good. It must also protect the Faith, which is also an important legal asset. A properly formed canon law must therefore contain a double guarantee — legal protection of the accused, legal protection of the good at stake. If today one puts forward this inherently clear conception, one generally falls on deaf ears when it comes to the question of the protection of the Faith as a legal good. In the general awareness of the law, the Faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection. This is an alarming situation which must be considered and taken seriously by the pastors of the Church.

What Benedict is saying here is that when it comes to legal matters the Church can't just simply look at the good of the sinner but needs to take other factors into account as well, and in this instance it is the good of "the Faith". This is a welcome improvement in thinking but still misses the mark. Benedict is beginning to realise that you can't just neglect justice for mercy without having some serious consequences, including the loss of the Faith.

The Faith is not injured primarily by mercy towards the sinner but rather by a failure to render justice to the victim. The people who have the left the Church have left primarily because of their disgust at the way the victims were treated and there tormentors were allowed to escape punishment. What kills the the good  of "the Faith" is not the application of Mercy but the neglect of Justice. Something that the Church despite all of its affirmation of, honours in the breach.

While the cultural changes that have occurred int the 20th C have contributed to the loss of Faith in the Western nations it has been some of the theological developments--or lack thereof--which have done the most damage. Pastors which practice and preach an ostensibly orthodox theology which neglects the victims of crime are contemptible to the laity and their walking with their feet. Their sensus fidelium is working quite well. It's the senior clergy that are blind.

More importantly such a theology is contemptible to God as well.

That's why the pews are empty.


Necessary Conditions said...

The foundation of the West is not a religion from the Middle East, whatever its merits.

The foundation of the West is Westerners (Western Europeans).

If Catholicism disappeared tomorrow a culture of the Western Europeans would arise again.

By contrast if Western Europeans disappeared tomorrow there would be no more West or Westerners at all.

Jason said...

If justice were to prevail doctor, then endless heads would have to roll. You would have a smaller, perhaps a significantly smaller, priesthood, since so many have blood on their hands (so to speak). And to be consistent this new order would have to prevail in the laity as well, leading to a smaller but more "just" Church. It seems to me that this would put on hold, maybe for quite a long time, any sustenance the Church could contribute to civilization. Catholics have enough to worry about regarding their own souls - do they really have sufficient energy right now to buttress the West?

Jason said...

To expand upon my previous comment, my sense as an outsider is that "contractualism" has been a great albatross for the Church over the last fifty or so years, a hangover from the late Middle Ages that begat the Reformation (and currently bred the current pedophilia scandals, to a degree anyway). Indeed, I think Poddles more or less suggests this in his short essay you linked. To be crude, priests were seen as sacrament dispensers, there to serve the laity at their pleasure while the latter did want they wanted in their personal lives. A couple could engage in premarital relations but no matter - Father would always be there to bless their union in Holy Matrimony anyway. Too many priests then, feeling not unreasonable=y that they were being used, thought that two could play at that game and peccadilloes of the clergy could also be overlooked. After all, the laity were getting away with murder, so to speak. Why not priests? A modus vivendi was arrived at over time, where both clergy and laity stopped holding themselves and each other accountable. And so here we are.

Ingemar said...

>If Catholicism disappeared tomorrow a culture of the Western Europeans would arise again.

Catholicism has for all practical purposes disappeared already; the result is that Western Europeans have practiced usury to the point of abject poverty and contracepted and aborted themselves into oblivion.

Jason said...

Just one more point, a revision. A smaller, more faithful Church might actually be a greater witness for the West than a larger, corrupt one.

The Social Pathologist said...


If Catholicism disappeared tomorrow a culture of the Western Europeans would arise again.

The West is dying even though it's full of Western Europeans. It has lost it's will to live and the people pushing this death are the Western Europeans themselves. There is this tendency, especially among the atheist faction, that wan't to blame the decline on everyone else except themselves.

When we had religion we were strong, we when ditched it we have pursued a path of self destruction.

Catholicism has for all practical purposes disappeared already;

It's on life support but its not dead yet.

@ Jason

After all, the laity were getting away with murder, so to speak. Why not priests? A modus vivendi was arrived at over time, where both clergy and laity stopped holding themselves and each other accountable. And so here we are.

I think some of the Protestant criticisms of Catholicism are valid to a degree, particularly the notion of leaning on the confessional to negate sin. I think the use of the confessional should be seen as a sort of failure and something to be avoided except for the care of the soul. I think that seeing the confessional as a sort of "get out of jail card" is an abuse that has been tackled better in theory than practice, and I agree it has been a "moderate" enabling factor.

The real rot has come about from theological developments which have downplayed both the commuunitarian aspect of the faith, i.e, that we are a community of believers are have rights and duties to each other and a downplaying of the punitive aspect of God. Effectively, Jesus is seen as some kind of personal social worker who is always nice to me. When something goes wrong, Kumbayah Jesus is there to say everything will be OK.

A smaller, more faithful Church might actually be a greater witness for the West than a larger, corrupt one.

That's not the way I see it.

See, the thing about the New Testament is that when the Church is on the right track it is imbued with a power that makes it expand despite persecution. When it is ill it starts to decline. This idea of a purer smaller church, ultimately rests on the notion that the heirarchy's ideas about religion are all right and all is needed is to double down for everything to be all right. Since the number of people who can be "holy" under such. A small group of religious zealots are not the way forward.

The ideas that animate this view rest on the assumption that the clergy-Church is holy and that the laity have abandoned it. It never occurs to them that its the other way around.

As I see it, should the hierarchy reform in a way that is pleasing to God, then there is no stopping the religion, it will overpower the world. It will expand.

Jason said...

Your point is well taken, doctor, that if you "build it they will come." Holiness matters; leadership matters. When priests and nuns live lives of sacrifice and joy, Catholics will respond in turn.

The rub, in my mind, is the "costly grace" this requires to put it in Bonhoefferian terms. For the renewal you're I think calling for, you would need a substantial minority of clerics to exhibit great faith and courage, of the sort that has not been displayed for a long time. The mountain they have to push the Sisyphean rock up is remarkably steep (and high). Consider the minor tempest that occurred when that Catholic mother (or some diabolical troll) wrote a letter to a Notre Dame newspaper or journal complaining about the leggings her boys had to stare at during Mass. Lots of - admittedly cafeteria - Catholics came out of the woodwork, showing outrage that any sexual autonomy of their precious daughters might need to be suppressed. This sort of libertarianism is pervasive in even the Church; it's the air that we all constantly inhale in endless gulps. Understandably orthodox and devout Catholics are tired of banging their heads against such people: "Let the dead bury their dead." That's why I suggest it might be better to cut the Gordian Knot by maintaining a smaller, more faithful Church, although again I can understand why you would object to that. Obviously if the Church could see the writing on the wall (or since yesterday, the flames in the cathedral) and engineer a comprehensive Renaissance, that would be a wonderful thing.

The Social Pathologist said...

Sorry, Jason but I don't think I've managed to get my main point across.

As I see it,there is "something wrong" with the Church at the moment and a sign of this wrongness is the phenomenon of secularisation about us. The point here isn't just that the people have abandoned God, it's that God has to a certain degree been withholding the Graces necessary for conversion. i.e. God is active in the secularisation process because of His displeasure.

As part of Lent I was meditating on some biblical texts and this one struck me:

(Acts 2:46)

With one accord they continued to meet daily in the temple courts and to break bread from house to house, sharing their meals with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

God was doing the converting. Now, for some reason the number being added is rather small at the moment. My contention is that perhaps God is displeased, not just with us as individuals but with the Church as it is as well.

Now the point about all of this is that doubling down to preserve a Church that God is not happy with is going to be a complete waste of time. A small band of sincere believers paying with their blood to preserve a Church that is on the nose with God is not going to have the effect expected: it's still going to fail.

Now I admit the Church is in deep trouble and that courage--which has sorely been lacking by the hierarchy--is needed, but it may be needed not just to face down the sexually permissive but also the Pharisaical zealots in the Church.

Ross Douthat put out a very interesting piece in the New York Times today in response to the Notre Dame fire. Ross is a very conservative guy with an antipathy to Francis but what was very interesting in his article was an acknowledgement that all is not right in the conservative faction of the Church.

Notre-Dame de Paris is a monument to a particularly triumphant moment of Catholic synthesis — the culture of the high Middle Ages, a renaissance before the Renaissance, at once Roman and Germanic but both transformed by Christianity, a new hybrid civilization embodied in the cathedral’s brooding, complicated, gorgeous sprawl.
Editors’ Picks

The Catholicism of today builds nothing so gorgeous as Notre-Dame in part because it has no 21st-century version of that grand synthesis to offer. The reforms of the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council and everything after, have left the church partially and unsuccessfully transformed, torn between competing visions of how to be Catholic in modernity, competing promises of renewal and reform, competing factions convinced that they are the firefighters inside Notre-Dame, and their rivals are the fire.

I belong to one of these factions (or to a faction within a faction; who can keep track?); I am a conservative of some sort, who fears that liberal Christianities usually end up resembling a post-inferno cathedral, with the still-grand exterior concealing emptiness within.

But I am also doubtful that anything so simple as a conservative “victory” will return the church to cathedral-raising vigor and make it feel, to outsiders, like something more than a museum whose docents all seem to hate one another. Especially given how often conservative Catholicism is in thrall to orthodoxies that are political rather than theological, how often — especially as it reacts to the destabilizing style of Pope Francis — its climate feels more like an airless bunker than a Gothic nave.

A purer, heroic and more "orthodox" Catholicism is not the answer.

Anonymous said...

@Neccessary Conditions:

The Levant isn't "the Middle East", its the Med. The Med (Greece, Rome, and the wider Hellenic and Roman worlds) not Northern Europe, is the heartland of the West. The Jews, of course, are also Meds, and the Jews who became the first Christians were fairly Hellenized, which is why the New Testement is in Greek (Matthew's Gospel was probably translated from Aramaic but thats the only possible exception I am aware of).

Goethe, Schiller, Wagner, and Mozart were geniuses. Their ancestors had no written language and lived in mud huts until they were Christianized. (In the French case it was pagan Romans, not Christian Romans). Med = Civilization, unless you are Chinese or Indian.

Necessary Conditions said...


You claim: "Their ancestors had no written language and lived in mud huts until they were Christianized."

What racist rubbish. Why not tell us who you're working for?

You can write us your reply in the Rune scripts of 100AD while telling us there was no written language back then.