Friday, May 24, 2019

The Theology of Sexual Abuse II

Every now and then I take a look at Commonweal magazine. As far as religious commentary goes it's a bit left-of-centre so I don't normally take what they have to take too seriously. But this article, by Cathleen Kaveny echos--and develops further--some of my own thoughts on the subject.  I'm glad to see that at last some people are beginning to see past the "sexual" element of the abuse crisis and delve deeper into the the theological problems which have underpinned it.

Kaveny takes a rather justified swipe at Pope Benedict's take on the subject. I'll let Kaveny do the talking. I've reproduced the article at length on what I believe is fair use grounds. If anyone has any objection I'll take it down:
The debate about Benedict XVI’s recent intervention on the sex-abuse crisis has focused on his account of its root causes, which occupies the vast majority of his letter. To the delight of conservatives and the consternation of progressives, he blames the lax sexual morality of the 1960s, rather than the enduring phenomenon of clericalism.
In my view, the problem with Benedict’s letter is far more fundamental. It also transcends the American progressive-conservative divide. He gets the basic moral description of the acts of sex abuse wrong. He frames them as acts of sacrilege, rather than grave injustice.

So what? Benedict clearly thinks these actions are unacceptable—why quibble about details? Because details matter, both theoretically and practically. If we get the description of a misdeed wrong, we fail to grasp the underlying moral reality of the situation. That, in turn, can lead to disastrous strategies for reform.

What is the bedrock moral description of an act of clergy sex abuse? Is it a terrible act of injustice toward vulnerable persons, especially children? If so, then clergy sexual abusers belong in the same category as others who have betrayed their position of authority in this manner: they are like sexually abusive teachers, Scout leaders, and medical professionals. Trading upon their power, they have inflicted physical and psychological harm on their victims. In this perspective, the fact that the perpetrator is a Catholic priest is a circumstance that exacerbates the wrongfulness of the act but does not change its core moral description as an act of gross injustice.

Or should clergy sex abuse be understood most basically as a grave act of sacrilege? If so, clergy sex abuse should be grouped with other acts of sacrilege, such as desecration of the Host, blasphemy against the Blessed Mother, and the commission of any serious moral wrong inside a holy place. From this perspective, the fact that the perpetrator is a priest does not merely exacerbate the wrongful act; it constitutes the core of it. The priest is befouling his holy vows. The fact that he does so by abusing a child adds to the wrong, but does not change its core moral description—it is an act of sacrilege, akin to celebrating a Black Mass.

By framing sex abuse as a matter of sacrilege, Benedict reinforces the disastrous playbook that has guided the church’s response to the abuse crisis for the past fifty years.
Benedict’s letter seems [Ed: seems] to put clergy sex abuse in the category of sacrilege, not injustice. He does not use the term “sacrilege.” But it is the category that best fits his account of why the act is wrong, especially when sacrilege is understood broadly as a violation or misuse of the sacred. He presents the major victim as the Faith itself—not the children whose integrity was violated. According to Benedict, the “alarming situation” is that “the Faith no longer appears to have the rank of a good requiring protection.” What bothers him most about one of the human victims he encountered is that she can no longer hear the words of consecration without distress, because her priest-attacker used them in the course of the abuse. He says nothing about how the abuse would have affected the entire course of her life. He does not issue a forceful call to protect children, but rather implores us to “do all we can to protect the gift of the Holy Eucharist from abuse.”

Benedict’s approach has dangerous consequences. If the real victim is the Faith, then the overriding task is to protect the institution of the church, which instantiates the mystical Body of Christ in time. If the worst consequence of the crisis is the widespread loss of faith in the church’s credibility, then it is better to handle specific instances quietly—so as not to scandalize the faithful. Offending priests should be quickly laicized, so that they do not continue to befoul the Body of Christ. Once they are no longer part of the hierarchy, they are no longer the church’s problem. Victims should be encouraged to remain quiet, perhaps with a legally binding confidentiality agreement, so they don’t erode the church’s ability to pass on the faith. They should be discouraged from seeking monetary damages from the church, since it is the original and primary victim of the priest’s transgression. Finally, secular law enforcement should not be involved in most cases, since their involvement occludes the mystical and transcendent nature of the problem.

By framing the basic offense as a matter of sacrilege, Benedict reinforces the disastrous playbook that has guided the church’s response to the abuse crisis for the past fifty years. He provides a lofty theological rationale for protecting the institution rather than the victims. He offers not a clean, well-lighted path to reform, but rather a detour back into the muck.

Benedict’s intervention is ironic. He blames revisionist moral theologians for the crisis, claiming that they look only at the motive and circumstances of sinful human actions, rather than focusing on the moral quality of the act itself. But Benedict himself is the one who refuses to look closely at the sinful acts in question here. This implacable defender of the existence of intrinsically evil acts refuses to call these acts by their most basic moral name: child rape.
I've got to applaud her for a far more sophisticated analysis when compared to mine. Though I didn't read Benedict as seeing sexual abuse as  sacrilegious rather Benedict seemed to recognise that the Church's traditional approach of seeing the crime only through the perspective of the abuser was deficient: still he does sail close to the sacrilegious dimension, and while he may not have stepped over the line many bishops and cardinals have taken exactly this "theological"  approach.

I think what Kenevy highlights is the distortion of moral reasoning that has come about from an excessively theological approach to religion.  Simple people--i.e. the laity--lacking proper "training or spirituality" didn't fall into this error. Child rape was seen for what it was: not the wounding of the mystical body of Christ but simply child rape.  They knew that the Church would suffer for having this stuff exposed but they never forgot that primary concern was the well being of the child and not the "mystical" Church.

Now Benedict is a good guy and one of the sharpest tools in the shed but when someone like this gets it so wrong you've have to realise that the there is something amiss with the Church. I also want people to note that Benedict is considered an orthodox conservative.

I'm still running on the hypothesis that secularisation phenomenon in the West is primarily driven by a withdrawal of Grace by God because of His displeasure with his Church. I think this hypothesis has significant traction when you see what results orthodox theologians acting in good faith produce.

Thursday, May 09, 2019


Sorry lads, another religious post.

Clericalism is topical currently because of its purported relationship with the sexual abuse crisis affecting the Church. However, in my opinion, this is a great example where faulty concepts of clericalism confuse more than they help. One of the key problems in understanding the problem of clericalism is that it means different things to different people, the vagueness of its definition contributing quite a bit to a misunderstanding of its effects. A good help to understanding the phenomenon is surprisingly Wikipaedia, which describes clericalism as:
...clericalism is often used to denote ecclesiolatry, that is, excessive devotion to the institutional aspects of an organized religion, usually over and against the religion's own beliefs or faith.
I think this is a good starting point since it emphasises what is the core poison of clericalism,
ecclesiolatry. The core idea behind ecclesiolatry is the notion that clergy is somehow special and the the rules that apply to the rest Christianity don't really apply to them.  From a Christian perspective this is a loser's game.

One of the things which makes an understanding of clericalism difficult is the fact that it assumes different forms. From my perspective I can identity three forms:

1) Venal Clericalism:

This type of clericalism values the Church and its offices for personal advantages that can be gained by doing so. A good example of this is the priest who views his work as a job instead of a vocation, and see's himself as a career man, hoping to climb the ranks and thereby attaining all their associated privileges. The care of the faithful is only of secondary concern.

At is most base, venal clericalism aims at securing a position of worldly status and advantage by virtue of being a priest. The corruption of the Borgia popes, for instance, is a typical example of this type.

The thing is that while this type of clericalism does a lot of damage, it's also the type that's easiest to spot and therefore relatively easy to combat since it is the most obvious.

2) Institutional Clericalism:

This type of clericalism is a more principled type and it's here where we start to get into more spiritually corrupting territory. Here the integrity of the institution--i.e. the Church as occupied by the clergy--is valued above its founding principles. The typical example here is that, is in an effort to avoid scandal, the clergy hides crimes in order to preserve the "reputation" of the Church. i.e. The Church lies in order to appear good. Sinning to appear virtuous is a spiritual oxymoron and you eventually have to pay the price. The problem is that when this stuff is eventually exposed--as it always is-- the Church ends up appearing as a hypocrite, undermining the peoples' faith in the Church as a whole.

Of all the types of clericalism it is this type that played a moderate role in the sexual abuse crisis of the Church. Many of the bishops and senior clerics when made aware of sexual abuse were horrified at the stories of abuse but wanted desperately to preserve the reputation of the church--at the expense of justice to the victims-- and covered the crimes up.

One of things that sin is meant to do is disturb a well formed conscience, but institutional clericalism does is provide a salve for any such disturbances. Doing something wrong? It's OK its for the good of the Church.  I imagine that many clergy have lied, suppressed truth, and punished victims in order to "preserve" the reputation of the Church. Sins which help you sleep soundly are very deadly indeed.

3) Spiritual Clericalism.

Here we get into the real spiritual poison and it's the one that seems to have Catholicism in its grip at the moment. Here the clergy abrogate to themselves the notion that they are the true guardians of the faith and no one but them has a monopoly on the truth. Not only do these people, with certainty, know what is right and wrong, but know in advance how God will act in the future. In these individuals,  there is no sense or meaningful notion that they could be wrong about something...........the thought never occurs in their head. There are zero pangs of conscience, instead they double down when challenged.

It needs to be understood that this type of clericalism has both its liberal and conservative variants and in my mind has three distinguishing features. Firstly there the lack  of fidelity to the Pope: unless the Pope is teaching on their terms.

How this type of clericalism differs from conscience is that conscience knows that it may differ from papal teaching but it does not assume the Pope a heretic. Conscience assumes that there may be some accommodation  with the Pope and the person remains in the Church, or no accommodation at all  and the person has to leave. It does not assume that the Pope should leave the Church.

And secondly there is a lack of fidelity toward the truth. Facts which are inconvenient are simply ignored.

Thirdly: As for the laity.........who are they?

As I've argued before, there is no restoration of Western Civilisation until a religious revival occurs. My current working hypothesis that the secularization of the West has primarily come about because there is something seriously wrong with religion in the West. This "wrongness" has been present in the Church from at least the mid 19th Century and unless it is corrected Western civilisation is doomed. Clericalism, particularly versions (2) and (3) have contributed significantly to this wrongness and they need to be tackled and purged before things can be made right. I'm not sure that the clergy has the resources in itself to tackle the problem and that's why I'm increasingly convinced that the future of the West may lay with the Christian laity.