These are the most lamentable series of incidents that have happened in the Church over the last century. Anyone who abuses a position of trust to harm another has violated not only the laws of our society but also the law of God. Those who are guilty should be immediately removed from their duties and exposed to the mechanisms of modern justice. Thankfully, the formation process of priests has become much more rigorous in the 15-30 years since the majority of the vast majority of these cases happened.
The greatest persecution of the Church today, was born from the sins inside the Church, not outside. The Church needs to answer to justice because forgiveness cannot replace justice.
(Benedict XVI, May 11, 2010)
Pope Benedict made it one of the priorities of his pontificate to clean up this issue.
Early in his pontificate he ordered a study that identified four main areas that led to the abuses:
- Poor selection of candidates
- Insufficient moral/spiritual formation in seminaries
- A social tendency to protect clergy
- Mistaken concern for the reputation of the Church to avoid scandals which leads to failure to apply canonical penalties and failure to safeguard the dignity of victims as human beings.
In the first year of his pontificate the Pope sent representatives to visit 220 seminaries. Through this and an the analysis of the abuses, the Pope was able to identify and address the situation that covers the vast majority of abuse cases, priests and teenage boys. In these cases homosexuality was the primary problem, rather than generic pedophilia. The resulting document, Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders:
... the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture."
As for pedophilia in general, a 2 year study and extensive consultations with psychologists, resulted in a book called "The Church and Pedophilia, an Open Wound" which provides guidelines to seminary directors on the identification of priest candidates that may require extra attention and scrutiny. For example, if a candidate is failing to relate to adults and peer in a normal way, it is possible that he may seek out identification with children.
The Pope said in 2008:
It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests.
2. Insufficient moral/spiritual formation in seminaries
In the 60-80s after Vatican II, there was a real bubble of liberalism in the Church, and in society as a whole. Although there were many good things about this such as a new pastoral approach of a loving God, and a deep concern for the poor, there was also a more permissive tone over sexual issues.
In the last 10 years the Pope has been working hard to guard the good aspects of this trend, such as the teaching about a loving God, rather than a punishing God, and the necessity to care for the poor. His first encyclical was on the Love of God. With the passing of Mother Theresa there has been a renewed reverence for the poor, and a desire to follow her example of moral orthodoxy around sexuality. So many of the good things about the 60's liberalism have been preserved, and the attention for the last decade has been on trying to clean up the negative effects of liberalism, such as the lax moral sexual standards. The Pope has also worked hard to ensure seminaries tighten up their teaching on moral issues. He said that it is not an act of love to let sexual immorality persist.
3. A social tendency to protect the clergy
It may be hard to imagine now but up until about 20 years ago priests were right up there with doctors, lawyers, and politicians and other vocations that were respected in those days. In general, society tended to put more trust in the priest than in those who may have a credible accusation. For the most part this has been corrected by culture itself, and perhaps "over-corrected". Today lawyers, doctors, politicians and clergy have fallen from their pedestals. And of course the media is downright hostile to anything that is conservative morally. More about that below.
4. Mistaken concern for the reputation of the Church to avoid scandals which leads to failure to apply canonical penalties and failure to safeguard the dignity of victims as human beings.
There is an old saying that every profession is in conspiracy against the public. For instance 20 years ago, if a doctor got in trouble with a patient the medical association would tend to defend him. The same is true for lawyers and other professionals of that generation. Not only were the governing bodies of these professionals such as the Bar Association over protective, but also other professionals who were peers would tend not to expose someone's wrongs. This was also true of the clergy of the day. There was a tribal morality in the clerics to keep a struggling member afloat, rather than expose him. This attitude did not place enough concern on the victims, family and community. This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the tragedy, because it implicates clergy and bishops who were otherwise innocent.
The Pope identified a process of true healing which will be necessary to recover:
- Heal wounds
- Repair Damage
- Undertake Spiritual Renewal
In order for wounds to heal they must be exposed to the air. There must be a repair of the damage, either in material compensation or in the administration of justice or both. The process of forgiveness must begin, and finally the necessity to renew seminaries, parishes and the culture spiritually.
The Pope met sexual abuse victims in Washington, Sidney Australia, Malta Spain, and in Rome with Native Canadian victims. He listened to their stories and asked sincerely for forgiveness. In all these cases the victims had overwhelmingly positive reports about the meetings. Of course there is more work to be done as we embark on a spiritual renewal. The Pope said the Church of the future will be smaller, but more faithful. The emphasis on growing the Church has been replaced on the emphasis to purify the Church. Growth must follow from purity, not vice versa.
In the 1960's and 1970's society had a very different understanding of addiction and the human psyche. For instance, in the 60's-70's, a drunk driver was arrested, spent the night in jail until he sobered up, and then was let go with a fine. That was the advice of the best psychiatrists at the time. Today, we have zero tolerance of drunk driving, because we know more about the nature of addiction, and we have seen the devastating consequences. The same is true of sexual abuse. The advice of virtually all psychiatrists of the time was to:
- Single him out for reprimand
- Move him
- Tell him not to do it again
Terrible advice. But it was universal advice, given to school boards, hockey, football, soccer, and baseball teams. Fortunately, the Church has learned this was bad advice and there are almost no cases of abuse in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, this is not as true for sports teams, and schools.
I think it's important to provide some facts of the abuse cases:
- 88% of all abuse cases involved boys 13-17
- almost no girls were abused
The secular media went on a frenzy when the Church addressed part of the problem by providing better screening of same sex attracted priest candidates. They say the Church is homophobic. This same press rallies behind the gay community when they lobby to lower age of sex to 14. This makes me scratch my head. Eighty percent of the abuse cases involved boys the same age as the gay community and their media advocates want to make legal. Of course, gay men who are attracted to boys 13-17 is a minority, but it is also prevalent enough for the gay community to want to legitimize it.
Perhaps one of the silver lining in the gay rights movement is that same sex attracted men will no longer run to the priesthood to legitimize their singleness.
Forty Percent (40%) of all priests and religious convicted of abuse in the United States were ordained before the Vatican II Council, or were let into the seminaries before the close of the council. The abuse crisis predates Vatican II. Full article on this here.
Talking about this issue puts Catholics in a difficult position. There are incredible exaggerations floating around in the secular media and among Evangelicals, yet if a Catholic corrects the exaggerations then he is accused of making excuses for the tragedies.
The Catholic priesthood is not the only institution that has been hit with scandal. A recent scandal in the Evangelical Church is Ted Haggard. While he was the director of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor of the mega "New Life Church" he was in a drug and sex relationship with a gay prostitute, Mike Jones and a 20 year old guy in his congregation. It was devastating to his wife and family. It has shaken the Evangelical world and was perhaps the greatest reason the Republicans lost the midterm elections that year.
In 2001, I heard the Evangelical radio show "Focus on the Family", hosted by psychologist and author Dr. James Dobson, discuss a crisis among Pastors of non-Catholic churches. They reported that 21% of Evangelical/Protestant pastors had had inappropriate sexual contact with members of their congregations. Sixty percent (60%) of Evangelical pastors, most of whom are married, have a problem with pornography. In a 1984 study, 76% of pastors knew of another Evangelical pastor who had sexual intercourse with a parishioner.
In this post Freudian world, sex scandal has hit many major institutions including, presidencies, public schools, and minor league sports. God save us. LifesiteNews reports:
The incidence of abuse by teachers is even more staggering, as a 1988 study reported in The Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children reveals. It reported that "One in four girls, and one in six boys, is sexually abused [by a teacher] by age 18." A 1991 study revealed that "17.7 percent of males who graduated from high school, and 82.2 percent of females, reported sexual harassment by faculty or staff during their years in school. Fully 13.5 percent said they had sexual intercourse with their teacher,"
A survey by the Washington Post found that "Over the last four decades, less than 1.5 percent of the estimated 60,000 or more men who have served in the Catholic clergy have been accused of child sexual abuse." ...Dr. Thomas Plante, a psychologist at Santa Clara University, found that '80 to 90% of all priests who in fact abuse minors have sexually engaged with adolescent boys, not prepubescent children,'" the report continues, underscoring the fact that the ordination of priests with homosexual tendencies may be the real problem. ... In 2002, Christian Ministry Resources [an Evangelical Legal Service] reported on national surveys they conducted which concluded that "Despite headlines focusing on the priest pedophile problem in the Roman Catholic Church, most American churches being hit with child sexual-abuse allegations are Protestant." LifeSiteNews, Feb. 6, 2004
These statistics astounded me and indicated that perhaps the answer to sexual sin may not be to allow priests to marry. The answer may lie in a simpler concept: fidelity. I received an email that said:
...your website makes excuse for ...priest abuse by comparing them to protestant failings.
Our purpose is not to make excuses, the Lord does not judge us in relation to each other but in relation to his perfect will. Serious sin puts the soul in peril regardless of the actions of others, and these priests have put their souls in peril. What is interesting about this complaint, and several like it, is that this person felt no hesitation bringing up priest abuses but was offended at the mere mention of non-Catholic statistics. I bring up statistics simply to put things in perspective. Despite the fact that less than 1.5% of priests had ever been accused of abuse:
"In a survey for the Wall Street Journal-NBC News, it was found that 64% of the public thought that Catholic priests frequently abused children," LifeSiteNews, Feb. 6, 2004
This is not surprising, considering the media on the issue. I used to think that kind of thing was unfair but now I understand:
Human nature is darkly sinful, and in the proximity of Grace are found the greatest temptations... This, after all, has been what the Catholic Church has taught, through 20 centuries. It is a church which can hardly be surprised by the presence of evil, both without and within its ranks. Yet it is a mark of the true Church, that when she fails she is singled out for special treatment. In that sense, even if they do it from the bad motive of anti-Catholic prejudice, people are right to hold the Catholic Church to higher standards. David Warren, Ottawa Citizen, Sept 23, 2003
God said that the weeds will grow with the wheat.(Mat 13:30). It is not surprising to me that the Church has chosen some bad people. Even Jesus chose a bad disciple, Judas. We don't say "Hey Jesus can't be the Saviour, he was pagan because he had a bad disciple." Of the first apostles, Peter denied him 3 times, on the day of his trial, and 11 out of 12 deserted him in Gethsemane. Why would we think the Church would be spared from bad people if Jesus' original 12 were not even spared from the attacks of the devil.
The media was in a frenzy covering the scandal. In the height of the media fire storm upon the Church, a reporter with a national paper asked Richard John Neuhaus in puzzlement, "We did Watergate and Nixon fell, we did Enron and it fell, how come the Church is still standing?" Many Catholics feel it is because Jesus told Peter "...I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." (Mathew 16:18)
...[it was] a media blitz of unprecedented intensity in American religious history and with few parallels in other aspects of our national life ...Whatever their motivations--and their chief motivation is to attract a paying audience, followed by the winning of journalistic honors--editors and reporters served a higher purpose. It is hardly without precedent that God uses even their enemies to discipline his wayward people. There is Isaiah 10, for instance. "Assyria is the rod of my anger, the staff of my fury," says the Lord. Catholic author Richard John Neuhaus
God used the media to discipline the Church and in years to come the Church will be grateful for this opportunity to clean house. Jesus wants his house to be holy and all his priests to be servants.
[the Church is] at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." (Catechism 1428)
This presence of Christ in the minister is not to be understood as if the latter were preserved from all human weaknesses, the spirit of domination, error, even sin. The power of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee all acts of ministers in the same way. While this guarantee extends to the sacraments, so that even the minister's sin cannot impede the fruit of grace, in many other acts the minister leaves human traces that are not always signs of fidelity to the Gospel and consequently can harm the apostolic fruitfulness of the Church. (Catechism 1550)
There are many who are calling for a stronger response from the bishops. I must remember the Church has always had an abundance of enemies. Many are trying to use this to break the Church. They don't want repentance, they want blood. They don't want the Church on its knees, they want it in ashes. The Bishops must be very careful not to fall in the trap set by the media. It is a very public debate and the media is just waiting for something to pounce on.
However, most US Bishops have embraced a very important paper by the Congregation for Catholic Education on vocations that was released in November 2005. It said:
...the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.'
Those who have had transient homosexual tendencies should be free for more than 3 years before considering a vocation. This restatement and tightening of Church vocation criteria makes sense given that 95% of the abuse cases involved relations between gay priests and adolescent boys immediately after Vatican II when some of the Church's rules became lax.
We Catholics need to pray for our priests and bishops. We also need to continue to pray for vocations, that those who are "called by God" to the priesthood and holy orders would courageously hear and respond to that call. We also need to pray that those who are not "called by God" would not pursue this most important and challenging vocation.
On July 28, 2002 at the World Youth Day in Toronto Pope JPII spoke publicly about the issue for the first time.
If you love Jesus, love the Church! Do not be discouraged by the sins and failings of some of her members. The harm done by some priests and religious to the young and vulnerable fills us all with a deep sense of sadness and shame. But think of the vast majority of dedicated and generous priests and religious whose only wish is to serve and do good! There are many priests, seminarians and consecrated persons here today; be close to them and support them! And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. (Pope John Paul II) Read the Pope's full message to the youth at WYD 2002
In our Parish, the priest is wonderful. He spent five years as chaplain to a colony of people with leprosy. He is a true servant. We have had many great priests. A hundred years ago the Catholic Encyclopedia wrote:
We have no wish to deny ... the very low level of morality to which at different periods of the world's history ...and in different countries calling themselves Christian... Catholic priesthood has occasionally sunk, but such scandals are no more the effect of compulsory celibacy than the prostitution, which is everywhere rampant in our great cities, is the effect of our marriage laws. We do not abolish Christian marriage because so large a proportion of mankind are not faithful to the restraints which it imposes on human concupiscence. No one in his heart believes that civilized nations would be cleaner or purer if polygamy were substituted for monogamy. Neither is there any reason to suppose that scandals would be fewer and the clergy more respected if Catholic priests were permitted to marry.
I think these words are ageless, and apply to modern North America's sex driven culture.
Although the media didn't succeed in destroying the Church in its assault, it did, in a sense get what it wanted. It neutered the Church's voice against same sex marriage, and against free speech. In the wake of these scandals, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ruled "gay marriage" to be constitutional. Another law called Bill C250 just passed. This bill says that any dissenting voice against the homosexual agenda can be silenced in court as a "hate crime."
There is something about the media that makes me suspicious of their motives. They condemned gay Priests who had sex relations with 14 year olds but the same media supports gay activists who are lobbying to lower the age of consent for male sex to 14. And the media silences the Church when it tries to speak against lowering the age of consent. This same media puts graphic pornography on our TV's that children of all ages are watching. This same media supports sex education programs where 11 year old girls are being shown graphic pictures of how to perform anal and oral sex. I have to ask if their motives were really to bring about true justice, or were they trying to silence the Church.
Francis de Sales was a great Catholic who was helping heal the Church after the Reformation (which was a response to the mess that the Church was in during the 1500's). He was largely successful. He said:
"While those who give scandal are guilty of the spiritual equivalent of murder [i.e., destroying other people's faith in God by their terrible example], those who take scandal - who allow scandals to destroy their faith - are guilty of spiritual suicide."
"Lord forgive us, heal us, and please do not let the media silence us from speaking on important issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and the need for a Christian voice in society. Please, Jesus, make us strong in your will, regardless of the personal consequences."
Lord Jesus, let Your prayer of unity for Christians
become a reality, in Your way.
We have absolute confidence
that you can bring your people together,
we give you absolute permission to move.