What about the sexual abuse cases in the priesthood?

These are among the most damaging incidents that have happened in the Church's history. 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. Those in power, including those at the highest level, who enabled them should step aside and let someone with backbone take over. Jesus said:

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. (Mark 9:42)
It is such an important passage that it's in three Gospels (Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2, Mat 18:6)

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.
(Pope Benedict XVI, May 11, 2010)

Under Pope Benedict, nearly 400 priests were decommissioned in two years. Early in his pontificate he ordered a study that identified four main areas that led to the abuses:

  1. Poor selection of candidates (and in light of the 2018 revelations about Cardinal McCarrick, we would add that this poor selection of candidates has resulted in an active gay culture among some priests and bishops)
  2. Insufficient moral/spiritual formation in seminaries
  3. A social tendency to protect clergy
  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.

(1) Poor Selection of Candidates

A two 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 peers in a normal way, it is possible that he may seek out identification with children.

Pope Benedict sent representatives to 220 seminaries and analyzed the abuses:

  • 88% of all abuse cases involved same sex actions with 13-17 years olds
  • almost no girls were abused

The abuse of a position of trust and authority is immoral and illegal. However, the American Psychiatric Association does not diagnose an attraction to teenagers (ephebophilia and hebephilia) in the DSM-V as pathologies the way it does with per-pubescent children (pedophilia). Therefore, all these cases with teenagers had a significant homosexual component. The 2011 Report Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Clergy" published by by the US National Library of Medicine proposes the nature of the abuse as primarily homosexual.

The Church always formally forbid from the priesthood anyone who was struggling and/or acting out sexually, but in the years before the sexual revolution, homosexuality was not talked about and those with same sex attraction were "in the closet". Catholic men in the 1920's to the 1970's who were same sex attracted flocked to the priesthood where they wouldn't be asked questions about why they were not married. Some rose to high ranks in the Church and a strong subculture of gay clergy emerged, because they elevated and rewarded their fellow gay clergy to positions of authority.

Impunity, access to many young teenagers, a feeling in society that a priest was above human desires, and a collective denial about the prevalence of homosexuality, all combined to create an explosive situation.

In 2005 Pope Benedict released the document called "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 closet is not a healthy place. The Church has never really faced the multi-faceted and complicated issue of same sex attraction sufficiently. We have separate articles on same sex attraction and whether gay men can become priests.

As lay people, we need to pray for our priests, bishops and those candidates "called by God" to the priesthood and holy orders. We should also pray that those not called would not pursue this most important and challenging vocation. We also need to hold our shepherds to account, including high ranking cardinals and Pope Francis.

It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests ... it is not an act of love to let sexual immorality persist.
Pope Benedict

(2) Insufficient moral/spiritual formation in seminaries

In the 60-80s after Vatican II, there were many good things about this such as a new pastoral approach of a loving God, and a deep concern for the poor, but there was also a more permissive tone over sexual issues.

Pope Benedict 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

Until about 20 years ago priests were like 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. Today lawyers, doctors, politicians and clergy have fallen from their pedestals.

(4) Mistaken concern for the reputation of the Church to avoid scandals

This led to a 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, teachers, and other professionals of that generation. Not only were the governing bodies of these professionals such as the Bar Association overly protective, but also other professionals who were peers would tend not to expose someone's wrongs. This was also true of the clergy and the bishops conferences. There was a tribal morality in the clerics. 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.

Pope Benedict identified a process of healing:

  1. Heal wounds
  2. Repair Damage
  3. 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.

Pope Benedict met sexual abuse victims in Washington, Sydney (Australia), Malta, Spain, and in Rome with First Nation 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.

With the 2018 wave of revelations, it is clear that the roots of this scandal went very deep. There is more work to be done as we embark on a spiritual renewal. Pope Benedict said the Church of the future will be smaller, but more faithful. The emphasis on growing the Church has to be replaced with an emphasis to purify the Church. Growth must follow from purity, not vice versa.

What was the advice of psychologists in the 60's and 70's to ALL institutions?

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:

  1. Single him out for reprimand
  2. Move him
  3. Tell him not to do it again

Terrible advice. But it was universal advice, given to school boards, hockey, football, soccer, and baseball teams.

Is the Second Vatican Council the cause of sexual abuse?

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.

Doesn't this prove that the Catholic Church is not the true Church of Christ?

Jesus chose a bad disciple, Judas, Peter denied him 3 times, and 11 out of 12 deserted him in Gethsemane. The original 12 were not even spared from the attacks of the devil. The Lord said the weeds and the wheat would grow together. (Mat 13:30).

How is it that the Church is still standing?

It has cost the Church dearly. Many souls have been scandalized and the Church has lost many members, paid out billions that could have been used for the Kingdom. But it is still standing. 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 ...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

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)

" ...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.

Some Catholics have suggested a married priesthood would solve the issue.

This is not a new recommendation. A hundred years ago the Catholic Encyclopedia covered this topic:

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.

Although the celibate priesthood is not a dogma and therefore can change, these words are ageless, and apply to modern North America's sex driven culture. Our article on a married priesthood is here.

An excuse to limit religious rights on moral issues or leave the Church

Although the mean stream media didn't succeed in destroying the Church in its assault, it neutered the Church's voice against same sex marriage, and against free speech. The mainstream media condemned gay Priests who had sex relations with 14 year old boys but supports gay activists who are lobbying to lower the age of consent to 14 and silences the Church when it tries to speak against lowering the age of consent. The mainstream media puts pornography on our TV's that children of all ages are watching and supports sex education programs where 11 year old girls are being shown graphic pictures of how to perform anal and oral sex.

Frances 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."

The United Nations uses the abuse cases as an opportunity to push the Catholic Church to accept abortion, premarital sex, and contraception

In 2014, the United Nations heavily chastised the Catholic Church regarding sexual abuse cases, under the Treaty on the Rights of the Child.

Show more about the UN's attempts to change Church teaching

The Committee urges the Holy See to review its position on abortion... with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted. (55) The Committee is seriously concerned about the negative consequences of the Holy See’s position and practice of denying adolescents access to contraception and to sexual and reproductive health and information. (56) Assess ... and overcome all barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information, including information on family planning, contraceptives... (56b)

Archbishop Tomasi responded that the Vatican “cannot give up certain teachings that are part of their deep convictions and also an expression of freedom of religion…for example the committee asked for acceptance of abortion and this is a contradiction with the principle of life, that the convention itself should support.” Later in 2014 the United Nations called in the Vatican under the Torture Treaty, insisting that sexual abuse is torture, and again pushing for acceptance of abortion, saying that opposing abortion is a form of torture. Archbishop Tomasi responded "Abortion is torture".

Sexual abuse outside the Church

Examples of abuse outside the Church do not minimize the problems in the Catholic Church. 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.

Show examples of the prevalence of abuse outside the Church.

Ted Haggard, director of the National Association of Evangelicals and Pastor of the mega "New Life Church" was in a drug and sex relationship with a gay prostitute and a 20 year old guy in his congregation. It devastated his wife and family and shook the Evangelical world.

The Evangelical radio show "Focus on the Family" 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.

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," LifeSiteNews, Feb. 6, 2004

The front page of USA today, March 12, 2014, featured an article that said:

"In 186,873 of those cases, police indicated that they would not spend the time or money to retrieve the fugitive from another state... these decisions, almost always made in secret, permit fugitives to go free in communities across the country, leaving the crimes unpunished, their victims outraged and the public at risk."

Related articles

  1. Extended examination of Peter as "the Rock"
  2. The Pope
  3. Why can't priests get married?
  4. Why are Catholics against gay marriage?
  5. Why choose chastity?
  6. Gay sex, gay love in the Bible
  7. Priests
  8. Flowchart of Catholic Doctrine