February 20, 2019

This is an early post because Catholic bishops and leaders from around the world will be in Rome, February 21 to 25, for a summit on preventing sexual abuse in the church.

Someone asked me if I am afraid to comment about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. No. Not at all. Off and on I have already written about it; but I will quickly summarize my concerns, because they are part of the current third millennial reformation. I don’t want to bore my readers however with a long post……

Acknowledge the Reality: The reality is serious and world-wide. Catholic priests, bishops, and religious have sexually abused children, adolescents, women and men. Some women religious, “sisters,” have become pregnant and some have been forced by churchmen to have abortions. The primary concern of too many in church leadership has been to cover up, deny, or ignore what is happening to “protect the good name of the church.”

Accountability of bishops: Pope Francis has disciplined the 88 years old former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. He is now “Mr. McCarrick.” I can think of some other bishops who should be disciplined. The organization Bishop Accountability makes a strong case for the laicization of Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota; Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agaña, Guam; Bishop Aldo di Cillo Pagotto of Paraiba, Brazil; Bishop Roger Joseph Vangheluwe of Bruges, Belgium; and Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Yes they should be disciplined. Frankly I have difficulties with the term “laicization.” Many still call it “a reduction to the lay state.” As a “lay” Catholic I find this derogatory, as if being lay is a lesser state in the church.

Clericalism is an old boys club problem: Catholic ordained ministers (priests) must always keep in mind that their mission is to serve others and not claim superiority over the people entrusted to their care, Pope Francis said last year in November when meeting with a group of Catholic seminarians. “Clericalism,” Francis said “is our ugliest perversion. The Lord wants you to be shepherds; shepherds of the people, not clerics of the state.” I agree of course but the problem will not be solved with just pious exhortations. There must be STRUCTURAL changes: dropping the celibacy requirement, having married Catholic ordained ministers; and having women ordained ministers and women bishops. Yes. It has to happen!

Power and authority in the church: We need a thorough examination of the understanding and exercise of power and authority in church ministry. Sexual abuse is about power over people. We need to remove structures and understandings more reminiscent of the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages but incompatible with the message and witness of Jesus of Nazareth. Ordained ministers can not be understood as authoritarian power-bosses. Through compassionate service they should empower people to take responsibility for the welfare of children, men, and women in the community of faith. Jesus is the model for church authority: his ministry was about compassionate understanding, healing, forgiveness, and calling to growth.

Human sexuality: Once again I would stress that the Catholic Church needs an updated understanding and appreciation of human sexuality that must CHANGE Catholic hierarchical attitudes and behavior, Catholic “official teaching,” and Catholic education at all levels.

Homosexuality Vatican style: A new exposé on homosexuality in the Vatican is coming out very soon: In The Closet of the Vatican, by the French journalist Frédéric Martel. No doubt you have read about it. The author asserts that most of the higher-ups in the Catholic Church are gay, making the Vatican one of the world’s largest homosexual communities. That assertion needs to be critically appraised but I have no doubts that there are gays in the Vatican. Let’s be clear and honest: there is nothing wrong per se with being gay, whether in our outside the Vatican. AND to suggest, as many readers of this book will conclude, that sexual abuse is a gay problem is absolute nonsense. Such an assertion avoids the issue. Sexual abuse is an abuse of power over people. Sick people (many very “straight”) use and abuse people for their own satisfaction.

The victims of sexual abuse: Too many reports about sexual abuse still focus too much on the abusers and ignore the abused. How does on repair the damage done? How does one compensate? Here we really need to be a church which is a community of faith, characterized by understanding, compassion, support, respect, and love.

Other victims of sexual abuse: There are also other victims of the sexual abuse issue: the healthy and good ordained ministers (priests) and bishops. As a caring community of faith we need to acknowledge them and support them as well with compassion, support, respect, and love. AND we need to encourage them to be active and effective change agents in the church.

Next week something else…….. Jack

9 thoughts on “Not Afraid to Comment

  1. Unless and until we throw out the concept of Ontological Difference we are not going anywhere.
    When we do everything changes. Then we could actually have dialogue (between equal partners) which is impossible now.

  2. Than you for an analysis. I think that the changes in the approach of hierarchy will need some time because the personalities of bishops have been chosen with certain idea of their role in the church.

  3. Dear Jack,
    The title of your piece is important. “Not Afraid to Comment” means that truth can be aired and possible solutions to the problems can be found through open, honest dialogue. It is crucial to be able to address our common concerns as equals in our Catholic church. It especially hit me when you addressed the terrible difficulty of being a priest in the present environment. Those who serve now must feel intense scrutiny or suspicion. Again, thank you for being a clear, truth-speaking Other Voice!
    Frank Skeltis

    1. Thank you Frank! Yes I have a number of priest friends who are suffering because of this…It is difficult for the older men who find a painful retirement……very hard for the young ones starting out…….

  4. Thank you, Jack. I couldn’t agree more, especially regarding how the priesthood must change in order to honestly and thoroughly begin to fix the problems with sex abuse.
    The Laity must be raised to any equal status within the entire structure of the Church, organizationally as well as culturally. Equality of Laity and gender is a must.

  5. Jack, some thoughts on clericalism. We were taught that we were alledgedly “ontoligically changed” at ordination. The Thursday of my first week on active duty I spent the day going through the gas chamber with the trainees. It was not an enjoyable experience. The purpose of the exercise was to show them how to use their gas mask and to trust their equipment and training. That evening the trainees went through the live fire infiltration course in the dark. Again, not an enjoyable experience. All of us were terrified. Once I had crawled through the course, dodging real explosions and live ammo fired just over my head, I felt very relieved and very scared. One of the soldiers in charge of the training said, “Chaplain, were you afraid? There are some young soldiers out there terrified, and your place is with them, so go out and do your job”. I did for the rest of the night exercise. Every Thursday for the next six months I had the same duty routine. Because of this and many other experiences, especially wearing the same uniform as everybody else, the “ontologically changed” bit really hasn’t meant a lot. IMHO it is category of bravo sierra.

    1. Thanks Jim. Right from the beginning you understood the meaning of ministry. Your courage and support enable people like me to carry on! Thank you! Jack

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