Monday, March 31, 2008

The Abuse Scandal

Did the abuse scandal make you hesitant at all about becoming a Catholic?

This is a very important question, Candice, since it has driven many away from the church, prevented others from 'coming home,' and served to support many mean-spirited prejudices.

The scandal - horrid as it is - had the opposite effect on me. It had the feel of persecution - that is, I felt that the Evil One must really hate the Catholic Church in particular so terribly much in order to prompt such devestating ruin, and the truth must really be there to resort to such an awful thing. Please don't misunderstand this: it doesn't in any way excuse the sick men who caused such harm. Nor does it overlook the mismanagement of bishops who failed to act promptly and properly. Their motives seem mixed: some were in denial, some saw how damaging it would be and loved the Church too much to see clearly what the right thing to do was, and I wonder if some arrogantly believed the church to be unaccountable to temporal authorities. Later, to their credit, responsible bishops correctly acted to protect good priests from spurious accusations and ensure due process. There is now a rigorous procedure in place to investigate any further reports of wrongdoing, and all workers who have any contact with children or youth (therapists, teachers, coaches, instructors in religious education (the equivalent of Sunday School) among others now go through vigorous training with certification that should be a model for other institutions like schools, gymnastics programs, private music teachers, whatever.

My further thought on this is that I'm hoping the experience has a purifying effect on the Church, a good outcome. Chastisement - in the form of ridicule, loss of property, and grief - can result in a deeper devotion and deeper understanding of the gift of human sexuality that is not to be perverted by any means: child abuse, extramarital relations, and so on - especially within a culture where sex is worshipped instead of the God who made us sexual beings. John Paul II's "Theology of the Body" arrived just in time; this is worth exploring another day, too.

Politically speaking, I think the media were perfectly right to cover the story, but blew it up in a sensational way. Sure, it is a "sensation" especially since you expect a higher standard of behavior from priests, in whom such a high trust is placed. The truth is that fewer than 3% to 4% of priests sinned in this way, lower than other people-helping professions such as schoolteachers. That's no excuse, of course, and (as I suggested above) the poor reaction of out-of-touch bishops - shuffling staff and shutting up - made it worse. But I think the media have it in for Christians and Catholics in particular (this, too, is worth another post some day). And they failed to present it a homosexual issue, preferring to portray it strictly as a child abuse issue. The Church rightly sees it as both and is addressing both with vigor. The sex-crazed sensualist culture sees the harm in child abuse but turns a blind eye to the homosexual aspect. The Church, to its credit, does not condemn homosexuals (even within the priesthood) but insists on chastity, which is the compassionate and Biblical response. The priests I've met grieve over their fallen brothers, and all are upright men.

That brings us to your next question about priests not being allowed to marry. Let's deal with this next time.

Grace and peace.

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