The scandal of pedophile priests and systematic coverup bybishops threatens to be the worst scandal the Church has faced in centuries,maybe the worst since the Reformation. Itâ€™s far worse than some of the oldmalicious lies of scurrilous anti-Catholic literature. Our worst enemiescouldnâ€™t have imagined such a thing.
The full impact is still hard to assess, though it will bedevastating. This is the Churchâ€™s own self-inflicted 9/11. We have to wonder ifeven the Vatican was aware of the horrible corruption of so much of the Americanclergy and hierarchy, and if so, whether it tried to correct it.
Various measures are being proposed to deal with theproblem. Some are simple, direct, and practical. Others reflect certain familiaragendas.
First, everyone agrees that the bishops have to come clean.This abomination must stop at once and it must be ruthlessly rooted out.
Politicians and government officials are demanding thatChurch records of out-of-court settlements with families of abused boys beturned over to the state. Here we must take care to see that the Churchâ€™s justclaims of privacy and autonomy are not compromised. But the Church is in a weakposition, because the bishops have been in an important sense accessories torevolting crimes. And not always just accessories after the fact.
Liberal Catholics are once again arguing that the Churchshould abandon the tradition of priestly celibacy. Itâ€™s hard to see how thiswould address the problem; many pedophiles â€” clergymen, sports coaches,scoutmasters, etc. â€” are married men. We are usually told that "sexualorientation" is immutable; now we are to believe that pedophilia can becorrected by marriage? Or to put it another way, has anyone who really believesin the sanctity of the celibate priesthood changed his mind about celibacybecause of this scandal? I donâ€™t think so.
Feminists contend that the scandal somehow reflects thebaneful effects of male domination of the Church. Maureen Dowd, Girl Columnistof The New York Times, has been surprisingly vociferous on this point:"It may be a news flash to the Vatican, but itâ€™s been clear for years that thechurch is in a time warp, arrested in its psychosexual development." Thisdiagnosis only shows the danger of allowing some people to be exposed topsychobabble. Miss Dowd wants women priests, which would certainly thin out theproblem but wouldnâ€™t solve it, unless only women could be ordained and maleswere excluded from the priesthood.
Such arguments show that many people, including nominalCatholics, have only a feeble conception of the priesthood and the Church. Theydonâ€™t really believe in the efficacy of the sacraments, and they think the sexesare interchangeable. Their "reforms" would make Catholicism a liberal Protestantchurch. There would be nothing holy in a vocation to the priesthood. The worldalready has one Unitarian Church; it doesnâ€™t need another.
If there can be anything amusing about this situation, itâ€™sthat this is the first time in memory that liberals have complained that theChurch has been too permissive about sex. Usually they complain that she isirrationally strict. And maybe this points to the real source of the problem.
I canâ€™t remember a single statement by the American bishopson the sexual revolution. Nor can I recall hearing a single sermon againstartificial birth control, which most Catholic couples routinely practice now.(One priest, some years ago, told me he had given such a sermon; several peoplein the pews walked out, and he found his car vandalized afterward.)
The teachings of the Church havenâ€™t changed; they justhavenâ€™t been taught. To be sure, those teachings are still on the books, butnowadays you pretty much have to look them up for yourself. The clergy andhierarchy havenâ€™t acted or spoken as if there has been any serious change inAmerican morals over the last generation, let alone one that imperils familylife and even immortal souls. Their near-total silence about this has causedpeople to speak of ancient and immutable moral laws as "the Vatican position,"as if these things were no more than the Popeâ€™s personal opinions.
Naturally this casual attitude toward sexual sin has creptinto the Church herself. If contraception, fornication, sodomy, masturbation,pornography, and even abortion are tolerable, if most forms of sexual activityoutside marriage are more or less legitimate, how serious can pedophilia reallybe? Why should it be singled out for moral revulsion in a world where anythinggoes? The organized pedophiles have a point when they say that the logic of thesexual revolution applies to children as well as adults. Why should there bearbitrary age limits on sexual freedom? The pedophiles are consistent; theCatholic teaching is consistent. But the liberals are inconsistent, and thehierarchy has behaved inconsistently.
What is most appalling about the current scandal is thecasual and callous attitude the bishops have taken in protecting priests whohave defied one of our Lordâ€™s most terrifying warnings. Priests defilingchildren! If ever a sin cried to Heaven for vengeance, this one does. How did itcome to be a mere administrative problem, to be shuffled out of sight, like amildly unseemly embarrassment?
Each boy victimized by a priest carried a terrible andshameful secret about a man his family revered as holy and benevolent, and felthe must hide not only his own guilt but the priestâ€™s. And each boy felt it wasthe darkest secret on earth, never suspecting how many others shared his lonelyplight. Even the perverted priest may not have known how many others like himthere were, preying on children.
But the bishops knew. They knew the real scope of theproblem, and they knew how explosive it would be if it became public knowledgethat they had not only concealed it, but willfully exposed countless children tothese predators.
These are the men we have trusted to be our spiritualleaders. In the early Church, a man who became a bishop knew that by acceptingthe office he was probably accepting martyrdom. The job description seems tohave changed since then.
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