Every time Pope Benedict XVI says something about the never-ending sex abuse nightmare, he inches closer and closer to the dark reality that has been like a black cloud over the church for more than two decades. And although he is slowly moving forward, he always stops short of the most important and no doubt for him, the most painful issue: the complicity of the world's cardinals and bishops.
Examining the Crisis
Recently I was in the process of cleaning out some files and ran across a July 1991 letter from Henri Nouwen. He and I had spent a year together during the mid 1960s in Topeka, Kansas at the Menninger Foundation’s training programs for clergy counselors. We had kept in casual contact afterward. He moved on to professorships at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard and traveled the troubled world while I settled into clinical practice, married life, and part time work at a Catholic seminary, college, and medical school in Baltimore.
By the time Henri wrote this letter he had already become a huge spiritual resource through his writings, retreats, lectures, teaching, and personal contacts. Most of his 40 books had been published. In contrast I had just recently (in 1990) published my first book, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy.
When Belgium authorities moved in on the offices of the Roman Catholic church to obtain documents did they do the correct thing? The world press recorded the operation on June 26: In an unprecedented move, Belgian police authorities raided the offices, private residences, and the graves of Belgian Catholic church officials who may be linked to the ongoing sexual abuse scandal.
About 5,000 priests and religious brothers have been identified as credibly accused of sexually violating minors. Most of these men were unavailable to criminal prosecution due to statutes of limitation; some within the statutes are in prison. The rest are dead, have voluntarily left the priesthood, were laicized, are residing in religious communities with more or -- usually -- less appropriate supervision, or wait in limbo for the church to adjudicate their cases.
Many people, including bishops, date and label the "Crisis in the Catholic Church" to Jan. 6, 2002 when The Boston Globe began publishing its series about sexual abuse of minors by priests and revealing the conspiracy of bishops in covering up crimes. That was the flash point of a worldwide scandal. The crisis it epitomizes is more profound.
Read the full report here: Beneath the child abuse scandal
Examining the Crisis
Ron Westrum, professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, suggests that organizations react in a series of stages to “anomalous reports.” They are: 1) suppression, 2) encapsulation, 3) public relations, 4) local fix, 5) global fix, and 6) investigation of root causes. He came to his formulation through the study of the battered child syndrome that many people, even professionals, found hard to admit was a widespread phenomenon.
It is not difficult to match the trajectory of church response to allegations of hidden clergy sex abuse against Westrum’s model. It’s a good fit.
If the church is to emerge from the crisis of the clergy sex abuse scandal and cover up and enter a new day, rather than being permanently degraded and diminished by it, a vital project of renewal is needed. It would involve all Catholics -- laity, nuns and priests, including the hierarchy -- in an energetic search for creative and vital means of replacing patterns of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting.
Like all Catholics, I gratefully depend on the faithful ministry of the many good priests who serve the church. Yet I offer a broad critique of something central to their lives and identities -- the rule of celibacy. Many priests will recognize the truth of what I describe.
I write from inside the question, having lived as a celibate seminarian and priest for more than a decade when I was young. In the Bing Crosby glory days, celibacy was essential to the mystique that set priests apart from other clergy, the Roman collar an “Open sesame!” to respect and status.
From a secular perspective, the celibate man or, in the case of nuns, woman made an impression simply by sexual unavailability. But from a religious perspective, the impact came from celibacy’s character as an all-or-nothing bet on the existence of God. The Catholic clergy lived in absolutism, which carried a magnetic pull.
Read Carroll's full commentary here: Mandatory celibacy at the heart of what's wrong
Theologian Yves Congar once said, “In the Catholic Church it has often seemed that the sin of the flesh was the only sin, and obedience the only virtue.” This dynamic dichotomy forms the linchpin to the structure of the entire clergy sexual abuse crisis currently embroiling the Catholic Church.
But the sexual abuse of minors by clerics vowed to celibacy is only the symptom of a system desperately in need of fundamental reconsideration.
Let me take you into a situation that illustrates the church institution's instinctive reaction to cover-up scandal. It was a workshop in 2000 for new Jesuit superiors. The presenter, a former provincial, was discussing the circumstances when a superior could break the bond of confidentiality between himself and the men he was in charge of. He said something could be shared with the provincial "If it was a matter of danger for the individual or to others."