“Not one hundred in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is” – Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
[I really like Fulton Sheen – but I’m not sure I agree with him on this one.]
OK, let’s get the necessary disclaimers out in front first, before making a rather simple point. I am not anti-catholic. I actually like the catholic church (is that like saying “I have a lot of catholic friends”?), they have remained steadfast on some rather inconvenient moral issues. This is commendable.
Having said that, I think they’re wrong on some theological issues – and why shouldn’t I? If I agreed with them 100% then I’d be catholic, which I am not. This is all fine, and I’m sure the catholics will say that I am wrong on some theological issues too (and I may well be, though probably not the ones they’d point to).
Now, theology aside (though it will come back up momentarily), there is something to be said for owning up to a mistake. Not today though, not for the catholic church. Today, they have released the findings of a study commissioned by the catholic bishops, carried out by John Jay College, looking to understand the causes of the rampant priesthood pedophilia problem in the catholic church. (story here)
The findings? The cause of the rise of priests who abuse small boys? The 60s! That’s right, boys and girls. It was the “make love not war” generation that brought us pedophiles in the priesthood. It was not, not I say, forced celibacy. It was not, not I say, the decision to allow gay priests (“non-practicing” of course … of course). No, none of that was to blame – it was peace, love, and happiness. And it was not, definitely not, a bishopric that covered up abuses, and allowed abusive priests to stay in the priesthood; switching to different churches without warning parents or police. That had nothing to do with it.
Look; we, human beings, are fallen, broken, sinful creatures. This and this alone is the cause of such wretched behavior. No one is beyond temptation. No one is above the potential to commit heinous acts. We are all broken. We need nothing more than that.
Having said that, if you want to look for possible correlations or even causality to attempt to mitigate future problems, then there are some simple answers.
First and foremost is discipline. When a priest, or a preacher/pastor/ordained-you-name-it falls into sin, there should be church discipline to address the issue. This is nothing new. It is not a mechanism for destruction, but a means of restoration and healing. This one move would have eliminated repeat offenses, and plausibly cut down on first-time offenses (those who would have seen what happened to the offenders and chosen to refrain).
Second, and I doubt there will be any movement on this one, is the notion of a celibate priesthood. We do not see an indication of this in the early church. Yes, Paul indicated that the single (celibate) person can focus on God, while the married person must focus on his or her spouse. That said, he also indicated that it is far better to marry than to fall into sexual temptation (see 1 Cor 7:1-7). In his qualifications of a bishop, he lists that they should be the husband of one wife (see 1 Tim 3:2). Did not Peter, the alleged first pope, have a wife? (How else did he have a mother-in-law? Matt 8:14.) OK, no doubt the catholics will have a retort for these. Fine, carry on as you will. I will disagree.
I think there are good intentions out there and a priesthood/bishopric that really wants to clean this situation up. But coming out with studies to deflect blame is just silly. Deal with the issue and move on. Continually demanding innocence, continually defending silly policies in the face of failure, continuing to bring the issue up … these are silly things.
So tonight we pray for the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of catholic priests, or any other ministers of the gospel. And we pray for those who have fallen into temptation and, through lack of self-control, caused such heartache. We remember the words of the Lord: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matt 18:5-6. We also remember that He is merciful: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” – Lam 3:22-23.