Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Where Bad Theology and the Catholic Abuse Scandal Intersect

I'm quickly posting this while on my lunch break. I wish I had more time to explore this subject, although aspects of it are distasteful in the extreme, but pastoral and family commitments preclude that at the moment...this is nothing more than an outline:

Some Roman Catholics deny that the sexual abuse scandals in their church are at all peculiar to that institution - any similar religious or educational institution would experience the same phenomena at the same rate. I'll concede that may be the case up to a point, fallen human nature being what it is, but I suspect the problem is actually worse in the RCC than in other churches or large scale education providers. I wish to highlight in this post four points where Rome's bad theology has made the sexual abuse scandal worse in that institution than in other church bodies.

First, please watch this interview while it is still up:

Note Mr Wall's mention, around the 16:00 mark, of the use of "mental reservation" by senior Roman clergy in civil court cases. Mental reservation essentially means equivocation and is justified, according to Roman casuistry, if the prelate has made a judgement that the civil courts are not entitled to certain information the church holds. This practice, which has a long history in Roman ethics, is in these cases nothing more than an attempt to prevent the victims from obtaining justice at the church's expense, thereby increasing the injury they have suffered at the hands of the Roman clergy.

Note towards the conclusion of the interview Mr. Wall's description of how the requirement for the  celibacy of Roman rite clergy leads to moral corruption in high places, subjecting prelates to the threat of blackmail or exposure, which ins ome cases has stymied the effective  handling of pederast priests.

Another more crucial point of intersection is the Roman theology of the priesthood, which regards priests as an order separate from the laity and indispensable for the offering of the sacrifice of the mass, which is offered both for the living and the souls in purgatory. This has resulted in Rome retaining priests and recycling them in and out of therapy when they should simply have been expelled as unsuitable and dangerous. The motivation behind this practice was that the loss of a priest would impinge upon the offering of the mass for souls. This helped to make the problem of the sexual abuse of minors systemic to Rome, and not just incidental.

An even deeper area for study illuminating the problem would be the influence on Roman Catholicism of Augustine's views (and many of the other Fathers) on original sin and concupiscence, which is linked by him to sexual desire - hence the need for a celibate priesthood. Celibacy in turn, while it is a legitimate option for some devout men and women (a minority, to be sure), tends either to attract men who are inherently unsuitable for Christian ministry or to make otherwise suitable men unsuitable through leading them into serious sin, i.e. habitual fornication with a girlfriend and the lies associated with the cover-up of this double life.

Btw, Luther's re-framing of original sin as in essence idolatry - choosing self-will over the will of God -  is an often overlooked reform of Western theology which bears revisiting (it is not overlooked in Lutheranism, but with the possible exception of the Reformed (because Calvin laregly followed Luther in this), other churches seem not to have come to grips with it.   

In conclusion, some relevant quotations on clerical celibacy:

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer."
The apostle Paul's first letter to Timothy, ch. 4:1-5 (NIV).

"If marriage is forbidden to priests, they will fall into sins worse than mere fornication, not abhorring the embrace of other men."
Bishop Ulric of Imola, The Rescript, c. 1060. Ulric's Rescript was condemned by the Synod of Rome in 1079.

"To prohibit marriage, and to burden the divine order of priests with perpetual celibacy, they have had neither authority nor right, but have acted like antichristian, tyrannical, desperate scoundrels and have thereby caused all kinds of horrible, abominable, innumerable sins of unchastity, in which they still wallow."
Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art 11.

"Despite the great infamy of their defiled celibacy, the adversaries have the presumption not only to defend the pontifical law by the wicked and false pretext of the divine name, but even to exhort the Emperor and princes, to the disgrace and infamy of the Roman Empire, not to tolerate the marriage of priests. For thus they speak, although the great, unheard-of lewdness, fornication, and adultery among priests, monks, etc., at the great abbeys, in other churches and cloisters, has become so notorious throughout the world that people sing and talk about it, still the adversaries who have presented the Confutation are so blind and without shame that they defend the law of the Pope by which marriage is prohibited, and that, with the specious claim that they are defending a spiritual state. "
Philipp Melancthon, Defence of the Augsburg Confession, Art XXIII, On the Marriage of Priests


Stephen K said...

I happen to agree that the root idea behind the problem of unhealthy clericalism is the idea that a priest is a special being for ever. There may an element of idealism in all of us, whereby we want so desperately for there to be supermen/heroes or superwomen/heroines, but commonsense and experience eventually should make us realise that such beings do not exist. Heroes are not objective: we invest people with an aura and expectation which leads to deferent behaviour on our part and which in turn can cause the recipient or object of our characterisation some problem reactions. It is the deferent behaviour, this untouchability with which we endow them, that supported - indeed, was an integral part of - the system whereby nothing could be allowed to tarnish the priest and behind him the Church. People continue to underestimate the psychological side-effects of thinking of such things as objectively or ontologically different and true. Thinking that ordination "marks" one for life leads to acting as is that were true. It may lead to a very saintly life, but the odds - and experience - would suggest that it leads rather more frequently to out-of-touch isolation or clerical arrogance or insouciance. Eventually, as age takes its hold, or common human experiences bring a person insight, many priests come to a more sanguine and humble attitude to their identity and vocation. But I suggest that the institutional culture makes the process harder.

Celibacy, in my view, is a slightly different question. I generally think Patrick Wall made a reasonable observation about nature's direction, but the key problem with the failures of clergy and religious to be chaste is in fact not the sexual lapse itself but the hypocrisy and cover-up and double standard within clerical circles as laypeople are pilloried from dawn to dusk for every even solitary sexual thought, desire, or act. Some RC moral theology argues the natural law underpins its ethics but continues to come across as if it treats sex as a greater moral evil than war or domestic violence.

Life-long celibacy is undoubtedly a very special charism, that most priests may not have, even if they try valiantly to have it by grace and willpower. After the honeymoon of youthful zeal and idealism fades somewhat, abstinence with gritted teeth would seem not to be a condition for the kind of joy that will sustain and foster a happy and enthusiastic pastor. It does not follow that an unhappy celibate priest will turn to sexual molestation, but it might make him seek an adult partner or become a little neurotic. Voluntary celibacy would go some way to addressing these latter situations. I'm not sure it would address the abuse problem. Just some observations of my own for consideration.

Acroamaticus said...

Thanks for your comments, Stephen.
"the key problem with the failures of clergy and religious to be chaste is in fact not the sexual lapse itself but the hypocrisy and cover-up and double standard within clerical circles as laypeople are pilloried from dawn to dusk for every even solitary sexual thought, desire, or act."
I some Traditionalist Catholics are to be believed, this hypocrisy has at times reached right to the top of the post-conciliar RCC. I don't know enough about the RCC to judge their claims one way or another, but I can sympathise with Catholic laity who feel they have been subjected to a heavier yoke than the clergy.

Stephen K said...

Pastor Mark, I note you referred to the post-conciliar RCC church. I am not sure I would have made a distinction between the pre- and post-conciliar church. Catholic sacerdotal theology has been around for a long long time. The abuses and lapses we hear about now are post conciliar because this is the age in which outside forces are acting to expose them. A time machine staffed by reporters from the secular press would no doubt uncover the same things a few hundred years ago. This is what Patrick Wall meant when he spoke about the "DNA" of the Church. The sexual abuse is a sin and a crime and a fruit of a system and theology not confined to a generation. It is also inappropriate to distinguish the phenomenon by reference to the council because not every institution that operated with flawed power structures or imbalances were subject to it. The Council in other words in many respects is irrelevant to the essence of the problem. I do not have a time machine myself but it seems logical to me.

Schutz said...

What terrific quotations you have sourced for your post, Pastor Mark.

Here are a couple of others:

"Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." (St Paul, 1 Cor 7:6-7)

"For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Jesus, Matt 19:12)

Stephen K said...

There is an article/address on the topic of the nature of priesthood by Father George Wilson SJ at - in his address, Father Wilson examines the origins and distinctions between "clergy" and "priest". The title is "Clericalism: the Death of the Priesthood".

Acroamaticus said...

I'm not sure I get your point...
you might have missed this: "celibacy...while it is a legitimate option for some devout men and women"

Acroamaticus said...

I take your point about distinguishing between the pre and post conciliar RCC.
Thanks for the reference, I will read it with great interest.

Stephen K said...

For a glimpse into the layers of conceptual and legal analysis necessary, indulged in or disputed as a result of the notion that once a person is ordained they are a priest forever, ontologically different, no matter what else happens, see the discussion at

This, of course, differs from the thinking of Fr Wilson. Peregrinus mentions that the process of getting permission to marry after laicisation is a separate one and not automatic, which suggests that the Church is more reluctant to allow a priest to marry than it is to allow them to leave the official ministry. Now that's significant and revealing.

David was prompted to ask Peregrinus whether that meant laicisation was a fiction and reminded readers that absoluton could always be obtained in extremis from a laicised priest.

Both David and Fr Wilson appear to agree that priesthood is distinct, conceptually, from the clerical state, albeit they take the point in different directions. The former thinks that the laicised remain priests because of their past ordination, whereas the latter thinks that they remain priests because of their past baptism.

David's comment about emergency confession is quite pertinent and will resonate with Catholics or others with a similar view of the sacrament of orders. But it is a habit of thinking, I think, rather than a necessary state of affairs. The habit of thinking that a person who has been ordained can be a confessor in an emergency or even celebrate a Mass is certainly one that is hard to shake off after a cultural lifetime. But with reflection, one can realise that anyone can be a confessor to you so long as you trust them.

To some extent, the very word "ordination" is part of the problem: it supposes an "order", rather akin to some genus or species. We might see our way more clearly or avoid some of the conundrums if we were to call the sacrament "commissioning" (pro tem.)

This subject is a complex one because the way we look at it has wide consequences for both pastoral theology and ecclesial economy.

Acroamaticus said...

Yes, the rigmarole around laicisation and the belief that the "indelible character" of priesthood persists is very revealing. It is not a question Lutherans face - as we regard ministry as an office rather than an order if one leaves the office one is no longer a minister. As to the question of obtaining forgivenes of sins in extremis from a laicised priest, well, we would say that any Christian could hear a confession and pronounce forgive sins in an emergency. It is the Word of God, not the person, which is the means of grace.

Damo said...

Hi PR Mark I hope all is well,Mate I remember and old Church Pastor very learned,telling me that before compulsory celibacy many married Priests were leaving much valued land to their Kids and the Pope at the time wanted to get his hands on the spoils so he annulled Marriages,and the first 500 years or so Priests could marry so it seems like in this case I suggest the Church has put tradition above Scripture,sadly I see the Bahi people who are in fellowship with a REV Dorothy a spiritist REV in Toowoomba are speaking soon at st pats cathrdral Hall,ther may be muslims speaking too,before it was just Hindus talking about their faith,so I hope the new Pope puts a stop to it,