Thursday, 7 March 2013

A Response to David Schutz on the Crisis of Evil in the Roman Church

Erstwhile Lutheran brother come Roman Catholic apologist (and I mean no disrespect by my usual discription of David; I have a lot of respect for him although, for the sake of his soul, I grieve over the path he has taken) has posted a reply to my post "End the Crisis, Please!". Taking a leaf out of David's book I've decided to make his comment and my reply a post in itself, lest it be lost in the comboxes. David makes some fairly strong accusations that I believe need rebuttal. [pic: Hercules Clearing the Augean Stables]
 
David wrote:
"I don't know who else reads your blog, Pastor Mark, but you have at least one reader, and I don't mind discussing this matter on your blog as well as mine.

One reason that I don't talk about the abuse crisis much on my blog (and there are plenty of Catholic blogs where it is the only thing they talk about) is that I don't think much is gained by blogging endlessly about it.

Your idea that the instances of abuse arise from something systemic in the Church is not original. As you point out, there are many who share this idea - including members, priests and some bishops in the Catholic Church.

I usually find, however, that those who argue in this way have some other agenda in play. The argument goes like this:

There is disproportionately high instance of abuse in the Catholic Church,
therefore there must be something in the Catholic system which is the cause of this abuse,
I identify X as the cause (completely incidentally, I happen not to like X and have always wished that the Catholic Church would do away with it) therefore I cite the abuse crisis as the result of X and call upon those in authority in the Catholic Church to do away with X.

Now, X could be anything from the celibacy of priests (eg. Paul Collins), to the all male priesthood, to the priesthood itself (Gary Wills is a good case in point here) - or the Pope, or the Bishops, or indeed the Church itself.

I am sick of commentators using the abuse crisis as their opportunity to push their own particular agendas on the Church.

In this way, the real crisis goes unaddressed and a whole lot of pet causes get more airing than they should.

In the mean time, there is very little that I can do about it. Stupidly, perhaps naively, I actually trust that the Church herself, precisely through the systems of authority that exist in the Church (properly exercised) still remains the best means for eradicating this evil. This is why the crisis is a very central part of the conversation currently taking place among the Cardinals in their general congregation at the moment.

In the mean time, the fact that the governance of the church is none of my affair, I remain happily free to continue to take great joy in belonging to the Church, and sharing that joy with all who will receive it.
Wednesday, 06 March, 2013"
Delete

 
Blogger          I reply (revised and expanded from my original):
"Thanks for your comment, David. And for reading my blog. Guests at the old manse are a rather studious bunch who seem to do more reading than commenting, which is just as well since I don't have time to moderate intense discussions - or perhaps I just don't write much that is worthy of comment ;0).

Now, as to your complaint that commenters on the Catholic sexual abuse crisis use the crisis to push their own agendas: I've no doubt that is the case. But that doesn't mean they are being disingenuous or that their arguments don't have merit. You are not doing them justice by maintaining this line - deal, if you can, with their arguments but best leave their motives to their own conscience.

I would never say you are stupid, David, but yes, I think you are naive to rely on the Roman hierarchy - as presently constituted - to address the crisis. The Cardinal O'Brien affair reveals why. If the reports are credible, and I believe they are given the Vatican's own refusal to deny them, the Vatican sat on a complaint against the Cardinal for 5 months and apparently sent a  cardinal (Mark Oullett, considered by informed commentators to be a front-runner for the papacy) to negotiate a confidential settlement which would have enabled Cardinal O'Brien to retire "honourably" without the complaint going public. When the 'whispers in the loggia' reached the ears of other alleged victims of the cardinal, they promptly did go public and the whole sordid affair was exposed. When will Rome learn? As I suggested in my previous post, it is impossible, given that this affair concerned a cardinal, that Pope Benedict was not aware of all this. What was he thinking?*
 
David, as you must know, if a credible complaint of a similar nature against a Lutheran Church of Australia pastor - even dating back many years - were received he would be stood down immediately (i.e. the same day) pending an investigation, utilising competent outside investigators if the case merited it. This illustrates the difference between a church body that takes the possible presence of sexual offenders in its midst utterly seriously and one that is dragging the chain or in denial (btw, just yesterday I attended a meeting at which a lawyer - I gathered she was a practicing Anglican - employed by the LCA to oversee our development of 'Professional Standards' remarked that unlike the Roman Catholics we do not have a problem with sexual offenders in the LCA's ministry. Why do you think that is?).

I don't believe the inability of the Vatican to deal effectively with the crisis is just due to ethical obtuseness or rank moral corruption (i.e., that so many in the Curia may, directly or indirectly, be implicated in similar offences that they cannot afford to clean house without the whole house falling down), as some commentators argue, but that there is also a very significant theological dimension to the crisis, as I have noted in a previous post. Lutherans, as you might remember, have a habit of looking for the doctrinal angle in any issue; for us doctrine and life are as inter-related as marrow and bone.
 
One does not have to be acting disingenuously to make such claims. In fact, David, to question others' motives in such a way -"they are just enemies of the church" - as even papabile cardinals  (i.e., for my non-Catholic readers, these are the favourites to be elected Pope) have reportedly done recently, seems to me very much a part of the continuing problem the Vatican has in dealing with the crisis of evil in their midst, of which I very much fear that we have only seen the tip - just wait until India and Africa are exposed. 
 
David, your declared intention to imitate an ostrich on this matter is also historically part of the  problem. Thank God - and I mean that quite literally - for the sake of justice for past victims and protection of the presently vulnerable, for those not so docile Catholic laity who are attempting to hold the bishops accountable. This is an entirely proper calling for the laity under these circumstances. Whatever your theological differences with some of them may be, I urge you to consider joining their ranks and working actively for the purification of your church body from the evil that infects it even, apparently, to the highest levels. You say that as a layman you are not responsible for the administration of the church, but this is not just an administrative crisis, it is primarily a spiritual crisis. I put it to you that to do nothing in this crisis when one is in a position to do something beyond praying about it (which is, as always, our first recourse), is a sin of omission. 
 
* This is one reason why critics of the Roman church on this matter refer to the crisis as "systemic"; the Roman system of church administration (from the papacy at the top down to the celibate clerical caste and the notionally docile laity at the bottom) is based squarely upon (erroneous) theological/doctrinal foundations which both foster and perpetuate the incidence of sexual offending against minors and others by clergy and religious. A good place to begin the necessary reform, then, would be to open up the papal dogma to the light of historical-theological inquiry. Of course, to do this would bring the whole Roman edifice down...is there a Hercules waiting in the wings to clean out the Augean stables of Rome? 
 
Update
A Roman Catholic moral theologian makes pretty much the same points I have, even going so far as to call the O'Brien affair a "failure of ecclesiology":
  http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/03/06/what-can-we-learn-from-the-fall-of-cardinal-obrien/ 
HT Another reader of the blog!

       
Updates 11 March, 2013:
         "There is a kind of opinion that is an easy way of ridding (society) of the issue of pedophilia     by putting it on the Church," Andre Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, told AFP in an interview.
"We shouldn't be duped. It's easy because that prevents asking the question within society itself," said Vingt-Trois, 70, one of the 115 cardinals set to elect the next pope in a conclave starting tomorrow."
Pot...Kettle...Black!

The liberals play dirty. The allegations against Cardinal Pell, who I believe is a man of integrity, were found to be not proven by a retired Victorian supreme court judge engaged by the church to investigate (Pell stood down for the duration of the inquiry - a good example, btw, of how the church should handle such allegations).  The cardinal's own management of the crisis in his former diocese, however, has drawn criticism.

7 comments:

Chris said...

I think Bishop Geoffrey Robinson lists some causes and their reasons that seems pretty compelling to me:

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/11/13/3632146.htm

Mark Henderson said...

Chris,
I have in the past read one or two essays by Bp Robinson. His analysis impressed me, although I would not agree with every view he expresses. Thanks for the link.

Damo said...

for the record PR Mark you write things that are not only WORTHY of comment but so incredibly well researched and deep requiring full attaention of ones members,I personally consider you "the" Doctor IE Teacher of the LCA here in toowoomba,and I honour you for not putting Your head in the sand and raising the issue of the sexually fallen Cardinal,and the lack of success the systems that can become all to mechanical and not deal with such temptations brewing,the first step to recovery is admitting a Wrong not sweeping it under the carpet,the problem is that mnany very dedicated beautiful Catholics are let down by their traditions and system,Gods Blessings Damo and for the record to anyone who views the posts I certainly am not anti catholic and have no hidden agenda

Mark Henderson said...

Thanks Damian, but you're over generous in your estimation of my abilities! I agree with your comments about many faithful Catholics being let down by their traditions and system. Let us hope they can discern the difference between Christ and their church and so not lose faith in the face of the scandals.

joel in ga said...

Isn't the problem simply that a church that pretends to infallibility can never allow itself to be seen making a mistake?

Mark Henderson said...

Well, stictly speaking, Joel, infallibility only extends to papal pronouncements made ex cathedra. There is even debate among Catholics about thwat that means - was the encyclical 'Humanae vitae', forbidding Catholics from using artificial contraception for instance, infallible? A bit of a mott point< i grant, since the anecdotal evidence is that many/most Catholics simply ignore it (does that mean most Catholics are in a state of mortal sin according to their own church?).

However, the old mindset that the Catholic Church is superior to civil states, and therefore canon law takes precedence over civil law, I think has contributed much to the arrogance of the Catholic Church in how it has 1) handled priestly abuse cacses and 2) treated civil authorities with contempt. This might seem a strong charge, but what else can you call it?

Mark Henderson said...

Corrected version :0)

Well, stictly speaking, Joel, infallibility only extends to papal pronouncements made ex cathedra. There is even debate among Catholics about what that means - was the encyclical 'Humanae vitae', forbidding Catholics from using artificial contraception for instance, infallible? A bit of a moot point, I suggest, since the anecdotal evidence is that many/most Catholics simply ignore it (does that mean most Catholics are in a state of mortal sin according to their own church?).

However, the old mindset that the Catholic Church is superior to civil states, and therefore canon law takes precedence over civil law, I think has contributed much to the arrogance of the Catholic Church in how it has 1) handled priestly abuse cases and 2) treated civil authorities with contempt. This might seem a strong charge, but what else can you call it?