Monday, 4 March 2013

End the Crisis, Please!

Over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia, erstwhile Lutheran brother come Roman Catholic apologist David Schutz has admitted, in response to my suggestion that he was in denial over it*, that there is a crisis in his church brought about by the sexual sins of priests. David asks if his admission makes me happy.

Of course it doesn't.

What would make me happy is for the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which claims to be the successor to the Apostles not just in terms of historical descent but in authority and juridical power in the church, to face up to and end the crisis.

I make this plea - for what it is worth, coming from an obscure Lutheran pastor on the margins of church life - in light of revelations today that the Vatican has known of allegations of improper sexual conduct against Scottish cardinal Keith O'Brien (not against minors, but against young adults over whom he had authority, although the complainants were under the age of consent and sodomy was still a criminal offence in Scotland at the time the offences are alleged to have been committed) for 5 months and appears only to have acted, by bringing forward his retirement, when these allegations became known to the press.

If that is indeed the case, it is prima facie evidence that the past practice of covering up the sexual sins and even crimes of clergy continues in the Roman Catholic Church and extends all the way to the recently retired Pope, Benedict XVI, who must have known of these allegations against a cardinal (Cardinal O'Brien has, in the last 24 hours, admitted his guilt in these matters in a somewhat mealy-mouthed apology).

As I have written before, the repercussions from this on-going crisis do not just affect the Roman Catholic Church; to some extent all of us in Christian ministry are affected, no matter how much we try to disassociate ourselves from the Roman Catholic Church (for example, I no longer wear a clerical collar in public because where I live it signifies that I am a Roman priest and in the general public's eye anything I say and do is likely to be viewed through the prism of the sexual abuse crisis).

The Roman Catholic hierarchy, because of the unique, top-down polity of the Roman church, has the power to end the crisis. The question is, does it have the will to do so?

I'll give the last word to American ex-Catholic journalist and blogger Rod Dreher, who left the Catholic Church in despair over the complicity of American bishops in the crisis, who writes:

" is time for the secrets and lies to end. Just end it. The Christian Church — Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant — has no credibility to preach orthodox Christian sexuality to a world remade by the Sexual Revolution, when its own pastors, especially bishops and other senior leaders, exempt themselves from those teachings. Authority and credibility are not the same thing, but in our time, the Church’s authority, in practical terms, depends on the credibility of its ministers. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, if the cardinals going into the conclave don’t understand how sexual corruption in the clerical and bishops’ ranks is devastating the Church’s witness, they will only condemn themselves and the Church they serve to more mockery and more irrelevance. And: if they think the O’Brien revelations are the last of their kind, they’re dreaming. More is coming."

From today's UK Guardian newspaper: "Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who stepped down as Archbishop of Westminster in 2009, insisted that issues such as O'Brien's behaviour and the abuse of children by other Catholic clergy was due to the weakness of individuals rather than any structural or institutional failings by the church."
Extraordinary! Let's hope the gathered cardinals in Rome aren't thinking along those discredited lines.

* I suggested this because when reports of sexual improprieties by members of the Roman Curia (i.e. priests and possibly bishops and even cardinals) were dominating the news following Benedict's resignation, swiftly followed by the allegations against Cardinal O'Brien becoming public, David and all other Catholic bloggers I looked at seemed to be studiously avoiding the issue. Indeed, David was preoccupied with what title the retired Pope would be given. That struck me as a remarkable attempt to imitate an ostrich.


SCEcclesia said...

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.

Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for your comment, David. And for reading my blog. Guests at the old manse are a rather studious bunch - they do more reading than commenting, which is just as well since I don't have time to moderate discussions.

Now, as to you complaint that commenters use the crisis to push their own agendas, I've no doubt that is the case. That doesn't mean they aren't sincere though or that their arguments don't have merit.

I would never say you are stupid, David, but yes, I think you are naive to rely on the Roman hierarchy to fix the problem. The Cardinal O'Brien affair shows us 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. David, as you must know, if a complaint of a sexual offence against a Lutheran pastor were received he would be stood down immediately pending an investigation. This illustrates the difference between a church body that takes the presence of sexual offenders in its midst utterly seriously and one that is dragging the chain.

I don't believe this is just due to ethical obtuseness or plain moral corruption (i.e., that so many in the Curia are in some way or another implicated in similar offences that they cannot afford to clean house), but that there is also a theological dimension to the crisis, as I have written previously. One does not have to be acting disingenuously to make such a claim. In fact, David, to question others' motives in such a way -"they are just enemies of the church" - seems to me very much a part of the problem the Vatican has in dealing with the crisis of evil (of which I very much fear that we have only seen the tip - just wait until India and Africa are exposed).