Do you remember Benedict XVI’s infamous Christmas Eve address to the Curia, in which (to judge from press reports), he seemed to argue that gay marriage and gender theory lead to climate change? It now seems that Ireland’s Cardinal Sean Brady has been rereading those reports, and using them as a model for his own rhetoric. After noting that in spite of the Ryan report on clerical abuse of children, there has been a sharp rise in yong men entering Irish seminary life, Ellis O’ Hanlon writes in the Irish Times:
Given all that’s happened, you’d think the hierarchy would say to one another: “Phew, lads, that was a close shave. Now let’s keep our heads down for a while till it all blows over.” Instead they immediately dive head first into yet another row — thanks to Cardinal Sean Brady’s homily last weekend in Limerick.
It all started out innocuously enough, this time as a sermon on climate change. Priests feel the need periodically to do this Save the Planet schtick. It’s embarrassing in a Kum Ba Yah sort of way, and, if left unchecked, has been known to lead to the nightmare of acoustic guitar playing on the altar, but probably harmless enough. The problem was what followed after Cardinal Brady had finished with the usual guff about how churches should measure their carbon footprints and offset the damage by helping baby polar bears to swim or something.
Tangential doesn’t even begin to describe the directions which one of Ireland’s premier churchmen took from his original starting point. Anybody who nodded off in St John’s Cathedral last weekend would have woken up to find that gay marriage was in the firing line, leaving them perhaps with the disorienting impression that homosexuals were responsible for global warming.
Plenty of what he had to say was also right on the money. Marriage and the raising of children in a loving two-parent environment as the cornerstone of a stable society? Nobody’s quarrelling there, not least the vast majority of people who already live in precisely that way — though the warning does invite a sarcastic response about what exactly the Church was doing to protect family life when it let its priests get away with molesting children.
This is familiar stuff: just about any excuse is enough for some of our churchmen to leap into an attack on the degenerate “homosexua” lifestyle. But note O’Hanlon’s reference to the Ryan report. I will return to this later.
More than that, though, it was the faint undertone of menace which stuck in the craw. Cardinal Brady’s homily was addressed not to his small audience of listeners in the cathedral that evening, so much as over their heads towards the politicians in Dail Eireann who have to make a decision on legalising civil partnerships for gay people, allowing them to avail of the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual married couples. This was against the Constitution, Brady claimed. It was against the common good, he added.
Then the killer blow: those who supported the legislation, the Cardinal stated, would be making a choice to “depart” from God. That’s a heck of a sword to dangle on a thread over your opponents’ heads. Hilariously, Sean Brady then went on to insist that freedom of conscience must be respected.
So you respect your opponents’ right to disagree, but if they do disagree, then they’re to be denounced as having turned their backs on God Himself?
And now we get to the crunch issue:
That’s a strange kind of respect, to say that anybody whose understanding of their faith leads them to sincerely espouse a different view is to be banished from the tent and ejected into some kind of godless wilderness. God’s not big enough to make room for people who think gay couples should have legal rights? Impertinent as it may sound to chastise a cardinal on matters of theology, I really hope God would beg to differ on that one, especially since the alternative for Him is spending eternity with a tiny group of smug, self-satisfied know-it-alls who think their particular ideologies make them the chosen ones.
Brady’s whole tone was one of righteous entitlement. The choices for Ireland, he averred, were between “personal greed” or the “common good”, a “civilisation of selfishness” or a “civilisation of love”, a “culture of death” or a “culture of life”.
No chance of merging shades of grey in the middle then? No space for honest disagreement among fellow Christians?
Basically, what he seemed to be saying is that anyone who differed from his interpretation of Christian teaching wasn’t a proper Christian at all. And the last person I heard talk like that was the Reverend Ian Paisley. Some role model.
And now the key, absolutely crucial, real point:
It’s surely this arrogant air of proprietory rights regarding God’s mind which Fr Aidan Troy, formerly of North Belfast’s sectarian interface, now transferred to Paris, was referring to in a recent interview when he spoke of how the Catholic Church had thought simply saying sorry for the decades-long abuse scandal was sufficient, without facing up to the need to change its way. Fr Troy wants his superiors to “halt recruitment, reform and reorganise, then begin again”. Fat chance of that happening, as he well knows. To do that, they’d have to admit that they might be wrong, and Cardinal Brady’s homily made it abundantly clear last weekend that it’s only the hierarchy’s detractors who can ever be that.
It is absolutely appropriate that O’Hanlon, after beginning with a remider of the Ryan report into clerical abuse, should have ended by pointing out the Cardinal’s insistence that he and his colleagues in the Irish hierarchy have a monopoly on truth, and Fr Troy’s belief that the clerical abuse could be eliminating by agreeing to “halt recruitment(presumably, eliminating recruitment in particular of those dreadful queers), reform and reorganise, then begin again“.
Here is the fundamental problem: by using every opportunity to turn discussion of any problem to an attack on “the gays”, what they are really doing is the age old trick of scapegoating the sexual “others”, so as to deflect attention from the real problem with clerical abuse: their own institutional culpability.
In my continuing series on the problem, I have repeatedly referred to Bishop Robinson’s conclusions that the root causes are deeply embedded in church’s institutional structure: the insistence on compulsory celibacy, the excessive concentration and centralisation of ecclesiastical power, and individuals who are personally immature with poorly integrated sexuality. (Note that the insistence on celibacy and exclusion of openly gay candidates ensures a disproportionate number of sexually immature candidates – both straight and gay- remaining). Investigating additional books on the topic for Sergius & Bacchus books, I quickly found that many other writers clearly agree with Robinson. I have not yet had the chance to read these, but just the titles (see below) and the few snippets or commentaries available on-line make the general conclusions clear:
Boisvert & Goss, “Gay Catholic Priests and Clerical Abuse – Breaking the Silence” is a powerful collection of articles by a range of writers addressing the fallacious connection between the abuse and gay priests. In doing so, they make some very important points, which come across clearly, even in only a limited on-line preview. For me, the most startling was the observation (which I have since come across elsewhere) that something like two thirds of the victims were not boys, but girls – and hence that two thirds of the perpetrators were not gay, but ”straight”. Couple this with the widely accepted guesstimate that something like half of priests are gay, and an important conclusion follows. If half the clergy (the straight half) are responsible for two thirds of the crimes, and the other half, the gay half, are responsible for just one third, then simple arithmetic shows clearly that allegedly “straight” (but psychologically and morally twisted) clergy are twice as likely as gay clergy to be responsible for the child abuse.
Clearly, my calculations are deeply flawed: both figures are based on crude estimates. Combine them , and they become even less reliable. There are other problems as well, but one thing is clear – the figures we have cannnot support the idea that gay priests are the ones primarily responsible for the scandal.
The second important observation in this book is that the widespread public focus on abuse of boys has completly obscured the bigger problem: the abuse of girls. This is sexism at its worst – belittling the experience of the girls to highlight that of the boys, as well as scapegoating of gay clergy to deflect attention from the real issue: the completely unwarranted attempts by the institutional church to usurp all control, under the pretence of a monopoly of truth, and the completely unscriptural, unhistoric and completely unnecessary insistence on comoplusory celibacy.
As long as we in the broader church community allow the church authorities to get away with these lies, we are all complicit in the problem of sexual abuse. Until we root out the fundamental causes, this problem cannot go away.
This logo, which I previously posted under the title of the “worst logo ever”, now seems uncannily apposite and symbolic:
“Via Afrojacks, One imagines that this 1973 design for the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission would not make the cut today. “
NOTE: the excerpts quoted above I took directly from the on-line edition of the Irish Times early this morning, Aug 30th. Since then the story appears to have been removed: I can no longer find it in searches under the topic, or directly on the Irish Times website, so I am unable to provide a link. The sections I have quoted are presented verbatim, except only some minor excisions to reduce the overall length. For those who might like to consult the full original report, I copied it in its entirety to a Word file, which I have since saved as a page under Catholic Church, Power & Abuse. he headline I have given it may not be authentic – I have taken it from memory.
A small sample follows of some widely cited and commended titles on the problem that I came across in just an hour or two of on-line browsing:
Cozzens, D: The Changing Face of the Catholic Priesthood.
Crosby: Rethinking Celibacy, Reclaiming the Church
DOYLE & SIPE: Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes- The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Trail of Sexual Abuse
FRAWLEY–O’DEA: Perversion of Power
MITCHELL, T: Betrayal of the Innocents
RIGERT, Joe: An Irish Tragedy
SIPE, A.W.R: Sex, Priests and Power