Tag Archives: Sexual Abuse

Clerical Celibacy: The Beginning of the End?

It’s been rumoured for some time, and now it’s out in the open. Pope Francis could permit the ordination of married priests, at least in the remote Amazon region.

Amazon basin – Wikipedia

The Pope has requested a debate over allowing married men to become priests in the Amazon region of Brazil, a move likely to outrage conservatives in the Catholic Church.

The pontiff took the decision to put a partial lifting of priestly celibacy up for discussion and a possible vote by Brazilian bishops after a request by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, Il Messaggero newspaper quoted the sources saying.





Continue reading Clerical Celibacy: The Beginning of the End?

Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments

In his address to the New Ways Ministries’ conference  From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships,  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson devoted a major part of his address to demonstrating just why that teaching is unsound. Yesterday, I outlined the first of his three reasons for making such claim, that the argument from “God’s purpose in nature” is unsound.

Now, I move on to the second of his three arguments against the traditional teaching on sex :

The second reason for change is that the statements of the Church appear to be assertions rather than arguments

This is pretty much the same point that the medieval historian Mark Jordan makes (in “The Silence of Sodom“) about the Vatican’s rhetorical style – that it makes no attempt to present a rational argument for its claims. Instead, it simply depends on endlessly repeating its own claims in different forms, with no substantiation except its own assertions. Instead of attempting to win over its adversaries by persuasion, it simply wears them down. Jordan’s conclusion from this is that there is no point in trying to deal with  Vatican sexual theology by attempting to engage with it as if it had any rational basis. To do so, he argues, is to make the mistake of engaging with it on its own terrain. Instead, we must find other ways of dealing with it.

Some time ago, I wrote to James Alison to ask for help understanding a particular passage in the CDF Hallowe’en Letter. His response was that I should simply avoid wasting time on the letter. There’s no point, he wrote, in wasting time on nonsense. I remembered this when reading that part of his long interview with Vox Nova, which deals with the CDF description of homosexuality as an “intrinsically disordered” inclination. There has been a lot of hurt and anger resulting from that description, and a great deal of time spent in either attempting to refute it, or defend it. But, says Alison, the actual meaning of the term is unstable, constantly shifting to suit whatever conclusion the Vatican apologists want to extract from it. The lesson from both Jordan and Alison then, would be to avoid grappling with orthodox sexual theology from within its own frame of reference. Instead, we must formulate our own framework for a system of sexual ethics that bypasses the Vatican’s flawed assumptions.

This is what Bishop Geoffrey Robinson did in his Baltimore speech to New Ways Ministry. After showing that the basic premises of official teaching are unsound (as I described yesterday), he makes no attempt to engage with the arguments that follow from them – because, as he notes, there are no arguments, only unsubstantiated assertions. Observing further that the emphasis in the doctrine is unsatisfactory obsession with genital acts, ignoring the  people who perform the actions, he proceeds to construct a new, reasoned framework on the basis of relationships – which I will get to in later posts. For now, this is what he says about the Church’s use of assertions to replace argument (the full text is posted on his own website).

Second Argument

The second reason for change is that the statements of the Church appear to be assertions rather than arguments. No one disputes the fact that sexual intercourse is the normal means of creating new life and that it can be a powerful force in helping couples to express and strengthen their love. Both the unitive and procreative elements are, therefore, foundational aspects of marriage as an institution of the whole human race. But are they essential elements of each individual marriage, no matter what the circumstances, e.g. the couple who are told by medical experts that any child they had would suffer from a serious and crippling hereditary illness? Are they essential elements of every single act of sexual intercourse? On what basis?

There are always problems when human beings claim that they know the mind of God. So is the statement that it is God’s will, and indeed order, that both the unitive and procreative aspects must necessarily be present in each act of sexual intercourse a proven fact or a simple assertion? If it is a proven fact, what are the proofs? Why do church documents not present such proofs (6)? Would not any proofs have to include the experience of millions of people in the very human endeavour of seeking to combine sex, love and the procreation of new life in the midst of the turbulence of human sexuality and the complexities of human life? Is an ideal being confused with a reality?

If it is only an assertion, is there any reason why we should not apply the principle of logic: What is freely asserted may be freely denied? If it is no more than an assertion, does it really matter who it is who makes the assertion or how often it is made? Where are the arguments in favour of the assertion that would convince an open and honest conscience?

 

Books:

Jordan, Mark D: The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism

Robinson, Bishop Geoffrey: Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church

 

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Bishop Robinson on "The Offence Against God", "God’s Purpose"

Speaking at New Ways Ministries’ conference 2012 on  the theme From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, Bishop Robinson began by demonstrating that we cannot hope for a  change Catholic teaching on homosexual relationships, until we first achieve a change in teaching on heterosexual relationships. He then devoted a major part of his address to demonstrating just why that teaching is unsound, producing three discrete arguments:

  • The first addresses the Church’s claim that the essence of sexual sin is a direct offence against God, irrespective of any harm caused to any human being.
  • The second reason for change is that the statements of the Church appear to be assertions rather than arguments.
  • The third argument is that the teaching emphasises the God‐given nature of the physical acts, rather than on how such acts affect persons and relationships.

After demonstrating why present teaching needs reform, Bishop Robinson moved on to a positive basis for a new Catholic teaching, and then to a discussion of Catholic ethics for homosexual relationships. I will get to these later. For now, I consider here only the first of these three arguments:

First Argument (Against Catholic Teaching on Heterosexual Morality):

The teaching of the church  that sexual sin is that is a direct offence against God raises two serious questions, one concerning nature and the other concerning God.

The claim that non -procreative sexual activity is a sin against God rests on the belief that this contravenes “God’s purpose” for sex, opposed to the natural order that God established. One problem with this, is that observations of “nature” show clearly that this is not so. There is abundant evidence that in the natural world of the animal kingdom, many species practice a wide range of sexual activities that cannot lead to procreation, including sex before reaching full maturity and fertility, oral and anal sex, masturbation (alone or with others), genital rubbing, and homosexual activities. Some primates even manufacture and use sex toys – breaking off vine sections for use as dildoes, and fruits adapted as masturbation aids.

But that is not the objection Robinson raises. He finds another, one that I have not found before. Is there any other context, he asks, where theologians identify a sin on the grounds that it is against God’s purpose? If there are, he asks further, why do church documents not list them? To demonstrate the absurdity of theologians deriving a single, inviolable “God’s purpose” for a particular human faculty, he refers to the rather trivial case of human vision. If the purpose of eyes is to see where we are going, is it then a sin when driving, to use rear view mirrors, which show us where we have been?

There are numerous other examples that he could have used to demonstrate the futility of deducing a single “purpose” of God in any part of creation. One that I would certainly not be acceptable to the Vatican was once used by post-reformation Protestant theologians. Observing that women have narrower shoulders and broader hips than men, they deduced that God’s purpose for women was to bear children.  Some Catholic theologians might accept this – but not their next conclusion, that this implied that for women to live celibate lives in convents was clearly in contravention of God’s purpose for them.

In the sexual context, I wonder about the tongue. It would seem self-evident that this has two purposes: for speech, and in eating. The Church’s teaching on sex is that it too has two purposes, unitive and procreative, but that these must both be present for sex to be licit. For the tongue, any attempt to apply both uses simultaneously, eating and talking at once, is clearly not ideal. Then, there is another, less obvious use of the tongue, in kissing and in love-making. Following the Church’s reasoning on any contravention of God’s “purpose” as sinful, are we to conclude that introducing the tongue in love-making is a third purpose for the organ – or that such use is a contravention of its two intended purposes, and so sinful?

There are many more objections that could be raised to the whole idea of identifying a particular “purpose” of God, but Robinson goes on to another issue entirely, the suggestion that any contravention of such purpose is an offence against God, to which he proposes a remarkably simple riposte: God is bigger than that, and not so easily offended.

Robinson’s full text is posted on his own website. This is the extract relating to his “first argument”.

First Argument

The first argument is that the teaching of the church says that the essence of sexual sin is that it is a direct offence against God because, irrespective of whether harm is caused to any human being, it is a violation of what is claimed to be the divine and natural order that God established. It is claimed that God inserted into nature itself the demand that every human sexual act be both unitive and procreative. If it does not contain both of these elements, it is against “nature” as established by God. This raises two serious questions, one concerning nature and the other concerning God.

In relation to nature, should not the church’s argument give a number of examples of other fields where God has given a divine purpose to some created thing, such that it would be a sin against God to use that thing in any other way? Or is this the only example there is of God giving a divine purpose to a created thing? If there are other examples, why do church documents not list them? I remember reading years ago the mocking argument that the natural God‐given purpose of eyes is to look forwards, so rear vision mirrors in cars are against nature and hence immoral. Granted that this is a mocking argument, does it not raise questions about what we mean by “nature” and how difficult it is to draw moral consequences from a claim to a divinely established nature?

In relation to God, the argument was used in the past that striking a king was far more serious than striking a commoner, and, for the same reason, an offence against God was far more serious than an offence against a human being. In this view, the most serious sins were those directly against God. In practice, this applied above all to sins of blasphemy and sexual sins, and it helps to explain why, in the Catholic Church, sexual morality has long been given a quite exaggerated importance.

When a person takes great offence at even a trivial remark, we tend to speak of that person as a “little” person, while a person who can shrug off most negative comments is a “big” person. My reading of the bible leads me to believe in a very big God indeed who is not easily offended by direct offences. I believe, for instance, that God shrugs off much of what is called “blasphemy” as an understandable human reaction to the felt injustice of evil and suffering in this world. I do not believe that God is in the least offended when parents who have just lost a child rage in terrible anger against God.

In this vein, I must ask whether God will be offended by any sexual thought or action considered solely as an offence against an order established by God, before any question of its effect on other persons, oneself or the community is taken into account.

The parable of the prodigal son may help us here3. The younger son had received the entire share of the property that would come to him and he had
wasted it. He had no right to one further square centimetre of the property, for the entire remaining property would now go by strict right to the elder son (“You are with me always and all I have is yours” v.31). The father respected his elder son’s rights and would take nothing from him. When, however, it came to the hurt the prodigal son had caused to his father by abandoning him and wasting the property he had worked so hard for, the father brushed this aside out of love for his son and insisted that he be welcomed and treated as a son rather than a servant. The message is surely that God cares about the rights of human beings and what they do to one another, but is big enough, loving enough and forgiving enough not to get angry at direct offences against God. May we ask whether the god portrayed in this parable would condemn a person to eternal  punishment for sometimes getting unitive and procreative purposes out of a perceived ideal harmony in the midst of the turbulence of sexuality?

For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is a mortal sin (4) According to that teaching, even deliberately deriving pleasure from thinking about sex, no matter how briefly, is a mortal sin. The teaching may not be proclaimed aloud today as much as before, but it was proclaimed by many popes (5) it has never been retracted and it has affected countless people.

The teaching fostered belief in an incredibly angry God, for this God would condemn a person to an eternity in hell for a single unrepented moment of
deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. I simply do not believe in such a God. Indeed, I positively reject such a God.

Does it not follow that there are serious dangers in basing the church’s moral teaching concerning sex on the concept of direct offences against God? It must be added that, in the response to revelations of sexual abuse, this became a most serious problem, for far too many church authorities saw the offence primarily in terms of a sexual offence against God, to be treated according to the criteria governing such offences ‐ repentance, confession, absolution, total forgiveness by God and hence restoration to the status quo. This contributed greatly to the practice of moving offenders from one parish to another. There was never going to be an adequate response to abuse as long as many people thought primarily in terms of sexual offences against God rather than harm caused to the victims.

3 Lk. 15:11-32

4 See Noldin-Schmitt, Summa Theologiae Moralis, Feliciani Rauch, Innsbruck, 1960 Vol.I, Supplement
De Castitate, p.17, no.2. The technical term constantly repeated was mortale ex toto genere suo. The
sin of taking pleasure from thinking about sex was called delectatio morosa.

5 For example, Clement VII (1592-1605) and Paul V (1605-1621) said that those who denied this
teaching should be denounced to the Inquisition.

Books:

Robinson, Bishop Geoffrey: Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church

The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Revisited

One of the key points in the recent declaration by German theologians (now joined by others, worldwide), is the urgency of ending the current insistence on compulsory clerical celibacy. This is my cue to revisit, and expand on, some points I have made frequently on previous occasions.

When I wrote a series of posts on the problem of compulsory clerical celibacy nearly two years ago, I listed several problems with the rule:

  • It is not based on Scripture, but in fact contradicts Paul’s clear advice that celibacy is not for everyone.
  • It was not the practice of the early church, and was not compulsory for the first twelve centuries of Christianity – over half of Church histor
  • The rule, when it became fixed, was not introduced as a matter of pastoral care, but to preserve church wealth and powe
  • Celibacy has never been required for all clergy in the Eastern Orthodox Churche
  • It was swiftly rejected by the Protestant churches after the Reformatio
  • It is still not required for all Catholic priests: it does not apply to those in the Eastern rite of the Roman church, nor to those who are already married, and are now converting from other denominations
  • Many bishops and even national Bishops’ conferences have asked, either privately or formally, for the blanket ban to be relaxed.

I can now add some further observations that I was not then aware of:




Continue reading The Myth of Clerical Celibacy, Revisited

What About the Women?

One of the few features of the Vatican responses to the abuse scandal that I can agree with, is that it is incorrect to speak of widespread “pedophilia”, or “child” abuse. They point out, quite correctly, that much of the abuse is not against young children, but against adolescents, and so is more correctly described as “ephebophilia”. Here, though, I part company with the Vatican apologists:  the higher age makes he allegations different, but still indefensible. Abuse remains abuse, whatever the age of the victim, and to take sexual advantage of another from a position of power remains abuse, even if there has been nominal consent.  But it doesn’t stop even there.  The victims of abuse are not just young and adolescent boys, or young boys and girls, but also include many adults, especially religious women and male seminarians. I have written on this before, but have been disappointed that in the present close attention to the worldwide problems of abuse, little has been written elsewhere about the widespread abuse of adults. We should remember that one the accusations against one of the of the most notorious alleged miscreants, Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado of the Legionnaries of Christ, was that he abused both women (with whom he fathered children), and male seminarians, as well as his own children. Before the current uproar led to the resignations of a handful of Irish bishops, the few other bishops to have resigned over abuse were some who had themselves been found to have had sexual affairs, invited or otherwise,  with adults. There have also been numerous reports that some leaders of female religious houses, especially in Africa, have pleadedd wiht their local bishops for protection from predatory priests, usually meeting with little success.

Now, a worthwhile piece by Angelina Bonavoglio at Huffington Post goes some way to correct that imbalance.  This deals only with the adult women, not the seminarians, but it’s a start.

The Catholic Church: Abusing, Endangering, And Intimidating Women

It was indeed outrageous that Reverend Raniero Cantalamessa, in his Good Friday homily at St. Peter’s Basilica, with Pope Benedict in eyeshot, compared the public denunciation of the Catholic Church hierarchy for harboring child molesting priests to the homicidal viciousness of anti-Semitism.

But there was another reason to be troubled by that homily: Cantalamessa also talked about the need to end violence against women, which is crucial, but he did so without any acknowledgment of the Church’s own culpability in the abuse, endangerment, and intimidation of women.

“Much of this violence,” he declared, “has a sexual background.” Yes, let’s start there. In 2001, a year before the pedophilia crisis hit the news, the National Catholic Reporter analyzed internal Church reports written by two Catholic nuns — a physician who was a Medical Missionary of Mary, and the AIDS coordinator for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development — documenting the sexual exploitation of nuns by priests in 23 countries on five continents.

One of the most stunning allegations concerned a nun impregnated by a priest, who forced her to have an abortion that killed her, and then officiated at her funeral. Priests were alleged to have raped young nuns who approached them for the required certificates to enter religious orders; to have told nuns that oral contraceptives would protect them from AIDS; and to have used nuns as “safe” alternatives to prostitutes in countries plagued by AIDS — with some priests going so far as to demand that heads of convents make the nuns sexually available to them.

(read the full report)

Related posts at  QTC:

The Myth of Priestly Celibacy

The Tyranny of the Clerical Closet

Clerical Abuse: How We Are All Victims

Off-site links:

Abuse not Confined to Children

Bishop Accountablity

Bishop Accountablity:  Abuse Tracker

SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by priests)

Richard Sipe Website

And some books:

Sipe, Richard: Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse

Sipe, Richard: Sex, Priests, And Power: Anatomy Of A Crisis

Wills, Gary: Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit

 

Cardinal Steps in His Carbon Footprint

(Taken from an on-line edition of the Irish Times 30th August 2009, read early in the morning, but later seemed to disappear.)

THERE are some businesses which, thankfully, are proving resistant to the recession.

Less thankfully, religion is one of them.

Whether it’s the uncertainty of the times which is making people turn back to the comforts of the Almighty, or a genuine spiritual yearning for something better after the era of untrammelled greed which the commentators insist we’ve all been living through, remains to be seen.

Maybe once wages and house prices start rising again, God will be relegated to His usual place on the back burner. But for now, the Church is bouncing back. A total of 38 young men entered the seminaries this year, almost double last year’s figure.

It’s too early to say if it’s a trend, insists an uncharacteristically modest Catholic Communications Office; but coming only a few months after the Church suffered its own version of the credit crunch — more of a credibility crunch, really — with the publication of the Ryan Report into institutional abuse, it’s a remarkable change of fortune.

If only the Catholic Church realised when it was on to a good thing, and didn’t push its luck.

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. His Eminence didn’t stop there either.

He might as well have called his homily “And Another Thing…” as he strayed far from carbon footprints to touch on such topics as the right to life, to the right to a “natural death”, through to research on embryonic stem cells. Meddling with the integrity of the human body and meddling with the environment were, in this light, both aspects of the same disorder.

To be fair, none of this was exactly new ground for Catholic prelates, who have traditionally not been big fans of reproductive interference, Indeed, large chunks of the text were lifted wholesale from the Pope’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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Gay Marriage, Climate Change – and Clerical Abuse.

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. “

Inappropriatelogo

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

You might also like:
James Alison’s Message to Gay Catholics: Be the Best …
In Politics and in Business, Homophobia Becoming Toxic. …
Sex and Catholics 4: More Weaknesses in Natural Law

 

Clerical Abuse: A Lesson From South Africa

In the aftermath of apartheid, an important part of the country’s transition to normality was played by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, magnificently led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

TRC logo

Among mountains of harrowing tales of huge personal tragedy and confessions of guilt from all sides of a long conflict, I was especially struck by one man’s testimony.

Dr Beyers Naude was a minister and theologian in the Dutch Reformed Church, who in his youth was seen as a rising star and future leader in that community. So it turned out, but not in the way then anticipated.  

Dr Beyers Naude

For long before his coreligionists, Naude came to see the evil of apartheid for what it was: harmful destructive and contrary to Scripture. He tried to persuade his colleagues of this, but instead of converting them, he found himself first ostracised, later actively harassed by the state. In spite of immense personal hardship, he contrived to continue working to an end of apartheid in whatever way he could. By the final end of apartheid, he was widely seen as one of many heroes of the internal resistance.

Yet in his personal testimony to the TRC, Naude did not speak to his achievements, nor to his suffering. Instead, this man who had contributed so much, apologised to the nation for not having done more. In earlier unusual testimony, white men who had served as conscripts in the South African Army and participated in many atrocities in the townships, spoke not of their guilt, but of their mental trauma they had experienced as a result.

Reflecting on this, I was struck by a thought that I still hold with conviction. Although the popular mind in South Africa and abroad tended to think of the apartheid evils simplistically, in dualistic terms of “perpetrators” and “victims”, I saw the reality as far more complex. If Naude, who had done so much, could see himself amongst the perpetrators, and soldiers who were widely condemned for their part, could describe themselves as victims, so could the same be said of all of us.

In one or way or another, in big ways and small, we had all been part of the problem, we were all victims, directly and indirectly. Equally, we all were part of the “system”, as beneficiaries and participants of the apartheid process directly, or by contributing to the internal divisions and violence that wracked the black communities. But most importantly, in many different ways, we were all contributing to the solution. We were not all heroes of the resistance: but in the small daily acts of simple humanity, of increasingly ignoring the laws of petty apartheid, by the little acts of simple friendship or mere neighbourliness across the colour line, and by increasingly speaking frankly among our friends and colleagues of the truth we were beginning to see, we all contributed to gradual breakdown of an oppressive “system”.

Skeletons

And so it is with the Church. Now, almost twenty years later, as I look at and reflect upon the horrors of the Church’s immersion in tales of sexual and physical abuse, I see strong parallels. To view the problem solely in terms of “perpetrators”, directly in the cover-ups, and of victims only of physical or sexual abuse, is grossly simplistic. We in the Church now, as we in South Africa then were, are all at some level victims, as we are all perpetrators.

But ultimately, we too can all be part of the solution. In later posts, I will expand on these to show just how this can be.

Desmond Tutu at TRC

The Tyranny of the Clerical Closet

Over the last 40 years, we who are openly gay and lesbian, inside and outside the church, have been discovering the joy of coming out.  It is widely agreed that at a public level, this has led to increasing public understanding and acceptance of our issues. At a personal level, this is almost invariably a liberating, invigorating experience, freeing us from guilt and fear. As Helminiak has noted, and I discussed here, this is valuable as a growth experience for both spiritual and mental health.
The converse of course, is also true: remaining in the closet  carries clear and demonstrable costs.  Denying oneself honest sexual expression leads either to the repression of a natural human instinct, or to a life of subterfuge, of deceit, of fear of being discovered, and of feelings of anguished guilt.  This surely cannot be healthy, either mentally or spiritually.
Continue reading The Tyranny of the Clerical Closet

Clerical Abuse: The Story So Far, Looking Ahead.

For a long time I resisted writing about the assorted scandals of clerical sexual abuse from around the world.  After the Irish Ryan report though, I broke my silence, writing for the first time of own experiences, which I presented as just a preamble, declaring my interest, and promised more. You may be wondering what has happened to the rest of reflection on the topic.

In fact, the theme is far from forgotten or neglected, occupying a great deal of my thinking time – and the more I think about it, the wider the scope becomes.  It may not be immediately obvious, but a good portion of what I have written over the past few weeks is part of the argument I am developing.  (Indeed, it could be stated that almost everything I put onto this site is part of my argument – but that is jumping rather too far ahead.)

For now, I would just like to restate what I have published this far and how it fits in to the bigger picture. Then, I will point to the material which is in preparation, and an outline of where I am headed.

Starting from the beginning:  I wrote earlier of the  reasons for my initial silence :

“1)   This is personal.

2)   The issues are far more complex and multifaceted then press reports, or popular commentary, would lead us to believe.

3)  Too often, those attempting to spell out in honesty the complexities and subtleties of the issues, are simply branded as apologists for evil.”

Of these three, I have fully explained the first, and there is nothing more to be said.  (If you missed this little personal memoir, you may see the two posts combined on the page “Sexual Abuse: My Experience” ).  Of the third, I think it will be clear by the end that I am anything but an apologist.

It is the second item, the many facts of the issue, that is the problem. This very complexity leaves me having to spin out what is far too often presented in a few glib sentences  and stock phrases over many posts, slipping into what appear to be unrelated digressions.  They are not unrelated at all.

Some of you may have seen my earlier post some months back on Bishop Geoffrrey Robinson’s book, “Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church”, in which he argues that the three primary causes of clerical sexual abuse are sexual immaturity in some individual priests; enforced celibacy; and excessively centralised power structures in the church.

It was because enforced celibacy is central to the problem, that I wrote about the Myth of Priestly Celibacy.  I will follow this up shortly by expanding on how enforced celibacy leads to abuse.  (My recent items on coming out were not only because they were appropriate to Pride week: they were also important because sexual honesty is crucial to mental health, and so key to this discussion). It will also be necessary to say more about the problem of excessively centralised power in the church – although it will be obvious to my regular readers that this is something I touch on constantly.

This alone does not deal with the full complexity  of the problem.  I noted when I first wrote about abuse that the language is gravely inadequate to the reality, which is covers a wider range of practices, all lumped together into a single term.  I want to show how the problem is much wider, and there is a sense in which we are all, at some level, victims of clerical abuse of some kind.

Conventional responses to the problem are also in my view grossly inadequate.  Simply pointing fingers at the perpetrators and the Bishop who covered up the scandal, attempting to make amends with financial payouts, does not even scratch the surface of the healing process required. Instead, in looking towards a more viable approach, I have been recalling the approach of South Africa in dealing with the appalling atrocities committed in the name of apartheid, or of the “struggle” against it.  Key to this was the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, magnificently led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.   Dealing with this, and my personal response to the TRC, wil require a short digression into South African history, and to some reflection on the concept of truth.

Only then will I finally be able to present my full conclusions:

  • A full understanding of the problem of clerical abuse will show that at some level, we are all victims;
  • By allowing the church to persist in the exercise of excessive power, and to pervert the truth for a twisted sexual theology, we are all at some level complicit, and share to some degree in the blame;
  • But by simply getting on with our lives, by ignoring those parts of sexual doctrine which are obviously untenable, by showing more sensitivity and compassion in our local parishes than the institutional church does in its documents , and by speaking up vigourously against abuse (of all kinds) wherever we encounter it, we are also, thankfully, already part of the solution.  By asserting our right of participation as formulated at Vatican II, creating if necessary our own structures and forums to have our vocies heard, we can extend still further this healing.

I hope you will stay with me as I elaborate this argument in the weeks ahead.

(Previously posted:

Priests, Paedophiles and Purity

Church, Power and Abuse

The Paddywhack and Me (personal)

More Worms: Abuse, continued (personal)

The Myth of Clerical Celibacy

Coming out as Spiritual Experience

Coming Out as Wrestling With the Divine#