Thanks to John R. Donahue, S.J., for his beautiful, reassuring words, so badly needed in the shadowy dim and darkness of this unusual Eastertide (The Word, 4/1).
For the past four or five weeks, our local newspaper has featured a major news feature almost every day on some aspect of priestly misconduct. For all Catholics, and certainly for our priests, the vast majority of whom are deeply committed to Christ and to his people, this has been vastly upsetting and troubling; and as Father Donahue suggests, we are, indeed, walking with flagging spirits. But then...from the shadows, in the midst enters our Christ, transforming, consoling, lifting up, reminding us again and again, I am with you...peace with you.... It is I.
As we walk through these troubled days, may we journey with hope and courage, to rise up in our beloved church stronger, more loving, more deeply committed to Jesus, more compassionate and more determined than ever to live the reality of the Gospel message.
Rose Christine Wagner, S.S.J.
Scandal, one of the greatest enemies of the church, is once again afoot. Justice needs to be done for the victims of abuse and the guilty. We should not forget, however, that the church endures, even when it is betrayed from within. It is not merely an institution. It is not only a community. The church is Christ in the world. Christ himself was betrayed by one he loved. His Passion was then followed by his glory, a glory that endures still. Blessed Frederic Ozanam, reflecting on the turmoil of his own times, wrote: Hope! The fault of many Christians of our day is to hope too little. They believe that every battle and every obstacle will be the downfall of the church. They are the Apostles in the boat during the storm: they forget that the Savior is with them!
After reading the secular and religious press on sexual abuse by the clergy, I would like to share the following questions and comments.
Why are so many Catholics shocked, grieving, despairing or having their faith shaken? Haven’t we all been taught and read in the Bible for years that we are all sinners? Haven’t we been told by Jesus to forgive others, to love our enemies, to avoid casting the first stone, etc.?
Why must we in the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., lose a gifted and dedicated man like Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell for a sexual wrong he committed 20 years ago and for which he has since repented? Why do so many of us deify our religious leaders? Aren’t they sinners too like the rest of us? Are sexual sins made public the litmus test for one strike and you’re out? I somehow feel that if Bishop O’Connell had committed any other serious sin/offense and had repented, he would still be our bishop.
Pedophilia scares us, and we are told it is not curable. Maybe so, or maybe we don’t know as much about this dreadful malady as we do about cancer. And I agree that anyone convicted of pedophilia should be treated and not permitted access to children. Bishop O’Connell was not a pedophile.
I do not believe the church is in crisis. Rather, we have an opportunity to be open and to dialogue about these sex issues and many other issues that confront us. We are the church, but the institutional church apparently needs an overhaul. Is the Spirit trying to tell us something? Is the Spirit trying to lead us toward some radical changes?
Finally, if my wonderful gift of faith depended on the virtue of priests and prelates or upon a number of authentic teachings with which I take issue, I’d have left the Catholic Church long ago. But my infallible leader is Jesus, not popes or bishops. I do respect them, and I am grateful for their service, teachings and dedication. I also believe that the Spirit speaks to us through them when they all speak together as one. All of us are suspect; all of us are sinners. And all of us are doomed by our human frailty without God’s saving gracewhich reminds me of a very holy, flawed and gifted Jesuit retreat master, who used to say after each of his conferences, I’ll now take any questions, but remember...love is the answer!
J. Peter Smith
Vero Beach, Fla.
Let me applaud your April 1 issue, devoted to the pedophilia scandal. While I hope the major parts of the disaster have been revealed, I suspect more will dribble out in the weeks to come, including accusations that are mere fabrications, like the charge against Cardinal Roger Mahony.
I pray that the facts of this story should not be withheld from the public. Humiliation and shame should be a mild part of the penalty for these crimes. While the innocent certainly deserve protection, nondisclosure casts a blanket of suspicion over all priests and exposes children to potential harm.
Your editorial said it was probably too late for resignations to have any effect. Not so! If mismanagement or unwarranted protection was provided to perpetrators, those who were responsible for allowing further crimes should be held accountable. In what way is it too late? Is there some kind of statute of limitations in canon law?
Sanctions on superiors will still serve at least two purposes: 1) to deter future efforts to hide illicit behavior; 2) to publicly announce that the church will not tolerate actions that conceal crimes.
Efforts to deal with this horrible smear need to demonstrate that there will be a clean, forceful break with the past.
I cannot agree that the sacrament of penance points the way for what the bishops can do now in response to their crisis in leadership. In my experience, the sacrament has been seriously marred by bad faith since the time of Humanae Vitae another instance of the policy, Don’t ask, don’t tell.
As to the relation between homosexuality and pedophilia in the clergy, the impression exists that pedophiles have not been disciplined, in some cases at least, because they may know damaging information about gay clergy, including bishops, who remain sexually active under dispensation of the sacrament of penance.
If a physician has sexual relations with a consenting adult patient, he or she is subject to loss of license. Some similar standard needs to be established for Catholic clergy. For the crime of pedophilia, stricter censure should be considered, including loss of all financial support.
Patrick Daly, M.D.
The articles on sexual abuse by the clergy (4/1) very predictably circle the wagons, from a non-real life vantage point, to protect sacred cowsby claiming that celibacy has nothing to do with the pedophilia problem, that other denominations and professions have an equal problem and that pedophilia should not be associated with homosexuality.
There is a half-truth in the last claim. A very minute number of gay priests are pedophiles. In fact, gay priests are generally compassionate, celibate and provide a special ministry. But all pedophiles I have known in the real world were gay.
During my 26 years as a Catholic chaplain in the Navy, eight cases of pedophile chaplains came to my attention. Although Catholic chaplains were and are generally respected as exemplary and heroic, all eight cases involved Catholics. No Protestants were involved. This puzzled me, because there were about three times as many Protestants, and besides, Catholic pre-ordination training is rigorous and requires much self-sacrifice. Some causes of this imbalance became clear.
A few pedophiles chose the celibate religious life as a hoped-for therapy of their condition. Another factor was that Protestant chaplains had someone to keep an eye on them, a spouse, who also saved them from loneliness. It is also true that, as to the arts, homosexuals are attracted to religious ceremony and ministry. Choice of priesthood does not for them entail the pain of giving up wife and family. Many heterosexual priests have left to marry, whereas gay priests for the most part have remained. Celibacy turns away many would-be priests. Protestant ministry, by contrast, can appeal to a wider spectrum of recruits.
Plague and crucifixion were permitted by God to affect needed change. Perhaps our present agony is also needed to break entrenched systems that hinder the church’s mission.
May our goal not be to seek out the truth and then suppress it a little or spin it defensively. Let’s be honest and open.
(Rev.) Connell J. Maguire
Riviera Beach, Fla.
Replying to Sexual Abuse by the Clergy (4/1), I would say that deep-seated insecurity and inability to trust prevent the sexual abuser from forming the emotionally intimate, emotionally nurturing relationships we all need for physical health and mental/emotional stability. Driven by their frustrated relational needs, pedophiles seeking a relationship to compensate for their lack of trust are strongly attracted to the innocent trust of virginal young people, often enhancing this aura of trust by seducing their potential victim into trusting them. The emotionally needy are the most vulnerable and the most attractive, since it is easier for pedophiles to deceive themselves that their sexual affection is helping, not harming their victim. But because pedophiles are using their victim as a sex object to relieve their frustrations, they destroy their victim’s trust, just as their own ability to trust was destroyed by an emotionally abusive, using relationship. The emotional damage to victims depends on how emotionally needy they were before the assault and how much emotional support they receive after the assault. Unfortunately, the celibate priesthood offers the sexual abuser an attractive haven with its built-in ambience of trust, a position of authority that compensates for his insecurity and its emphasis on disciplined control of emotional/relational needs.
The editorial Easter in Our Time (4/1) has given me the first glimpse of how I can continue as a Catholic living in the Archdiocese of Boston. Even though I still feel anger and frustration at the church leadership, I feel renewed by the promise of the Resurrection. I am setting my sights back on Jesus Christ and will try to be the best witness to him that I can be.
Laura M. MacNeil
Your editorial Healing and Credibility (4/1) hit the nail on the head when it observed that Honest research...about the extent of homosexuality in the clergy must occur. But it let the bishops off the hook by overlooking the fact that it is precisely because they have opted for invincible ignorance and failed to promote honest research that reliable statistics are hard to come by (The Importance of Perspective, by Joseph Guido, O.P.). Unless the bishops experience a metanoia and decide for honesty, Paul Morrissey, O.S.A., (Are Gay Priests Living a Lie?) will continue to declaim fatuously, Not all gay priests are sexually active.... Of course not. For any reasonable person, the question has always been one of magnitude, proportion, as it is with most questions of this nature. Is the percentage 99 percent, or 1 percent or what? If the bishops give the order, any semi-competent researcher can provide the same kind of reliable data on this question as exists in many areas of psychology and sociology.
The issue devoted to the problem of clerical sexual abuse is certainly timely and very helpful.
At the same time, I think it is important to keep the whole issue of clerical sexual abuse in perspective. This is what I believe the distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State, Philip Jenkins, has done in his book Pedophiles and Priests (1996). Professor Jenkins, who is not a Catholic, maintains that the since the Gauthe case broke in 1985, the media have unfairly framed the general societal problem of pedophilia as a peculiarly Catholic problem. He notes a number of reasons for this. These include:
The very size of the priesthoodnearly 50,000 priests currently active.
No comparative quantification of the abuse rate relative to other religious groups is available.
Misconduct in the Catholic Church has been studied much more intensively than in other churches largely because of the assumption (unproven) that a celibate group would likely have a higher rate of sexual deviancy. As more attention was focused on the Catholic clergy, more possible victims were encouraged to report incidents and begin litigation.
The disproportionately high level of reported scandals is also explainable by the fact that the Catholic Church is highly centralized and bureaucratized and that dossiers on its parish clergy, efficiently maintained, are rather easily subpoenaed by attorneys. Other churches are much less open to the kind of investigation that can be used to show a systemic problem.
The numbers are inflated. The best estimates indicate that priest offenders are not more than 1 percent to 2 percent of the clergy. The only systematic review of a large cohort of priests was commissioned by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. The study examined the archdiocese’s personnel files between 1952 and 1991 and found an offense rate of 1.7 percent.
The priest pedophile is often a misnomer. In many cases, if not the majority, the term should be ephebophilia (sexual attraction to teenagers). Of the 57 accused priests examined in the Chicago survey, 49 cases involved teenagers: 39 boys and 10 girls. Not that this makes it excusablebut the distinction has many implications in terms of the potential for treatment and therapy.
Modern perceptions of clergy abuse also need to be placed in the much longer historical context of anti-Catholic and anticlerical imagery and rhetoric. It is interesting that Professor Jenkins is doing a follow-up study on anti-Catholicism in America.
Ironically, it is Catholics themselves who are perhaps most responsible for making the widespread problem of pedophilia a Catholic problem. Led by the priest novelist and television pundit the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley and The National Catholic Reporter, Catholic dissenters of both the left and the right have found the issue a godsend for pressing their reform agendas.
Professor Jenkins reiterated his conclusion in a recent article in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette (3/3): My research of cases over the past 20 years indicates no evidence whatever that Catholic or other celibate clergy are any more likely to be involved in misconduct or abuse than clergy of any other denominationor indeed than nonclergy.
As he points out in his article, literally every denomination and faith tradition has its share of abuse cases, and some of the worst involve non-Catholics. Every mainline Protestant denomination has had scandals aplenty, as have Pentecostals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Buddhists, Hare Krishnasand the list goes on. One Canadian Anglican (Episcopal) diocese is currently on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of massive lawsuits caused by decades of systematic abuse, yet the Anglican church does not demand celibacy of its clergy.
Professor Jenkins deplores the present media frenzy and worries that it may cause an eruption of religious bigotry against the Catholic Church. And he is certainly not the only one.
(Rev.) Thomas Bokenkotter
The barrage of publicity that the media has given to the recent events in the Archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere has deeply dismayed me. The scandal is bad enough when trust is betrayed by clergy who abuse the little ones, but it is multiplied many times over when diocesan bishops cover up perpetrators in secret. I am particularly pleased with the editorial Healing and Credibility, because the previous editorial was so balanced that it lacked moral outrage. Thank you. I pray you are heard.
The news item Vatican on Gay Priests (Signs of the Times, 3/18) was very surprising to me, since it seems to go against everything I’ve ever heard or read about our church’s understanding of the difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts. We are also, in this case, talking about men willing to make a public vow and commitment to celibacy. Why should the church screen out men of homosexual orientation on the basis of the type of temptation they are promising to resist? Nobody can choose what sins they will be tempted to commit.
By the way, as a practical matter, if the church ever did get rid of all the homosexually oriented priests, it would be a major tragedy in at least two ways. It would rob us of thousands of conscientious, faith-filled, loving, caring, chaste priests. It would punish countless men who, having accepted the church’s judgment regarding their sexuality, decided to stay in and play by the rules. These gay men were (and are) willing to sacrifice all possibility of sexual fulfillment for the sake of service to God, just as straight priests do.
Why would our church want to squander this selflessly given gift?