As horrific as the accounts in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury and the Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse reports are, it’s probable that the investigations exposed only the tip of a much bigger iceberg, and for us, likely the beginning of a very long crisis. Already the moral authority of the Church has been severely compromised, and many of us, myself included, have lost faith in the hierarchy.
We have yet to see a satisfactory response from the Vatican, which I could only imagine would be extremely frustrating for the victims, and Josh Shapiro’s presentation of the report might be taken as a plea for Catholics to hold the Church hierarchy accountable, because frankly it seems the Grand Jury has no other recourse. I also feel sorry for the many good priests and bishops, who dedicate their lives to being shepherds of our communities, but are unjustly treated with distrust and suspicion as a result of the scandals. I don’t think most of them were even aware of how insidious the cover-up was.
There’s been talk on the forums about putting together an organisation to counter the infiltration and exploitation of our Church by predators (I’ll come to this), to investigate and expose whatever crimes are still being hidden.
How could we fix the problem? Well, first we must be brutally, and even unpleasantly, honest about it. The first thing I noticed in the reports was the incidents and the cover-up were limited almost exclusively to networks, cliques, inner circles, etc. within the hierarchy. With very few exceptions, the ‘laity’, fraternities, sodalities and other community groups were absent in the accounts. Like the predators they were, the perpetrators targeted children when there was nobody around to protect them, usually at locations where they wouldn’t be observed by the public, and went to lengths to keep it hidden.
One implication of this is that a stronger and more active ‘lay’ community, similar to what you’d find in my diocese, where we insist on background checks and the ‘two-person rule’ for all positions of trust, would greatly mitigate the risks of this happening again.
The second thing I noticed was the complicity of those who knew what was happening, and this is something I’m really struggling to comprehend. Any normal person would have reported a perpetrator to the police and/or called for his lynching, if it became known that a disgusting, horrific and degrading act, common in what you’d read in the Pennsylvania report, was performed on a child. To do nothing would be indefensible, especially when the accusations are credible and there’s enough evidence to bring charges. Yet, the reports exposed numerous instances of the hierarchy deliberately and unambiguously protecting the perpetrators from justice and ensuring they remained in positions of trust. This cannot be dismissed as a ‘mistake’, a mere failure to act because moral courage was lacking, or even an attempt to protect reputations. Again, the Vatican isn’t being honest about this. We need to examine why they behaved that way.
Thirdly, I genuinely do believe the Church has been infiltrated by Satanists, because the worst cases in the reports involved acts of desecration that could only have been committed by someone with a malevolent and pathological hatred of the Catholic faith and contempt for human dignity. They were not the actions of someone who was religious but unsuited for the vocation, or incidentally had a sexual interest in young men. Again, I’m wondering why something this bad was covered up.
Secrecy and Blackmail
Somehow the perpetrators who infiltrated the Church developed networks that facilitated their actions and protected them from justice. How was this possible? The most plausible explanation I could find was published by psychotherapist and former priest, Richard Sipe, who made the following assertions:
II. Celibacy (sexual abstinence) is not a common or persistent practice among Roman Catholic clergy. Many bishops and priests have had or are having some kind of sexual contact, experience, or relationship, at least from time to time.
III. Sexually active clergy, and those with a sexual history, run the risk of exposing their own activity if they bring a fellow cleric‟s activity to public attention. A great deal of information about priests‟ sexual lives, however, is circulated within clerical circles and some can be found in church records. Sacramental confession is a reservoir of sexual knowledge.
‘VII. At times priests or seminary faculty are involved in sex-play or relationships with seminarians or young priests. Later the faculty member is promoted to the office of major superior or bishop. Even the good numbers of clergy who have been sexually involved and subsequently strive to establish celibate practice are caught in the circle of secrecy that covers even sexual abuse of minors. [There is no effective viable recourses to report misbehavior of a bishop.]’
I do not share the belief, common among the traditionalists and conservatives who tried to warn us, that homosexuality or gay priests were directly responsible. Sexual orientation alone does not degrade one’s character, and I find it difficult to believe that good men of faith, gay or not, somehow become predators after joining the priesthood. Rather, it seems the prevailing, and maybe unhealthy, attitude towards sexuality contributed to the problem.
The reality is that clergy are human, they’re held to standards that most men and women would find impossible, and some inevitably fail. Jesus knew this well, and even the Church fathers struggled with their own weaknesses. We also know this, because we hold celibacy outside marriage as an ideal, yet it’s an ideal that~95% of us cannot live up to. It would seem that the shame attached to failure had created a culture of secrecy and blackmail among the clergy, and this was exploited for the wrong reasons.