Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote an extended essayon the clergy sex-abuse and cover-up scandal, where he cited the sexual revolution coming of age in Europe in 1968 as a contributing factor.
Some critical commentators thought Benedict’s attention to the sexual revolution was misplaced. Some, such as seasoned reporter and Vatican watcher Christopher Altieri, observed that the problem preceded the sexual revolution. Some say the problem is bigger than sexual morality. And to be perfectly honest, some want to say that the problem is anything but the sexual revolution and/or anything but homosexuality.
I’m willing to concede that clergy sexual abuse didn’t start in 1968 and that the clergy sexual-abuse crisis has many other important facets.
In spite of this, however, I maintain that the sexual revolution really is a significant factor. I will go further. We will not get a full grip on this problem until we confront the toxic ideology of the sexual revolution and the damage it has done.
COMMENTARY: The sex-abuse scandal has given ordinary laypeople the ability to facilitate real change. Case in point: the Diocese of Buffalo, New York.
The clergy sex-abuse scandal has irrevocably changed Catholic culture. Ordinary Catholics are comfortable today doing and saying things that would have been unthinkable to them just a few short years ago. And this is a good thing.
More than changes to Church governance, the policies and procedures, changes in what ordinary Catholics expect of themselves have the potential to improve the health of the Church. We have the potential to help the victims find healing and justice. And our new sense of what is acceptable behavior has the potential to pressure the clergy themselves into better behavior.
The ongoing drama in the Diocese of Buffalo, New York, illustrates these points. Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone has come under fire for covering up clergy sexual abuse. The diocese released a list of 42 credibly accused priests. However, the local TV station found more than 100 names. The FBI is investigating the diocese. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed two retired judges who are overseeing a diocesan program to compensate abuse victims. The usual mess.
In a slightly new and different twist, the diocese recently placed several priests on administrative leave for issues not directly related to sexual abuse of minors.
A local news source reports:
“According to the diocese, ‘unsuitable, inappropriate and insensitive conversations’ took place during a social gathering of seminarians and priests on April 11 that some seminarians found to be offensive.”
Five priests and 14 seminarians were present at this pizza party at a local rectory. Three priests were placed on administrative leave. The other two priests were reprimanded for not doing enough to stop the inappropriate conversation.
Of the 14 seminarians present, five have been interviewed as of this writing. They tell a mutually consistent story of (very) crude conversation that most Catholics would regard as (really) inappropriate for clergy.
To say that the diocese has “trust issues” would be an understatement. Many local Catholics don’t trust anything that comes out of the chancery or Christ the King Seminary. This cloud of suspicion is a basic fact of our current Catholic culture, and it affects how people respond.
When the pizza-party story broke, I saw people defending one of the priests on Facebook. They were sure Bishop Malone was trying to get rid of this priest, whom they regarded as good and orthodox. Eventually, more evidence came out confirming the seminarians’ story that the priest in fact made the inappropriate comments. But the original reaction shows how little trust people have in the Catholic establishment in Buffalo.
I also saw people connecting the dots between priests’ sexually explicit talk in the presence of seminarians, a priest having a “romantic interest” in a seminarian and clergy sexual abuse of minors. In the public mind, tolerance of one issue leads to tolerance of the other issues and to an environment of clergy covering for each other.
Do we, as members of the general public, have all the facts? No, of course not.
In the nature of things, we cannot have all the facts about a private gathering. This is obviously not the healthiest environment for getting to the truth of important matters. But the diocese has only itself to blame. Its pattern of nontransparency induces people to project the worst possible interpretation onto uncertain situations.
This a noteworthy change in Catholic culture. Once upon a time in post-World War II America, Catholics revered their priests. Bing Crosby’s Father Charles O’Malley would never harm anyone or tell a lie. Catholics and non-Catholics alike trusted Bishop Fulton Sheen. Even in the post-Vatican II theological free-for-all, dissenting and faithful Catholics alike would have been uneasy with the assumption that a bishop was lying to them.
Those days are long gone. Questioning clergy and their motives is no longer a marker for disrespect, dissent or anti-Catholicism. We are light-years away even from the scandals of 2002. Back then, some of the best investigative reporting was done by news outlets that also pushed for heterodox changes in Church teaching. Back then, people who loved the Church’s magisterium tried to minimize the scandals. But now, in the post-McCarrick era, Catholic laity across the theological board believe it is socially acceptable, and even praiseworthy, to blow the whistle.
Bishop Malone’s personal secretary, Siobhan O’Connor, was fond of him. Yet she was the person who released incriminating documents. Why? She listened to the victims. She was never the same afterward. She concluded that standing with the victims was serving Christ and his bride, the Church.
A local news reporter, Charlie Specht, has conducted extensive, relentless investigations of the diocese. (Type his name into the search bar of WKBW News along with “clergy sex abuse” and you’ll see what I mean.) Unlike the crew of lapsed Catholics and atheists at TheBoston Globe who revealed Cardinal Bernard Law’s malfeasance, Specht is a devout practicing Catholic. He loves and respects the Church. He wants her to be what she ought to be.
One more, unambiguously good sign: The seminarians did not cower. They spoke out. They may get kicked around by their formators. We don’t really know what is going on internally. But these men knew that they would have support from the Catholic community and the general public.
I don’t know if the Pope or the U.S. bishops are going to come up with changes to canon law or new policies and procedures. Personally, I think the old policy was good. Obey the Ten Commandments, especially Nos. 6 (Do not commit adultery) and 8 (Do not bear false witness.) As Buffalo whistleblower O’Connor said, “There’s nothing wrong with the code of conduct. It needs to be enforced.”
Catholic culture is changing. Clergy, priests and bishops, you’re on notice: We are watching. We aren’t leaving the Church. Neither are we staying and going back to “business as usual.” Deal with it, gentlemen. This is the new reality of Catholic culture.
And ordinary practicing Catholics, take heart. Your vigilance is making a difference.
In a recent column, I introduced the concept of weaponized self-pity. I noted how often I’ve seen divorced parents become defensive when I talk about the impact of divorce on children.
Numerous times, my friend Leila Miller and I have assured people that, yes, of course, spouses have every right to remove themselves from a genuinely abusive environment — although these assurances often go nowhere with some of those divorced parents to whom we speak.
In a similar way, I was about to respond yet again to someone claiming that the “Catholic right” seeks to “purge” all “gay priests” from the priesthood. Then I caught myself doing for priests who identify as “gay” what Leila was doing for divorce: repeating myself.
“Pathetic.” That’s how Ruth Institute President Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. characterized the response from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to the Institute’s petition calling on Cardinal Roger Mahony to withdraw as a speaker at the L.A. Religious Education Congress (March 22-24).
“The Cardinal has become a symbol of the mishandling of sex abuse complaints,” said Morse. “For him to address a Catholic education conference at this time is wildly in appropriate.”
Morse notes that, as head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, “Cardinal Mahony had a terrible record of covering up sex abuse, to such an extent that the Archdiocese was forced to pay $660 million in damages – the largest such settlement in the Church’s history.”
In response to a request from Americamagazine, Carolina G. Guevara, archdiocesan communications director, stated that Mahony “apologized for mistakes of the past” and “met personally with victims and established a Victims Assistance Office to ensure that they would receive the support to help them through the healing process.”
Said Morse, “To call the horror of clerical sex abuse, and the Cardinal’s role in covering it up, ‘mistakes of the past’ is an understatement of epic proportions.”
“It’s good that Cardinal Mahony met with some victims of crimes he may have helped to cover up,” Morse observed. “But, if he’d acted responsibly when he was in a position of authority, there wouldn’t be as many victims in need of healing. Guevara’s statement is a weak rationalization for inexcusable conduct that diminishes the suffering of victims. Imagine how they will feel when he speaks at a conference where he will, in part, interact with youth.”
Morse added: “For the sake of victims, and the pain that never goes away, the Cardinal should do the decent thing and withdraw from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.”
The Ruth Institute is a global non-profit, non-denominational organization dedicated to fighting the Sexual Revolution and helping survivors to heal. It defends the family at home and in the public square and equips others to do the same.
Originally published at The National Catholic Register, February 11, 2019.
Is a “purge of gay priests” imminent? Does the “Catholic right” seek such a purge?
To hear self-described “gay Catholic writer” Andrew Sullivan in his recent article “The Gay Church,” you would think the answer to both questions is assuredly a fiery “Yes!” But as an out-and-proud member of what Sullivan would characterize as the “Catholic Right,” I say the answer is “No.”
Sullivan opens his article with this factually correct sentence. “We have no reliable figures on just how many priests in the Catholic Church are gay.” However, his essay goes downhill from there. Sullivan continues: “The Vatican has conducted many studies on its own clergy but never on this subject. In the United States, however, where there are 37,000 priests, no independent study has found fewer than 15 percent to be gay, and some have found as many as 60 percent. The consensus in my own research over the past few months converged on around 30 to 40 percent among parish priests and considerably more than that — as many as 60 percent or higher — among religious orders like the Franciscans or the Jesuits.”
When the Ruth Institute released its Clergy Sex Abuse Report by Fr. Paul Sullins in November, a number of journalists picked it up immediately. Among them, was Doug Mainwaring of LifeSiteNews. Doug’s article has been shared over 8,000 times. Here are some key points from that article:
“Although over 8 in 10 of victims have been boys, the idea that the abuse is related to homosexual men in the priesthood has not been widely accepted by Church leaders,” wrote Father Paul Sullins, a retired Catholic University of America (CUA) sociology professor, in a new report for the Ruth Institute. “The data show that more homosexual men in the priesthood was correlated with more overall abuse and more boys abused compared to girls.”
The priest said in a recent press conference that this “question comes up logically because the vast majority of [priestly sex abuse] victims were boys. Usually in sex abuse of minors, two-thirds of victims are girls.”
The report compares “previously unexamined measures of the share of homosexual Catholic priests and the incidence and victim gender of minor sex abuse by Catholic priests from 1950 to 2001 to see if these matters are related.”
I have a New Year’s resolution for you to consider. My suggested resolution is doable. It will make a difference in the quality of your life. It will allow you to make a difference in the world around you, including the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and in the politics of your community.
Give up defeatism.
You know the sort of thing I mean. “Western Civilization is collapsing. The Church is collapsing. Everyone is corrupt. I can’t trust anyone.” Even worse, the defeatist thought pattern leads to the defeatist behavior pattern: “Nothing can be done. So, I will do nothing.”
Sorry. No go. None of us has the right to excuse ourselves from constructive action.
Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying everything is hunky dory. Far from it. We are in the midst of a civilizational shift. The old structures and rules are not working as they once did. We are living in a time of deliberately created confusion, pathological selfishness and the calculated creation of divisions. The world is shaking itself apart. When the shaking stops, we will be in a different world.