The logic of holding priests to a higher standard

I came across this rather insightful comment by someone named Matt Emerson on a dotCommonweal blog post that I thought was worth sharing here:
The Catholic Church cannot be compared to every other organization that deals with children. No other organization claims that its primary employees act “in the person of Christ.” No other organization, or institution, claims that the truth of all reality (i.e., Christ) “subsists” in that organization or institution. Indeed, as addressed elsewhere, Lumen Gentium states that he who hears the Bishop, hears Christ. What other institution makes such extraordinary claims about its capacity to speak about faith and morals?

The reason why the Church gets special heat for their sins is that it sets itself up for a higher fall. The Pope cannot claim to be the “Vicar of Christ,” and the Church cannot claim that Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and the Church cannot claim infallibility in its ex cathedra proclamation about faith and morals, and then expect, when the abuse of children occurs under the Church’s watch, to be treated like a local public school district or the Boy Scouts. People look at the behavior of the Church, compare it to its claims of authority, and think the latter are demonstrably false and hypocritical.

The problem, in other words, is not that the Church is especially evil, it’s that it’s essentially the same as everyone else. And if the Church is so wrong on how to treat pedophile priests, why isn’t the Church equally misguided in other decisions about what is “healthy” for the human person? We can make distinctions all we want about the “office” of the Bishop or the “office” of the Holy Father or about “ex cathedra” versus something lesser; and we can blog to the end of time about how the Church, too, is comprised of sinful individuals. But, pastorally, does anyone think those distinctions matter? Is that what the Church has to do to maintain credibility? How many hairs can the Church continue to split?

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"Rotten from the top down"

In 1992 an American prelate who had just returned from Rome sat in my office and said bluntly, “The organization to which I belong is rotten from the top down.” He also related a 45-minute visit he had with an American cardinal who was in a long-term intimate relationship with a woman. The cardinal spent 22 minutes (he timed it) bemoaning the fact of the large number of sexually active homosexual priests in his archdiocese. No one has described the clerical structure and current state of affairs better or more clearly than Fr. Brian D’Arcy: “A combination of bad theology, the dysfunctional abuse of power and a warped view of sexuality, have contributed to what the Murphy Report repeatedly refers to as “the systemic failure” to protect the most innocent and the most vulnerable children. I believe that the evil clerical culture which pervades our institution right up to the Vatican bureaucracy itself needs to be dismantled…Part of the human structure of the church is rotten to the core.”
This is from an article by Richard Sipe, whose research and insight into the sexual attitudes and behaviour of Catholic priests are without parallel. The piece is called "The Vatican Connection: Pedophilia and Celibacy." It was apparently posted almost two weeks ago, but it was new to me.

Sipe has effectively refuted the Vatican's insistent claim that mandatory clerical celibacy has anything to do with the pedophilia problem. He describes very clearly and persuasively the system of corruption, which reaches up through the whole hierarchy to the highest levels of the Vatican. It's a must read.

So too is the article by Brian D'Arcy quoted by Sipe, which you can read here.

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Try to read this without rolling your eyes...

"Women can be Christ-like as well as any man, but we wouldn't choose a woman to play the role of Hamlet, right?"
This quotation comes from Janet Smith, the "chair of life ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit," in her defense of an all-male priesthood, given in an interview with Christiane Amanpour.

People desperate to defend the indefensible say the darndest things.


Clerical Celibacy and Sexual Abuse

I've been reading quite a bit lately about the sexual abuse scandals in the Church, and I find it interesting how many people, including none other than Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, have raised questions about the role that celibacy has played in the abuse.1

I don't know what connection, if any, might exist between celibacy and sexual misconduct by clergymen. My hunch is that a lot of the men who prey on minors probably had some serious psychosexual issues long before they became a priests. For such men, celibacy is undoubtedly one of the major selling-points of the priesthood.

So how would changing the rule mitigate the abuse? The best we can hope for is that celibacy will be made optional -- but wouldn't the kind of men who are attracted to the priesthood precisely because of their unhealthy attitudes toward sex not avail themselves of this option? Why wouldn't they?

One might argue that opening the door to married priests would result in a greater number of candidates for the priesthood, and so bishops could be a bit choosier and weed out the ones with the serious issues. This sounds somewhat plausible, but I wonder if there would really be enough new (married) priests to make a serious enough dent in the priest shortage. I could be wrong, but I don't think the bar would be raised very much. It would make a modest difference at best.

One might take the long view, and argue that married priests would eventually help bring the official church teachings about sexuality out of the dark ages. That's a nice thought, but I'm not holding my breath. We may see married priests in our lifetimes, but we won't see married bishops -- the Vatican, in all likelihood, would follow the Orthodox tradition of appointing only celibates to the episcopacy. We won't see married men in high positions of authority, so we shouldn't expect to see changes to official teachings just because the celibacy rule is relaxed.

More later...


[1] "Cardinal Schönborn says celibacy partly to blame for clerical sex abuse," The Times, March 12, 2010.

A spokesman for Schönborn, as mentioned in this article, "issued a clarification later claiming that the cardinal was not 'in any way seeking to question the Catholic Church’s celibacy rule.'" This doesn't appear to mesh all that well with what the Cardinal wrote, however. He explicitly mentioned "the question of priest celibacy." But what question is there, apart from whether there should be a celibacy rule?

Indeed, the article then claims that "Sources in Rome said he had been obliged to issue his 'clarification' under pressure from the Holy See."


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