To Pope Francis on Sex Abuse, Celibacy and Priestly Formation, Change is Needed Now
To Pope Francis on Sex Abuse, Celibacy and Priestly Formation, Change is Needed Now
In the spirit of your words in your, Letter to the People of God,
“that call all of us to participate in the change and healing needed to overcome the ongoing tragedy of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic Clergy.”
And your call to:
“Look[ing] ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”
As Catholics, and many of us products of Catholic education, we are offering thoughts and suggestions concerning the upcoming Vatican “meeting on the protection of minors in the Church.”
While we generally agree with the apparent course of discussion planned for this upcoming meeting, we believe that much more needs to be done than simple changes in formation requirements and administrative changes in reporting. While, as an example, the administrative and basic formation changes undertaken by the US Counsel of Catholic Bishops are an excellent start, more affirmative structural changes in the priesthood need to be undertaken.
This crisis, as you know has been devastating to all who are Catholics, not just the clergy, the hierarchy, the Holy See, or most importantly of all, the victims themselves. This devastating period in the Church’s history calls for drastic actions and reevaluations. As you said in your Letter to the People of God, looking back:
“to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).”
The one thing that many of the faithful do not understand in any way, is where was the hierarchy’s moral compass? What could possibly allow supposedly good and moral men to make such grievously bad decisions? What is missing in your character, as a group?
We believe that regular parishioners, hearing that a priest had molested a child, were met with feelings of immediate revulsion, anger and sadness. Where were these feelings in the hierarchy? We are focusing particularly on the apparent lack of a sense of revulsion, nausea and horror. They were absent. This was just an HR, PR problem, that has been seen many times before!
Anyone who has children would have told you 2000 years ago, if not 50 years ago, those priests, bishops and higher, molesting children should have been immediately laicized. We would argue that immediate excommunication upon the act of sexual contact with anyone under the age of 18 should be placed in the Canon. The administration and tending to children, is as much a sacred act and trust as the sacrament of reconciliation, whose violation calls for immediate excommunication, Canon 1388. That would certainly be the view of most Catholics. If you did this, it would send the strongest of signals to both the clergy and the faithful. Later administrative actions, Canonical proceedings and moves for laicization could provide a level of fairness and Justice.
“But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith in me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone round his neck.”
What is missing in the formation process that would allow such sexual deviancy to become a “normal” problem? We would suggest that the sexual isolation of developing men in many instances can foster a skewed perception, when frustrating normal human urges for affection. What percentage of priests are 100% continent from all sexually related conduct, 100% of the time? You know the answer to this question, from studies, probably less than 50% at any one time and much, much lower over a lifetime. Look at the research of former Monk & Priest A.W.Richard Sipe, who treated about 1000 priests over 30 years. In his and other reports, significant sexual activity of both those in seminary and ordained are documented. Why make men live a life where they are hypocrites in this one regard? Does making men sinners, make them better men, closer to Christ? As former priest Sipe notes in a court report:
“The widespread lack of celibate practice is relevant to the central issue of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, because a community that publicly proclaims the sexual safety of its members at the same time that it tolerates sexual activity restricts the ability of bishops, vicars, pastors and priests to properly supervise, discipline, and explore the criminal activities of priests who abuse children. Exposure of one part of the system——abusive priests——threatens to expose a whole system that supports a lack of celibate conformity within the priesthood.”
Most Catholics would like a well-developed married man as a priest as opposed to an isolated, frustrated, confused priest. Is there room for unmarried celibate priests? Absolutely! But on their own terms, as they see it, as their own consciences tell them. Some Catholics may want unmarried priests, fine they can find a parish hosting one. Their fears may be allied by guidelines, such as requesting continence for priests during Lent and the week of Pentecost.
We have known priests, young and old, who believe the Canon of celibacy should be lifted. This is particularly reinforced in light of the allowance for married clergy of other faiths to become married Catholic Priests.
As you know, many, if not most of the early Church leaders were married. The desire by St Paul to seek out well respected married men with good families, showed a desire to recruit well rounded, fully developed men to serve. In 1Timothy 3:2-5,
“Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?”
And as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:5 :
“Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and brethren of the lord and Cephas?”
There were no dictates laid out in the New Testament about an unmarried clergy and continence. While there were suggestions, there were no orders, perhaps because Jesus and the founding Apostles knew human nature and the hardships and tragedies that would result.
In the earliest centuries, many if not most of the presbyters, priests and bishops were married. Popes were married, and 7 early popes were sons of priests.
In more recent times, the problems of enforced celibacy were evidenced in the Congregation of the Clergy’s estimate that 60,000 dispensations were granted between 1964 and 1991, in part to allow priests and clergy to marry. How may parishes could have been tended to, by those good, married priests? How many could have still been serving our Masses?
The Second Vatican Council declared that:
“perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom … is not required by the nature of the priesthood.” This is clear from the practice of the early Church and the tradition of the Eastern Churches.”
Additionally, listen to your own clergy. I point to the 2003 letter from 163 priests of the Milwaukee Dioceses, who asked to at least launch a discussion about celibacy in the context of priest shortages. After that, a number of priest organizations around the country supported the letter and its direction at allowing a married clergy. Of course, this discussion, if you could call it that, was quickly crushed.
We are at a turning point in the history of the Church, now is the time to take bold, sound action. Regain the trust of the faithful, that you have their, their children’s, and their children’s children’s best interests as a sacred trust, never to be violated again. Having a substantial portion of married priests would reassure many of the faithful that real change is being instituted, that the isolation of the priesthood is opening up, that people like themselves, with children, will be able to elevate the consciousness of other priests.
By bringing back a married priesthood, this would allow for recruitment of more fully developed, mature men. The ability to recruit for the priesthood would be greatly enhanced and allow for a later “recruiting cycle” after graduation from college. With more recruits you could have a more selective process. A more immediate result may be the allowance of many former priests who have married, to return to the priesthood. This alone may help with the current shortage of priests. As an aside, while most Catholics (in the United States) appreciate the sacrifices of the many foreign priests we see in our churches in the US, they, for the most part, would like to see priests from their own communities. If we cannot sustain our own numbers, what does that tell us? We see the closings of parishes in many areas. I see the jubilation expressed at the numbers in our formation process, however we both know they are well below what is needed for fully staffed churches. In some diocese there are about ½ the priests of 30 – 40 years ago.
We know more and more disillusioned Catholics who are falling away, in large part due to the hypocrisy of the Church over the past 30 years; of this constant, unrelenting, ever increasing, maelstrom of charges that have seemingly endless numbers of priests, bishops, archbishops and now cardinals directly implicated in sexual abuse. Looking at the Buffalo Diocese alone, the numbers and percentages are shocking, Boston 250, the Pennsylvania report with 300 priests, the Illinois report 185 to 690! Every diocese is involved, in many locations almost every parish has hosted a predator. And this abuse appears to be going on around the whole world! No Catholic has been untouched! Every continent, except Antarctica, has huge problems. This isn’t just an American issue, it’s the entirety of the Church!
Think of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of victims of similar abuse over the past centuries! Who cannot weep at the thought? Thru all this, until recently, the responses from the Church have been un-Christian and for the most part unapologetic. The hierarchy have acted like criminals, only confessing what the police already knew. And now you may throw open the doors and publish most-everything because of inevitable search warrants and hard investigations by Attorney Generals, US Attorneys, Federal Grand Juries and the threat of being labeled a Criminal Organization with prosecution under RICO statutes, not to mention possible personal prosecutions.
The Didache 2 : 4-5
“Thou shalt not be double-minded nor double-tongued, for to be double-tongued is the snare of death.”
“Thy speech shall not be false nor vain, but completed in action.”
Unfortunately, in many people’s eyes you are criminals, and you have only thrown gasoline on the Church and faithful to immolate us all! All of the Catholic haters out there feel vindicated. Unfortunately, all the hate speech about the Pope and hierarchy being evil and workers of the devil, appear to have some foundation to a growing number of people.
Many of those Catholics falling away still have faith in Jesus Christ and God the Father, but not the hierarchy of the Church. As an organization, the Church, thru it’s past actions, has shown that you do not deserve trust. Trust has to be earned by moral concrete actions, not words. While the USCCB has taken administrative actions and reforms, they are not enough. Hope is great, but concrete actions aimed at the heart of the problem, and further follow-through, are what counts.
Now is the time for hard to make but necessary concrete actions that would earn back trust.
Change the Canon to make sexual contact with anyone under 18 an immediate excommunicable event, as in Canon 1388.
Bring back married priesthood to the general clergy, without restrictions, allowing those already ordained to marry.
Unlike in the Orthodox Churches, allow for married men in elevated positions, as in the early church; as we believe any married man with children would never, I repeat, NEVER allowed a child molester to remain an ordained Priest. Married people with children are exactly the ones who should be making these decisions, along with consultations of men and women of the laity, religious sisters and experts.
This scourge has been self-inflicted by the Church, from the third century when they deviated from the earliest church practices and added unhelpful obstacles, in an effort to prove their appearance of “holiness and piety” by following some of the more ascetic saints of the early centuries. This resulted in millennia of problems in trying to enforce, first the rules on continence and then celibacy, and then edicts against marriage. The cost in human carnage: broken priests, broken marriages, broken women, broken children, broken souls, broken faithful, and broken Church, have not been worth the well-intentioned but misguided efforts. It reminds oneof the old proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The long litany of problems is documented throughout Church history.
This problem, sown 1700 years ago and refortified in the Second Lateran Council, has turned into a cancer that has metastasized throughout the whole of the Church and will bring it down to a shadow of its former self. Like the cancer patient with advanced disease, the cancer must be cut out, this is followed by chemotherapy which, while being a curative, is rejected sometimes violently by the whole of the body. Only then can the body regain it’s strength and thrive.
These actions, as described above, would meet your requirements to transform the culture within the Church. We acknowledge the administrative & financial hardships ahead, but they are worth the results of a rejuvenated Church, more focused on Christ’s message, with more priests in our churches, The People of God in great support, and more parishioners in the pews.
With the upcoming Vatican meeting on February 21-24,
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