My comments on the abuse crisis of the RC Church
by Bernard Brandt
There has been a lot of talk about sexual abuse of the young among Roman Catholic (or RC) clergy. While I am a Russian Catholic, I am still in union with the RC Church, and so this affects me as well. I therefore have both a right and a duty, under both canon and American civil law, to talk about it.
Briefly, the nature of the crisis is this: the rate of sexual abuse, according to the Jay Report and other confirming studies, is 5% of the total number of RC clergy in Europe and North America. 80% of that is male-on-male, and the overwhelming majority of that abuse is of post-pubescent boys. By way of contrast, the rate of child abuse by adult males in the U.S. population is 1/20th of one percent, and 80% of that abuse is male-on-female, with only 20% involving male-on-male abuse.
In short, there are strong indicia that the cohort of child abusers among RC clergy are a part of a much larger cohort of actively gay males in the clergy. These indicia are borne out by the studies done over the last thirty years by the late A.W.S. Sipe, which indicate that as many as 50% of that clergy are both gay and non-celibate, in violation of their vows of chastity.
Regardless of the actual number or percentage of RC clergy who are actively gay, it appears obvious, from the Jay Report and the several state grand jury reports, that there has been a pattern and practice of RC gay or gay-sympathizing hierarchs to protect the abusers and the unchaste, at the expense of the lay faithful. Those faithful are now beginning to vote, either with their pocketbooks, in denying the clergy their tithes, or with their feet, by leaving the Church.
These actions by the lay faithful, while perhaps necessary, are by no means sufficient to correct the situation. In addition, they weaken the Church on earth, by further dividing people. A better solution would be to identify those clergy who are in violation of their vows, and to give them the choice of reform or retirement. Both the civil authorities, and rich Catholic laity, are in the process of conducting their own investigations.
But while a house cleaning of the Church is necessary, it is by no means sufficient. Our Lord has told us that if there is a house that was once possessed and has been cleaned, but remains empty, that many more demons will return to it, and the state of that house will be worse than it was to begin with. This is not only true of the house of our souls, but of the House of God as well.
The more fundamental cause of this crisis is a failure of faith. No one who actually believed the Gospels could possibly act as these clergy have. But ultimately, as we know that faith comes from hearing the word of God, that the ultimate failure was the failure to teach, or to hear, the word of God. And I must note that this failure to teach and to learn the faith was and is not limited to the clergy. Each and every one of us, as lay faithful, have failed in our duty to learn the faith, and to teach it to others.
Additionally, I think it is fair to say that what we are experiencing is the demonic possession of the Church itself. Hirelings who have shown themselves to be both sons of Eli and sons of Belial have entered the sheepfold, and have become our alleged shepherds. It is necessary that these false shepherds be cast out. But it is also necessary to find shepherds who will feed their sheep, instead of fleecing, starving, and abusing them.
But this is truly a dumb spirit, both in the sense of being silent, and also in the sense of being stupid. And we have been taught by our Lord that this type of spirit can only be cast out by prayer and fasting. So it must be for us, and for our Church, if we wish to cast out these demons which infest and infect Her.
So, let’s start with prayer. Our Lord has taught us, in Matthew 6, several things about how we are to pray: First, do it alone, and don’t talk about it to others. Second, KISS, or ‘keep it simple, sweetheart’. God already knows what you need. Third, it has long been a tradition that we pray for others, as well ourselves. Fourth, it has also been a tradition to set aside regular times for private prayer, and to use a set rule. Some use the Rosary. Others use the Office. Yet others use the Trisagion prayers. Of course, it has long been a tradition that we also pray together, either during the Divine Liturgy, or the hours. It’s worth considering, anyway.
Let’s move on to fasting. Again, in Matthew 6, Our Lord taught us not to make a show about it. Do it cheerfully. It has also been an apostolic tradition, first found in the Didache, that we fast on Wednesdays and Fridays, to commemorate our Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion. It has also been a tradition that when we fast, we both cut down on the amount of food, and the types of food. Think vegan, and you’ve got the general idea. Don’t think so much as ‘giving up’ something, as putting it aside. And consider that in addition to fasting from food, you can also fast from certain actions and passions.
And, as long as we’ve been talking about Matthew 6, why don’t we move on to the part where our Lord talks about almsgiving. Other than our Lord’s usual thing about keeping quiet about it, you might want to consider the apostolic tradition of not just throwing money at the problem, but also, that set of acts and practices that have come down to us as the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Try looking them up, and maybe even practicing them.
Finally, there has been an additional practice, which, while it is neither Dominical nor Apostolic, has long been a tradition of our Church: study. Study the Word of God, which, for Catholics, has been the following three things: Sacred Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church. Start reading the New Testament, and the Old. When you read the Old Testament, follow the ancient custom of our Church, and read not only the Hebrew Canon, but the Greek Canon (which includes the so-called Apocrypha) as well. Holy Tradition can be found in the writings of the Church Fathers, and in the Lives of the Saints. And the Magisterium, for Roman Catholics, consists of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the later Papal Councils (up to and including Vatican II), and the teachings of the Popes, which can be found in their writings.
And finally, if you are ambitious, why not try replicating in your studies the recommendations of the Second Vatican Council, in Optatam Totius, where they recommend the study of Latin, and the study of the languages of Scripture and Tradition, or Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Why not gain the humanistic, scientific, and philosophical patrimony of the Church, which makes an understanding of the Word of God possible? And why not use that combined knowledge to better inform and direct further studies in theology?
I dare say, that if the clergy had been faithful to the teachings of Optatam Totius to begin with, and reformed the education of priests accordingly, we wouldn’t be in the present mess. But, as the wag once said, the first step in getting one’s self out of a hole, is to stop digging. And then, just maybe, to look up instead of down. I think it’s worth a try.