Thursday, October 14, 2010

Separation of church and sex still elusive

It would not be Christian to hold Jesus responsible for organizing the church we read about in headlines. Catholics are not alone in believing that the church was founded by Jesus, even though he cautioned that "by their fruits you shall know them.” [Matthew 7:16] Jesus should not be known by those apples. The church Jesus founded is not the one that owns a bank, but the one that sent agents out with “no purse, no wallet, no shoes.” [Luke 10:4]

Actual churches are run by humans who want to honor God and receive God’s blessings. They keep love circulating. They feed people who have all kinds of hungers, they care for the sick and frail, they encourage worship of and they educate the young.

Personal failures by the devout, especially clergy, are more shocking, if not as entertaining, as the moral collapse of athletes or public officials. In the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, members of three lay groups called attention to these figures: Some 256 of approximately 400 parishes in that archdiocese have, at some time, been served by an accused pedophile priest. The groups were Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), African American Advocates of Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse, and Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

All of nature, especially human nature, is slow to change. It is unreasonable to assume that pedophile clergy appeared for the first time around 1940. Before that there were no television shows, no computers, no Internet, no cell phones. The biggest threat to law and decorum in the schools was chewing gum and spitballs catapulted from rubber bands. It was an era of understatement.

Victims of priestly predators tended not to be believed if they talked about it. Church authorities celebrated privacy, and sexually promiscuous clerics did not turn each other in. Newspapers had little to say about—you know—the S word. The editor of one daily I worked for told police reporters not to write about the arrest of priests for what was called crimes against nature.

It did not start in 1940. These activities have very likely been constant during all of the Christian centuries and, as scripture indicates, during pre-Christian times as well.

Having been hired by the late Cardinal John Cody to ghost-write his autobiography, I recall that one of his last efforts before his death was to prevent disclosure of a scandal that crossed state lines. He spoke freely to me for hundreds of hours about the most sensitive issues, but he did not want to talk about that one. I wrote quite a different kind of book about his successor, called The Spirit of Cardinal Bernardin, a survey of Joseph Bernardin’s thinking on religion and public life. In common with all of the bishops I worked with at the time, Cardinal Bernardin understood himself to be a pastor and brother to his priests.

Some wonder how cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity reconcile repeated scandalous actions with their belief that defying God’s commands brings eternal punishment in hell. Why does a cardinal engage in sex with a man on a Sunday afternoon after preaching what his church teaches about sex and celibacy. How can he risk eternal punishment over and over? What does this say about his belief?


Anonymous said...

It would be very interesting to read a study about how much the individuals of a religious group believe in the tenets of that group.

Ignorance is sure to come into play: you can't agree or disagree with something if you don't even know what it is. Consider transubstantiation or infallibility for "common" Catholics.

But our desire to belong and exclude keeps us attached to labels that describe the groups people belong to: Democrat, priest, Catholic, jock, husband, friend, father, patriot, nerd, straight, old, beautiful, hard-worker. How well we fit our labels is a classic topic of gossip, where perceived failings of others are relished.

Surely, we all carry labels that don't fully reflect our beliefs, ideals, and actions. But yes, when the those who tout their labels publicly fail, it can be entertaining. Irony can be wicked.

Robert E. Simanski said...

The fact that the Catholic Church has historically, and reflexively, attempted to cover up its pedophilia scandals comes as no surprise to me. The same problem has existed for years with alcoholic priests.

Perhaps things have changed for the better, but for many years, the standard practice had been to reassign alcoholic priests to a small parish in the boondocks, in the mistaken belief that reducing the pressure on the priest would enable them to conquer their alcoholism. This practice may even have had the opposite effect because it removed the priest from the support systems, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, that might have helped him.

The institutional Church seems to be in a constant state of denial. But then, the institutional Church has been out of touch with the real world, and the problems that Catholics in that real world face, for years.

So often, it lacks the courage to face reality. Perhaps the worst example of this was the failure of the Catholic Church to speak out against the extermination of the Jews by Hitler in World War II. The Church had the moral power to make a difference, but it failed to use that power.