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?