Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Sexual Abuse in the Church

We have all watched with horror the sex abuse happening in the Roman Catholic Church. The reality is, however, that none of us are immune to the risks of wayward clerics. The crucial part is how we deal with the issue. Autocephalous Catholics must have policies in place to deal with clergy who have had some type of sexual, physical, or other aggression towards others--especially children. It remains an issue at the forefront of our ministries, because we do get people from other traditions who have not matched the requirements of other entities. This can be for a whole host of reasons, but it does give us heightened cause to protect our ministries and the People of God.

The reality is that the Church is a hospital for sinners, and it will always attract people with problems. We cannot control who comes to us. All we can do is further protect children and vulnerable people so that they are not abused. This means putting policies in place that ensure people who have been accused or have the proclivity to abuse are not placed in ministerial positions. It also means (and this is going to be unpopular) ministering to abusers (while establishing boundaries) so that they are not cut off from the Christian community entirely. If we minister to all people we have to prepare ourselves to minister to people whose sins and condition we find morally repugnant. This is true of all clergy and all conditions.

There is a lot of conjecture currently about why priests abuse. Numerous psychological treatises have indicated that it is linked to a power dynamic in some cases. This seems natural because we instinctively look up to the clergy. They are presented as "worthy" figures whose voice has merit and gravitas. In the Roman Catholic cases, there is also the issue of improper formation. Human sexuality has not been viewed as something that is a natural part of an individual, but is often viewed as bad. When clergy are told that their vocation is the highest form of sacrifice at tender ages in minor seminary, a complex can be easily developed. These are not inclusive of why people abuse, they are just some of the factors. 

What I do not believe has any bearing on abuse is human sexuality. Controversial clerics in the Roman tradition, and in the Orthodox one, have attributed abuse to homosexuality. This serves a dual purpose. 1) it allows the externalization of blame--if only "those people" could be rooted out of the priesthood. 2) it gives people with an axe to grind against society another reason to wax philosophical about the decline of society and our moral status. Empirical studies have indicated that the vast majority of abusers are heterosexual. Simply preventing homosexuals from the priesthood is not going to solve the issue, because it is not an exclusively homosexual issue (although there were homosexual priests who abused just like there were heterosexual ones).

I also don't think that the various culture warriors are going to solve the problem. There are shouts from the right that the abuse is the result of Vatican II. However, the abuse happened by priests who were trained prior to Vatican II. Abuse has happened throughout the history of the whole Christian Church--not just in one epoch. Similarly, there are shouts to ordain women because it will be the salve that settles all problems. Including this is not a discussion of women's ordination--it's an acknowledgement that no one issue can solve the problem.

Abuse will continue to happen. Prohibiting something does not stop it. If that was true there would no longer be prostitution, abortions, etc. Even after training courses and safeguarding courses, abuse still occurs. The thing that we can do is learn from our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. We are not looking to mimic them (as covered in the last post) but we are going to learn from their experiences. And we can put policies in place the prevent people who have the proclivity to abuse or who have abused into positions of ministry.

There is nothing to stop Fr X, who has been accused of abuse, from starting his own "Independent Catholic" chapel and going at it on his own. Any more than there is a priest who committed gross theft from doing the same. But we, as communities and jurisdictions, can do due diligence about researching people's backgrounds as well as implementing protections as much as possible.

Pray for the Church. All branches and parts of it. The bad decisions of bishops and leadership, even in one part of the Body of Christ, impact all of it. You can be rightfully angry at the people guiding the Church, but don't let it cut you off from the Most Holy Eucharist. Clergy are people and, as such, are sinners. But just as hopefully having one bad doctor does not dissuade you from medical care, do not let it be so for your spiritual care either. 

"When Napoleon told Cardinal Ercole Consalvi he had the power the destroy the church, the Cardinal responded: ‘If in 1,800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church, do you really think that you'll be able to do it?’”

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