For Those With Ears to Hear

I want to offer another perspective on the escalating scandal within the Catholic Church, and to alert readers to a good recent essay on these sordid topics.[1] In “The Pattern of Priestly Sex Abuse,” Harriet Fraad offers some important data many of us didn’t know.

Figures from the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, for example, estimate that since 1950, about 280,000 children have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy and deacons. With the shame and denial that accompany sexual abuse, the real number must be much higher.

Worse, this is not just a recent phenomenon. Father Thomas Doyle, a priest, and Richard Sipes and Patrick Wall, former monks, have written that the Catholic Church has recognized the problem of abuse by priests for 2,000 years. Their book, “Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse” (Volt Press, 2006) was based on the church’s own documents.

And far from being the case of a few bad apples, Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin have reported that even eight years ago, two-thirds of sitting US bishops have been accused of moving pedophile priests to new assignments.[2] It is not the apples that are bad; it’s the barrel.

Under authoritarian rule – whether political or religious – the high ideals preached by leaders have no necessary connection to their behavior. That is the disconnect, the lack of integrity, between a church preaching Jesus while practicing sexual abuse of “the least among us” – then covering it up by moving pedophiles to fresh flocks.

It’s worth recalling a couple of teachings from this man Jesus, who hangs on the front wall of every Catholic church.

He measured the quality of our belief by whatever we do to “the least of these,” and said what we do to them, we do also to him. He said those who mislead children would be better off with a millstone around their neck, thrown into the sea. And he thought these were among the bedrocks of decency that should be obvious to all “with eyes to see and ears to hear.” This is part of the background against which any individual or church calling itself Christian must be judged.

Authoritarian leaders and institutions can blind us to the abuse of children, women, other races, sexual orientations or beliefs. They are always prone to making God their hand puppet, so He believes the same as they do. Far too often, they have turned children into mere playthings, used for the selfish desires of the priests and deacons – or left unprotected from the abuse of others.

The Catholic Church has been a great and important institution for many centuries, and much of what it has done is very good. But beneath the surface, the church’s unwillingness to integrate all the children of God into their priesthood – including women, married couples and gays. They remain trapped in a one-sexed institution, often attracting men who like to be around other men, and some whose natural perversion or moral blindness have led them to see children as appropriate sexual objects.

The consistent abuse of children by priests is not a peripheral facet of the Catholic Church; it is the logical consequence of an entrenched male hierarchy’s inbred sense of its own privilege. Of course, such behavior is the antithesis of the ideals Jesus taught. But that is another way of saying that the Catholic Church can too easily become the mortal enemy of those high ideals that are the church’s only justification for existing.

The worldwide outcry from people representing the entire religious spectrum is saying Enough! Enough of these men pretending they have the moral authority to preach on matters of sex, about which they remain so willfully ignorant. Enough pretending that their habitual abuse, secrecy and cover-ups should be tolerated by anyone – especially the victimized children and their families, and the societies that make them tax-free because they have been seen as a healthy and stabilizing part of the larger world around them. Enough of priestly myopia that lacks the eyes to see even the most heart-breaking of their transgressions.

For twenty centuries, according to the church’s own records, a dangerous and frightening number of its priests and popes have been unable to see these abuses as evil. The current outrage – which must also have roots 2,000 years deep – comes not only from Catholics, but also from millions of others, whether they care for religion or not. People the world over are trying to say that there is something fundamentally and intolerably wrong with the church and its popes, when these moral commandments are screaming so loudly that even 200 deaf boys could hear them.

[1] “Priests and Pedophilia: What Authoritarian Religion, Families & Schools Have Wrought” (posted in Tikkun and Alternet, 30 March 2010). Or see https://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/03/30/priests-pedophilia-what-authoritarian-religion-families-schools-have-wrought/)

[2] Front page above the fold, The Dallas Morning News, June 12, 2002.