Click & Learn
THE EXTRAORDINARY BURDEN ON THE CHURCH
A.W. Richard Sipe
20 January 2006

On January 12 The New York Times printed the following paragraph:

Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, director of communications for the bishops’ conference, said in an interview that removing the time limits on law suits “can put an extraordinary burden on the church. It opens up cases that are many years old, that the people on the scene today were not in any way responsible for, and could cause the dioceses to have put aside large amounts of money that they would normally put into the service of their own people.”

This is another example that some bishops just “do not get it.”

The mission of the church is to care for people, to protect them from harm. Certainly it is imperative to keep clergy from harming folks spiritually, psychologically, physically, and sexually. (To say nothing at this moment, about promoting justice)

But—harm—that is exactly what has happened to countless numbers of children and vulnerable adults at the hands of still-to-be-counted bishops and priests in the United States (and around the world, I might add). Abuse still happens and will continue to happen within the established structure of the church until the bishops Do Get It.

There is no statute of limitation on the pain, suffering, and harm done by sexual abuse from clergy. My wife, who is a psychiatrist, and I have treated several thousand people in the course of our professional practice. We, like so many other Catholics, know that people abused by their trusted clergyman are simply incapable of dealing with the wound soon or easily.

(Cf. Unspeakable Damage 10-1-2005)

Another spokesperson for the bishops’ conference, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, said on national TV, “99 & 44/100s percent of priests keep their celibacy.” She emphasized twice that she was convinced of that as fact. Could there be any clearer example of denial? And that speaking for the bishops! (Cf. Vatican Fights the Numbers 12-30-05) 

In spite of all the apologies, sweet, comforting words, and protestations about changes in the bishops’ attitudes, many actions shout: Business As Usual. Evidence is ample:

         There is still a broad based denial about the extent of the problem of sexual abuse by clergy and its genesis within the clerical system.

         There are pretences that the problems of clergy sexual abuse and celibate violations are past.

         Blaming the victim is still rampant. Now it masks itself as “they are taking funds from church services.”

         Blame for sexual violations are diverted from the real causes to “gays.” This is spurious and deceptive. Although clergy sexual violation of minors—both girls and boys—was known from the early days of the church, historical documents show that the bulk of clerical moral turpitude and celibate violations concerned actions with women, often in the confessional. (Cf. Sex, Priests & Secret Codes: the Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse)

         A completely heterosexual oriented priesthood has never existed in the Catholic Church and never will. The figment that this is possible or even healthy is part of the denial of the reality of the clerical structure that is essentially homosocial.

         The stance that only heterosexual priests can maintain celibacy also denies the fact of extensive celibate violations of priests around the world who have mistresses, wives and children. (And according to Pope Benedict XVI, July 2005, even abortions.) South America, Africa, and Italy seem to lead the way in tolerance for these customs.

         A review of current civil law cases against the church for its complicity and cover-up of clergy abuse, demonstrates clearly that the church is still denying access to the documentation that will really lead to a new level of accountability and transparency. Secrecy still rules.

         The bishops’ opposition to revamping the statute of limitations laws is but another example of where lie their real interests and understanding of their problems with celibacy and sexual violation—with money and pretence of the primacy of pastoral care.

         Every accommodation or change in the church’s response to the sexual/celibate problems that the American church faces has been forced from the outside. Pressure from victims, media, lawyers, courts, and general outrage from the public is the driving force behind any action that the bishops have so far instituted. There is still no evidence that there is any momentum from within the body of bishops to be proactive. (The exception is the testimony of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton before the Ohio legislature 1-11-06)

         The firm impression and image of Rome and the bishops’ response to the crisis of celibate violations is denial, delay, deceit, and defiance. Surely this is not a fair assessment of all bishops, but no episcopal voice has risen above the din of official pronouncements to correct whatever is false about the widespread public perception.

I have never advocated dropping the requirement of celibacy for ordination because I don’t think that alone will solve the sexual conundrums facing the church or reform the integrity of the clergy. (And the pope has said that it is a necessary condition for the integrity of the sacrament.) A married priesthood may come, but the challenges of sexual integrity will remain for lay people and clergy alike.

Every report and grand jury investigation on the crisis of sexual abuse of minors has placed the basic responsibility on the bishops for bringing about this epic crisis in the history of the church. Therefore we conclude:

         Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about “purifying” the church. Who among the bishops are leading reform?

         Bishops should be practicing celibacy. At this time we do not have an assurance if this so or that the people who are making the visitation of seminaries are complying with their celibate promises.

         Bishops should take seriously their duty to foster and monitor the celibate practice of their priests. The multitude of civil cases against sexually abusing priests shows that this in not the situation.

         Those who profess celibacy should honor it by practicing it, not merely mouthing approval.

         As long as the church requires celibacy of its clergy I advocate sufficient education for this demand and practice. I am a critic of the still-inadequate sexual/celibate education of seminarians. Occasional seminars are not—and will never be—sufficient to foster the intellectual, practical, and even ascetical realities to support this charism and develop healthy men capable of ministering to sexually active and married people.

         Celibacy is an all-encompassing, life-long commitment equal to the commitment of a priest to scripture and a biblical way of life. It deserves as much attention and concentration in the seminary curriculum as scripture.

         In spite of all the changes that could improve celibate practice, bishops must realize that clerical culture as it now exists militates against celibacy and sexual responsibility.  

The real extraordinary burden of the church is now what it always has been—to live according to the gospel example of Jesus Christ.

That first of all demands honesty, charity, and justice. Not in words, but action. If the American bishops could bring themselves to shoulder that burden then the weight of the consequences due to their neglect and inaction in promoting the celibate practice of their clergy, would be light or at least manageable.

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