Pope Francis says clericalism is the cause of the clergy sex abuse scandals. Cardinal Burke contends that the cause is immoral homosexual activity. Who is right? Or is something being overlooked?
Sometimes a simple explanation for a problem is the best explanation. But simple explanations can also be too superficial. They may ignore or overlook the underlying influences or factors that are the true cause of the problem. And sometimes simple explanations cover up the real problem.
It is news to no one that Mass attendance has severely fallen off since the 60’s. Catholics are questioning and even abandoning their faith. Catholic schools have closed, seminaries emptied, and parishes are closing and being merged. The Church has also paid out over $4 BILLION to settle sexual abuse claims. That’s a lot of money that could have been better spent. So it would seem that something – perhaps the word diabolical is the right adjective – has been going on for quite some time.
Clericalism or Homosexual Acts?
In his letter to the People of God, Pope Francis said, “Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.”
Cardinal Burke, on the other hand, said in an interview recently, “There is no question that the majority of the acts which have been committed are homosexual acts done with young men. . . . It would be clericalism that would protect or even promote priests who are doing evil things, yes. But the evil acts themselves don’t come from clericalism.”
Australia’s “Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse” also did not peg clericalism as the cause of the crisis. In the report the Commission concluded that “clericalism is at the center of a tightly interconnected cluster of contributing factors” to abuse within the Catholic Church.
The recent study by Father D. Paul Sullins, Ph.D., supports Cardinal Burke’s contention that predatory homosexual behavior was the cause of the problem.
As reported in the National Catholic Register, Fr. Sullins said “There is a widespread denial of any possible negative effects of homosexual activity or any findings that might not be benign for homosexual persons in the scholarly realm. And I think that, to some extent, that’s true for the scholarly work that’s been done on Catholic clergy sex abuse. There’s not been a willingness to confront the evidence on this topic . . . .”
So it would seem that pederasty and predatory homosexual behavior, enabled by a clericalist culture, is the cause of the Church’s problems. But maybe this is still too simple an explanation.
Some have said that there was a deliberate and calculated infiltration of the Catholic Church by homosexuals. A book written in 1982, The Homosexual Network: Private Lives and Public Policy by Fr. Enrique Rueda, a Catholic priest then in the diocese of Rochester, New York is the basis for and supports this contention. This deliberate infiltration was orchestrated by what was then a small but growing network of activist homosexual groups. Their intention was reportedly to change Catholic teaching on sexual morality.
A 1985 report entitled “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner” also warned the U.S. bishops about the problems that were being created by immoral clerics. In the report, the authors suggested that a Crises Intervention Team be formed, but no such action was taken.
Additionally, there is evidence that even prior to the start of the cold war, communists were deliberately infiltrating the Church. The intention of the communists was to do whatever they could to damage and discredit the Church and her teachings. This is because they saw the Church as the one major roadblock to the spread of their warped ideology.
Communists may have been behind the introduction of Liberation Theology in Latin America as well. If this is the case, they could also have been behind the introduction of other modernistic thinking and theological thought that is contrary to Catholic doctrine.
Adding it Up
It may be that Pope Francis really believes clericalism is the problem. Or it could be that Pope Francis is getting bad advice. Maybe he is being told that by pointing to clericalism as the cause of the scandal, no one will be offended. But there’s no question that the sex abuse scandals revolve largely around the actions of immoral pederasts and homosexual priests. None of these men should have been allowed into seminaries or ordained.
It’s plausible that there was a deliberate infiltration of the Catholic Church by activist homosexuals. It’s also plausible that there was a deliberate infiltration of the Church by communists. If both these assertions are true, the sex abuse problem and the rise of men like McCarrick are only part of a larger problem. But the way things are going we may never know for sure.
In 1972, Pope Paul VI said, “Through some fissure, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”
In 1973 the Blessed Virgin Mary told Sr. Agnes Sasagawa in Akita, Japan, “The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops.” This is exactly what is taking place today – cardinals are openly opposing cardinals and bishops are arguing with bishops.
The scandals have done significant damage to the Church and to her authority when it comes to her moral teachings. Misstating, arguing about, or covering up the cause of the sex abuse problem is not going to help correct this. Unless and until the real causes of the Church’s problems today are addressed, nothing much is going to get fixed. But the Church hierarchy seems hesitant or unable to come to grips with this bigger problem.
Monsignor Charles Pope had a few things to say about the problems in the Church in a recent article at the National Catholic Register. “There is a shocking yet persistent picture of disorder, confusion, and denial up to the highest ranks, both nationally and internationally. There are, to be sure, notable exceptions in which holy and courageous bishops, priests, and deacons have sought to stand in the gap and heal the breach, often at a great personal cost. The overall atmosphere, however, is one of unholy disorder, brought about by the very ones ordained to bring Holy Order.” He then listed 12 specific problems the Church is facing today. But these problems are seemingly being ignored.
The Real Damage
The moral authority of the Church has been severely damaged over the last 60 – 70 years and attempts are still being made to further corrupt her teachings. The big question now is how to regain this authority without destroying her authority in the process. This is not going to be easy.
As J. D. Flynn, editor-in-chief of the Catholic News Agency, points out, “As a body, the bishops are accused of failing to police themselves, failing to keep their pledges, and failing to take seriously the teachings of their own faith and the responsibilities of their offices. By their own admission, they have lost credibility with the shrinking cohort of Catholics who actually practice the faith.”
The U.S. bishops were not allowed to vote on the two key proposals drafted in response to the sexual abuse crisis during. But the adoption of those two measures alone would not have restored their moral authority. The bishops were told by the Vatican that any new measures should be “delayed until the conclusion of a special meeting called by Pope Francis for February.” That meeting will include the presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences. It “will address the global sexual abuse crisis.” But the Church needs to do much more than just address the global sexual abuse crisis.
The U.S. Church is in trouble, but the global Catholic Church is in trouble as well. The problems the global Church is facing today are much greater than clericalism and homosexual clerics. These problems are only the visible part of an iceberg that keeps getting bigger and bigger.
A thorough investigation is needed into the cause(s) of the sex scandals and McCarrick. But it’s possible the Vatican has already decided that clericalism is the problem. If so, the investigation into McCarrick is a done deal. And any measures that come out of the February meeting in Rome will do little to fix the Church’s real problems today. We will continue to see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops.
Fortunately, there is quite a bit that laypeople can do to help the Church in this time of trouble. For those who are able, there is the practice of fasting as penance for the sins of the world. But all Catholics have a very powerful weapon at their disposal: prayer.
Pray for the Pope, the bishops, the clergy, and the entire Body of Christ. Pray also for the Catechists teaching young Catholics the how’s and why’s of their faith. And pray for all those who are angry or confused and thinking about leaving the Church. Pray as well as those who have already abandoned their faith.
Say the rosary as often as possible. Ask the Blessed Virgin for her help in restoring morality and faithfulness to the Word of God in the Church and throughout the world. If the Prayer to St. Michael is not being said at the end of each Mass in your parish, it should be. Urge your pastor to include it. And, finally, take advantage of opportunities for Eucharistic Adoration.
The Body of Christ is comprised of mostly lay persons. Our Blessed Mother has asked us time and again to pray, so the prayers of humble, meek, pious, and reverent Catholics must carry a lot of weight. The supplications of millions of Catholics will surely be heard.