Allow me to add a few more thoughts to the discussion that has been generated with my post on the Pope’s visit to the United States.
[You should read the comments in the preceding post before continuing…]
Obviously the issue of sex outside of marriage is a whole different topic than the abuse of minors. It is true that struggling with intimacy and one’s sexuality is a normal part of life. People make mistakes or act in a way that is sometimes not the most spiritually mature. This is very different, on a moral level, to an act of abuse.
But I think that one of our commentator’s points regarding these two issues is more to the notion that some in the church seem so insistent on beating down the average catholic struggling to remain chaste while allowing within the church such horrible abuses.
Physical or sexual abuse in the church is be no-means widespread. In fact, the experience at treatment centres seems to point that it is perhaps below the average of the general population. [One, would hope so!] That being said, there are enough numbers to cause scandal and to ruin many, many lives. Some of what happened was the result of immaturity or addiction on the part of the clergy or religious. For others is was a very twisted sense of reality that led to the abuse of children.
However, I think that was has hurt most catholics deeply is the apparent lack of action by authorities or the efforts to cover-up or protect these people. Again, some of this was due to ignorance or lack of understanding of sexuality or abuse. Some of it was a legitimate effort to protect the church. [Read John Allen’s All the Pope’s Men for a good explanation of this.] and in some cases… well it still confounds me as to why some bishops acted the way they did. I think some of them should be in jail.
This abuse is not just limited to minors. There is also the tremendous pain of women religious who have been subjected to emotional, financial, physical and sexual abuse by priests and bishops. The most notorious cases of sexual abuse were told about in certain African countries. But it is by no means an African phenomenon. It exists in all parts of the world. My own community witnessed the abuse and bullying of women religious in an U.S. east-coast diocese when the local bishop threw the women out of their convent without consulting them. There’s more to the story… but I wont’ go there because it will reveal too much of people’s identities. Trust me to say that the diocese’s actions were immoral and unchristian and that my community did little to stop it. Why? It’s part of the abuse system. We are usually so shocked, that we become paralyzed.
Neither is physical or sexual abuse an issue of “liberal” vs. “conservative” catholics. I think that the mention of so-called “liberal” bishops in association with sexual abuse was just plain shameful! I can name plenty of very, very conservative bishops and several very conservative religious communities where there has been systematic sexual abuse of members or clear signs of inappropriate behaviour with young people.
The future does not have to be grim. In fact I am very hopeful about the future. I think our church has made great strides in understanding human sexuality and it brings to that “knowledge”, 2000 years of spirituality and morality. Faith and Reason must go hand-in-hand. I teach pastoral counselling at the local school of theology and primarily to the local diocesan seminarians. The course is part of our efforts to form healthy and well-balanced ministers for the church. We challenge them to come to terms with and accept their sexuality and integrate it into their lives. They have to know themselves in order to be able to help others. They need to be able to integrate their sexuality, intellectual life, emotional life and certainly their prayer life and spirituality into the whole person that they seek to become.
My limited experience over the last few years is that for the most part, we have some wonderful, healthy men and women preparing for ministry in the church. Are there a few that worry me. Yes. I can only do my part to challenge them. It’s up to the rest of the professors to do their part. It’s up to the lay people who supervise seminarians to do their part. It’s up to bishops to remain selective and not give in to the desire for “numbers” of priests and pastoral ministers.
We also need to look at healthy lifestyles for those who minister to us. Priests often live very lonely lives. Yes, the parish or ministry can provide some comfort. But, the priest needs to have a healthy amount of emotional intimacy. Yes, a good prayer life helps. Intimacy with God is essential. Intimacy with people is also essential. There are many experts to say what priests and religious should NOT do, how to keep appropriate boundaries. There are very few people telling priests how to maintain healthy friendships and relationships. It’s also necessary to examine the satisfaction of priests. Most are happy. But it would be good to work on the lifestyles of priests so that they can truly thrive as the serve the Lord and his church.