NEW YORK (NY)
July 23, 2018
By Michael Brendan Dougherty
The idea that the Church’s sexual-abuse problem will dissipate as older generations of priests die off has always been an excuse to avoid reform.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick visited my class at Sacred Heart Elementary in Bloomfield, N.J., once. The teachers reminded us before he arrived that by virtue of his office he was a successor to the Apostles. I remember mentally taking guesses as to which of the original twelve his office descended from. Thinking back on it, I’m relieved that he never got to know me, or know that I was the child of a single mother.
About a decade ago, my wife and I sat in the office of a young Catholic priest. He was a good priest, and gradually, as the conversation went on, both he and we dropped enough key phrases into the chat to signal that we were like-minded about what we saw as Catholicism’s moral, spiritual, and liturgical crisis. Everyone relaxed considerably. I ventured my low opinion of his bishop, a revered cardinal. He didn’t contradict me. I then offered that it was young priests like him who would restore the Church. He was part of a heroic generation that had entered the priesthood at the nadir of the priest-abuse crisis, inspired by John Paul II. He had a different mindset than those in the generations immediately before him, who were formed in the 50s, 60s, and 70s and believed that they had to implement the more experimental, accommodating spirit of Vatican II. “Once they die off . . .” I started. And the young priest chimed in. “Exactly. They will be gone.”
What we were talking about had a name in Catholic circles. It was called “the biological solution.” Roughly speaking, it meant that priests attached to the reforming visions and the theological fads of mid 20th century would, by the simple process of aging and dying, be replaced by the younger, more tradition-minded, and less morally lax generation. The heavy implication was that the problem of moral cronyism in the Church, in which sexually compromised priests cover and cover-up for one another, would mostly solve itself over time.
The biological solution has long since stopped being a kind of secret handshake among young traditionalists. It has become a cause of division and crisis within religious orders. And it is obviously on the mind of Pope Francis, who seems never to be short of anecdotes about “rigid” young priests and wise old liberals.
But the past decade has taught me something: We were wrong. There is no biological solution to a moral, spiritual, and liturgical crisis.
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