Thomas Doyle traces the disintegration of clerical/hierarchical culture

National Catholic Reporter

Nov. 27, 2019

By Tom Roberts

I have thought recently that one way to understand the revived interest in the priest sexual abuse scandal, post-Theodore McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report of little more than a year ago, is in the context of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. You know: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

I think certain of us in the Catholic community have gone through several of those cycles, depending on when we were introduced to the crisis, how deeply we were involved in it, and whether it involved anyone we knew either as victim or perpetrator. No doubt the cycles will go on.

But in one peculiar and important sense, regarding the hierarchical culture at the heart of the scandal, perhaps we can now say with some certainty that significant portions of the community have arrived at acceptance of the death of the clerical/hierarchical culture.

That may appear a grand statement, but I think it safe to say that the culture is finished as we’ve known it. It no longer enjoys automatic deference as it once did from the wider culture; it has lost most of its credibility and influence in that wider culture; it has lost much of its credibility among Catholics; and, in Francis, it encounters a pope whose blistering criticism of the culture leaves no doubt that the old form is on its way out.

Watching the disintegration of a culture, however, is not understanding what caused it to crumble, how to rebuild it, or what will replace it. I’d like to end the year considering two important voices from inside the culture who have distinct insights into what went wrong and what will be necessary in the future.

The first up is Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, inactive priest and former member of the Dominican order. Regular readers of NCR are familiar with him; he was that extremely rare cleric who, from the very beginning, took a different approach from most in the clerical culture. Once deep inside the culture, in recent decades he has been largely on the outside, an unflagging advocate for victims of abuse and an itinerant expert for lawyers throughout the United States and in many other corners of the globe bringing cases against the church.

He recently gave a talk at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. It was a significant event, for despite the wealth of insight he brings to the subject, he is rarely invited to Catholic campuses to share his views.

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