How to Fix the Church's Problem with Criminal Sexual Activity
Questions From A Ewe
September 2, 2018
It’s been a very long time. The demands of caring for an aging parent combined with those of traveling extensively for work provide precious few moments to write. However, recent hubbub compels me to sacrifice a few moments of sleep to write.
At Mass last weekend, the priest spoke of the clergy abuse revelations in Pennsylvania and described it as, “the scandal in Pennsylvania.” With 200+ dioceses and growing having abuse scandals worldwide, we are safe to call it “globally systemic” rather than confine it to any geographic area as if it were a surprising anomaly. Let’s stop being shocked that the abuse is uncovered in yet another group of dioceses. Let’s work to shine the light to expose it everywhere.
The pastor discussed the PA abuse scandal while defending the Lansing diocese’s decision to continue holding its “Made for Happiness” Diocesan Assembly in a few weeks despite this latest sex abuse scandal news. Tragically ironic, the diocesan shindig will be held at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, the basketball arena for a university recently publicly criticized for institutional enablement of a serial child molester, Dr. Larry Nassar. Side note: Prior to prison, Nassar was a devout Catholic in the Lansing diocese. The diocese could only be more tone-deafly insensitive if it asked Larry Nassar to speak at the assembly.
All this pissed me off but did not compel me to write. No, no…it took former papal nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Vigano’s recently published lengthy letter calling for Pope Francis’ resignation to do that.
Vigano, whilst self-righteously adjusting his imaginary halo, wrote that Francis knew about Cardinal McCarrick’s serial sexually abusive misdeeds and tsk, tsked at him for doing nothing. Just a little aside here: Francis, Benedict, John Paul II, Paul VI, etc… all knew about and participated in abuse cover-ups too. Why is Vigano ok canonizing JPII as a saint but wants Francis fired? Regardless, let’s pause a moment to understand how news about sexually abusive priests gets from the US to dear old popes. IT’S THROUGH THE PAPAL NUNCIO! Vigano would have had knowledge not just about McCarrick but about EVERY SINGLE SEXUALLY ABUSIVE PRIEST reported to any Catholic official in the US.
So, dear Mr. Vigano, you knew about McCarrick too and did not report him to civil authorities. Nor did you report to civil authorities any of the sexual crimes priests committed against children during your tenure. Therefore, please dispense with your political posturing for papal power until you first return your pointy hat, signet ring and blinged-out crosier to the “Shamed Bishops” department and tender your own resignation. Thank you, ever so much.
I also cannot overlook noting that Vigano’s come-lately concern about sexual abuse was about …wait for it…not any of the thousands of kids molested by priests, even those suffering during his tenure…no, it’s only about sexual harassment endured by that precious subclass of humans which clerics believe sit above the rest of humanity, seminarians and fellow priests. That speaks volumes.
As occurs following each scandalous revelation, there’s a flurry of advice on how to fix the church…female priests, ditch celibacy, laity takeover the church…whatever. Please indulge me in offering my advice to the dialogue…oh, sorry, was dreaming for a minute there – that the hierarchy actually sought sincere dialogue about how to fix its systemic criminal activities. Nonetheless, here are my thoughts.
It’s all about governance. According to Canon Law, those who write the laws are the same who interpret the laws and are the same who enforce the laws. That is a system destined for abuse and corruption – two longstanding trademarks of the hierarchy.
To add to their death-grip on all ecclesiastic power (Canon 223 and others), Canon Law includes several Canons that make it near impossible to overturn existing laws. This is a trap that results from belief in their own perfection. If you believe you are perfect, then how could you write imperfect laws? And since you don’t write imperfect laws, why would they need to be overturned.
Canon law divides humanity into lay people and clerics (Canon 207), setting clerics above laity (Canon 223, 247 and others) and actually demanding that lay people revere and obey their pastor because pastors are the best representation of Christ for lay people (Canon 212). As a side note, Canon Law decrees clerical institutions such as seminaries to be ecclesiastical juridical people (Canon 238). Yes, yes, seminaries are people too according to Canon Law. As ecclesiastical people, they not only are people but more powerful people than ones of non-clergy flesh and blood variety.
This is all problematic in itself but then, the hierarchy do two additional insidious things: 1) They say you must receive Jesus via Holy Communion and 2) incarcerate Jesus in the tabernacle and declare only they can summon Jesus to dwell amongst us in the form of the Blessed Sacrament. In simpler terms they in essence say, “you need what I got, or you die and I’m the only provider.” A drug cartel could not wish for a better setup.
But wait, it gets more insidious. Canon Law includes 12 Canons which codify obligations to maintain secrecy (Canons 127, 269, 471, 645, 983, 1131, 1132, 1455, 1457, 1546, 1548 and 1602). Canon Law reflects the hierarchy’s normalization of its stunningly unhealthy culture of secrecy and court intrigue. Transfer a priest from diocese to diocese in secrecy? Canon Law says that’s ok. Hold in secret things that the brotherhood doesn’t want to divulge? Canon Law approves of that too.
As Canon Law stands today a priest molests a child but the child is taught that this guy is the closest thing to Jesus the child is going to encounter on Earth and he’s the guy who will give the child the Eucharist, without which the child will be damned forever. If the priest is reported, the hierarchy can deal with him and his trial in secrecy and transfer him in secrecy. Meanwhile, the parents and kid have to worry if they report the guy, will they be shunned or excommunicated, cutting themselves off from what they are taught is their only chance at eternal life.
Canon Law lacks checks and balances on power and depends instead upon a belief that men of superior moral ilk occupy positions of ecclesiastical power. I think 2000+ years of history prove that assumption breathtakingly wrong.
Short of a major overhaul of Canon Law, instilling a viable set of power checks by offering ecclesiastical power to lay people in equal levels to clerics while also ridding it of codes of secrecy, obedience to pastors, a sense of clerical superiority over lay people, and hand-binding laws against fixing the laws, the church will not seriously or successfully address its issues of systemic abuse.
I hold little hope that the same men who write into law what gives them absolute power will voluntarily change those laws. Withholding money and subjecting them to legal recourse have some effect. However, I think that people just need to both openly challenge the hierarchy and make the hierarchy irrelevant in their lives. This is easier said than done in some countries, but I believe it is essential to force change and protect children.
Side note: The Lansing Diocesan Assembly offers free admission, but you must pre-register. Here’s a link in case you’d like to acquire tickets to use or dispose of as you see fit. Their website indicates they offer free child care, and we all know what a great reputation the church has for taking care of kids.