Those of you who read my stuff have probably heard me describe myself as a “lapsed” Catholic. My wife and I were practicing Roman Catholics for most of our long lives. Our two adult children are observant Catholics. Flo and I believe in God as the only rational answer to the wonders of nature which surround us. The Church is a tremendous force for good in the world. We believe that Almighty God, through his only begotten son Jesus Christ, created the Church about 2,000 years ago. So why are we “lapsed”?
About a half century ago, the world became aware of sexual abuses of children and young adults by priests. At first, it appeared to be a few “bad apples” spoiling the barrel, to use a homespun metaphor. After too long an elapsed time, the situation appears to be endemic to the life of the institution.
We are all too familiar with the tendency of institutions to “circle the wagons”, to use another old saw. The protection of the organization becomes paramount. Our son, who has devoted his life to fighting abuse of women and children, tells us that coverup is the great essential. The organization, hierarchy, institution, must be protected! The malefactors are transferred, lawyers are deployed, denials are issued. Little attention, it seems, is paid to the victims, most of whom are scarred for life.
Over the decades since the earliest revelations, a steady drip, drip, drip has come to light. It never seems to end. Numerous dioceses have had to declare bankruptcy. Just as you think it has all been revealed, additional stuff comes out, often in a foreign nation. If you think this is confined to the Roman Catholic Church, I have a classic bridge to sell you named for a borough of New York……Although Catholics are a minority in this country, at approximately 40% of religious adherents it is our largest single denomination. It is a big target.
I don’t pretend to propose solutions in the length of a blog post (this would be an insult to the many professionals, including my son), but allow me to raise a few points.
Members of the hierarchy (and the Church’s structure is about as hierarchical as it gets) have tried several approaches to stem the tide, as it were. Miscreants were transferred elsewhere in the diocese. Their crimes were, in many instances, not made known to the receiving outfits. Attempts were made, in some cases, to provide treatment to the offenders. Unfortunately, “once a predator, always a predator”, as cruel as this sounds, is usually the case.
While much noise is raised as to gay priests, most experts agree that this is not the problem, rather the Church, like many similar institutions, provides a refuge for men bent in that direction – along with a plentiful supply of targets. Many have advanced a married priesthood as a panacea. While I, personally, would like at least some serious consideration being given to implemention of this, I am not aware of any data supporting this as a solution. The Church would need to , for one thing, carefully address the financial aspects of such an approach to ministry. Let’s face it, other faiths have their problems, too.
One of the Catholic Church’s more serious problems is the advanced age of recent prelates. Pope Francis is in his late 80’s, as was his predecessor when he retired. I can tell you from personal experience (I’m 84) this is way too late in life to be starting a revolution, which would be necessary to bring about meaningful change The demands on an older man’s psyche (including, but not limited to, death threats) would be overwhelming. When we were much younger, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council. Shouldn’t they consider Vatican Council #3?
As a kid, I was taught that the Catholic Church was the “one true church”. By admittedly back-of-the-envelope calculations the number of Christians equates to about 1.4 billion souls, out of an estimated 7 billion people worldwide. Does this mean that 5.6 billion are headed for the netherworld? There are, obviously, numerous folk whose religious are labelled Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and many other faiths, most of whom worship God. Surely, there are good people in this mix (and bad ones, too). To quote Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”.
The Catholic clergy do not have it easy. The ones I’ve worked with were, with a handful of exceptions, caring, loving people dedicated to worship of God and the salvation of souls. My kids would say the same.