The recent initiative in Washington DC, ChurchOuting.com, has provoked a great deal of discussion and comment, and not just on this blog. There seems to be more consensus rallying around the idea of outing bishops and cardinals, rather than rank and file priests. That's pretty much where I stand because that's pretty much the nexus of the real problem.
Fr. Geof Farrow has presented the case against outing in the most practical and pastoral terms. I most certainly respect his opinion. He is one gay priest who has paid the price for insisting on personal integrity. He has earned the right to be heard. He asks the question lots of people are asking, does the end justify this means? It's a question I've given a lot of thought to in the past week or so. One I have trouble answering myself.
If a similar situation existed in other professions it would be addressed by professional ethics committees who had real teeth to enforce professional ethics. This is certainly true in my own field in which I have witnessed both psychiatrists and therapists called on the carpet by peers and seriously sanctioned for violations of professional ethics. These sanctions were not just professional, but in some cases--most notably sexual abuse cases--came after and on top of criminal and/or civil prosecution. Losing one's license to practice, even for a temporary time, causes a great deal of economic hardship and seriously impacts the ability to find further work in the profession. So does going to prison.
These are sanctions with real teeth and no professional therapist wrings their hands about fellow professionals who abuse the therapeutic relationship. We don't waste time making excuses because some of our fellow professionals lack maturity or have failed to come to terms with their own issues. We know that the abuses of some of us impact the professional credibility of all us, but more than that, we know that abuse is antithetical to everything we try to promote in our professional relationships about the inherent dignity of our clients. Abuse denies the very reason we exist as a profession.
I don't understand why the priesthood has no similar peer review or ethical process. In fact, it's just the opposite. Our bishops purposely removed themselves from any accountability in the Dallas Charter. This decision makes them unaccountable even to each other, which is why Fabian Bruskewitz in Nebraska hasn't been called on the carpet for his complete refusal to comply with the Dallas charter. In this respect, bishops have reserved for themselves the right to abuse with zero accountability. I say zero accountability because there has been virtually zero accountability for offending bishops, certainly from fellow bishops, but most conspicuously from the Vatican itself. In those few situations where there was a modicum of personal accountability it was enacted by the bishops themselves by retiring, but only after they had been publically exposed. They lost no benefits, salary, housing, or sacramental authority. Unlike Fr. Geof Farrow who lost it all.
Given this situation, what legitimately Christian means is there to enact some kind of accountability for abusing priests and bishops? Are we supposed to exercise a form a charity which has not been shown to clerical victims and never will be? Are we supposed to accept that we need to let some people get away with abuse for the sake of those who minister on the sly, under the radar of their bishops?
Am I supposed to extend to priests sympathy and understanding for their particular plight, (brought on themselves by their own decisions), while insisting on a much different professional accountability for myself and practitioners in my own very similar field? Am I to operate under the assumption that priests have no real professional standing, and are not professionally accountable because of that? Or am I to concede that in general priests are too immature and dependent on the hierarchy to deal with the consequences of their decisions and behaviors like other adults. If any of this is true, than why in God's Name, would I look to them for leadership of any sort?
If priests and bishops really feel that publicly pointing out abuse and violations of their professional code of conduct is unfair, (Canon Law) then let them come up with a real peer review board, a professional ethics board which has real teeth. If the Vatican doesn't like it because it usurps their supposed authority, too bad. It's not real authentic authority anyway.
SNAP has proven beyond a doubt that without a real alternative to a bishops' absolute authority, there are very few options for any kind of meaningful accountability outside of public exposure. I don't have to like it, and in fact I don't, but the alternative is to leave the status quo in place. That will be only result in more and more victims and more and more tolerance of a co dependent, immature, and easily victimized priesthood.
Is that really the kind of professional religious leadership an adult laity needs, or does it more reflect the kind of professional 'leadership' the Vatican wants? I think I know that answer to that question.