On this Easter Sunday, I asked myself the question, what will it take for Roman Catholicism to undergo a meaningful Resurrection? And I asked the question, what is it that needs to be healed that sexual abuse is the behavior which triggered the current crisis? I had some ideas, and I've written some ideas, but I also knew I was looking for an expression for the core issue.
Sometimes, the core issue is revealed peripherally by strange sources. In this case one of those strange sources is Wild Bill Donohue and his fixation on homosexuality, rather than abuse of power, as the core issue in the abuse scandal. Bill has his finger on a button, but he's purposely connecting it to the wrong explanation.
Andrew Sullivan writes about the same button, but makes the right connections, because Andrew starts from the correct questions--the most important place to start if one is going to get correct answers and real healing:
"The real question is: what kind of gay man molests children and young teens? Just as: what kind of straight man molests children and young teens? What leads to this kind of behavior which is far from the norm among homosexuals and heterosexuals? And why does the Catholic Church priesthood seem such a magnet for child rapists and molesters? Why has it seemed to attract so many gay men who are psychologically disturbed or sick when it comes to their sexual orientation? (This entire paragraph asks the correct questions, based on the available data.)
I find the answer pretty straightforward.
The church teaches first of all that all gay men are "objectively disordered:" deeply sick in their deepest soul and longing for love and intimacy. A young Catholic who finds out he's gay therefore simultaneously finds out that his church regards him as sick and inherently evil, for something he doesn't experience as a choice. That's a distorting and deeply, deeply damaging psychic wound. Young Catholic gay boys, tormented by this seemingly ineradicable sinfulness, often seek religious authority as a way to cope with the despair and loneliness their sexual orientation can create. (Trust me on this; it was my life). So this self-loathing kid both abstracts himself from sexual relationships with peers, idolizes those "normal" peers he sees as he reaches post-pubescence, and is simultaneously terrified by these desires and so seeks both solace and cover for not getting married by entering the priesthood. (And in heavily Catholic blue collar communities, there is also the status attraction.)
None of this is conceivable without the shame and distortion of the closet, or the church's hideously misinformed and distorted view of homosexual orientation. And look at the age at which you are most likely to enter total sexual panic and arrest: exactly the age of the young teens these priests remain attracted to and abuse.
That's the age when the shame deepens into despair; that's when sexuality is arrested; that's where the psyche gets stunted. In some ways, I suspect, these molesters feel as if they are playing with equals - because emotionally they remain in the early teens. I'm not excusing this in any way; just trying to understand how such evil can be committed. (There are also the neurophysiological issues of brain development. Suffer an unresolvable conflict over sexuality at this age and it has a real impact on further development of the higher moral reasoning centers of the pre frontal cortex.)
Ask yourself: how many openly gay and adjusted priests have been found to have abused minors? Or ask yourself another question: if straight men were forbidden to marry women, had their sexual and emotional development truncated at the age of 13, and were forced into institutions where they were treated by teenage girls as gods, and given untrammeled private access to them, how much sexual abuse do you think would occur there? Please. This is not that hard to understand.
I think it's compounded by the shame gay bishops feel about their own sexual orientation. They, like Bill Donohue, secretly associate their homosexuality with dysfunction, disorder, chaos, evil. So when they come across a fellow priest found to have molested teenage boys or children, they associate it with homosexuality - not pederasty - associate themselves with it, and try to cover it up - partly because they want to protect the church (which is their sole refuge) and partly because they want to protect those they wrongly associate with themselves. (This protective impulse is the direct result of classic psychological projection.)
My own view is that Ratzinger fits almost perfectly into this paradigm, just as Weakland did. Which means there will be no change until this generation dies off. If Ratzinger were to face the truth on this, his world would collapse. He is not giving up on denial yet. He is a prime example of the walking wounded. Crippled, in fact, in the sole area he cannot be crippled: moral authority. (I absolutely agree with Andrew here. The closer this crisis gets to Benedict, the more personally he takes it. The fact he can't separate himself from the clerical culture issue is a huge red flag about just how wounded he and his close collaborators really are when it comes to the sexual issues inherent in the clerical and wider Catholic culture.)
I don't believe, in other words, that you can tackle this problem without seeing it as a symptom of a much deeper failure of the church to come to terms with sexuality, sexual orientation and the warping, psychologically distorting impact of compulsory celibacy in the priesthood. If women and married men were allowed to be priests, if homosexuality were regarded in Catholic theology as a healthy and rare difference rather than as a shameful disorder, this atmosphere would end, and these crimes would for the most part disappear and the cloying, closeted power-structure which enabled them to go unpunished for so long would finally crumble. And the church could grow again.
Through the truth, not around it. But it's exactly that truth that this pontiff and his enablers refuse to acknowledge. It would kill them.
Andrew Sullivan is right on target in this analysis. I suspect he's so accurate because it really is his personal life experience as a committed gay Catholic. He knows in his soul the attraction the priesthood held for him, but he was honest enough to really look at that attraction and see it was an attraction of deficit, not a legitimate calling, not the product of a 'gift'.
As it stands now, we have a priesthood where too many are self chosen from unexamined feelings of deficit. Until this is reversed, there will be no resurrection of the Catholic priesthood. And it won't be reversed as long as the Vatican remains incapable of asking the right questions because of personal fear of the answers.
The really disheartening thing about all of this is that healthy gay priests have such a positive and pastoral charisma. It's a gift which should be celebrated, but instead, for too many gay men, that gift is twisted all out of shape long before they can begin to consciously direct it. Instead, all that charisma is primarily directed by an unresolved sexual agenda, and the spiritual becomes subservient to the sexual. This is true whether that gay sexuality is expressed or is sublimated by various forms of spiritual 'discipline'. True spiritual health calls for integration, not sublimation.
If the Vatican was really honest, they would admit this same process is operative in heterosexual priests as well. We just don't hear as much about it because the victims are female and society is more accepting of straight liaisons. That doesn't mean these straight liaisons are any healthier or less abusive. A 14 year old female victim is just as damaged as a 14 year old male victim and the damage compounded if she becomes pregnant. To think otherwise is self serving straight male propaganda. The very same kind of propaganda apologists like Wild Bill Donohue want us to unquestioningly accept.
Resurrection for the Church won't come from swallowing straight male propaganda. It will come from listening to the questions raised by men like Andrew Sullivan. Questions which seek to get to the core of the abuse, not divert us from solutions the Vatican refuses to entertain.