Tuesday, March 6, 2012

10 Years Later And The More Things Have Changed The More Some Have Stayed The Same

The following extended extract is the conclusion of an assessment of the Catholic Church ten years after Boston.  It was written by Richard Sipe.  While I encourage readers to take in the whole document, I have chosen to publish his conclusions because they neatly summarize how far our clerical leadership has come since Boston, and that's mostly no where.  While it is certainly true that programs have been instituted in parishes, dioceses, and Catholic institutions to deal with childhood abuse, those policies do not touch the underlying clerical culture which bred and protected clerical abusers, and that abuse is not just about children. It's also about relationships with women and the laity in general.  As Richard Sipe points out in his conclusion, it is important to understand the workings of the clerical culture because culture trumps reason every time.

The title of this volume—Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church: A Decade of Crisis:is actually a question. What has the Catholic Church learned?  No one in June 2002 could possibly imagine the worldwide scope or dimensions that questions about abuse by Roman Catholic clergy would assume by 2012. The head of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, Wilton Gregory, proclaimed triumphantly in 2004, “the problem is history.”  
My reflections focused on five fundamental issues that impinge on the Catholic Church and underlie its processes of learning about and preventing clergy sex abuse: secrecy, scandal, crisis, mandated celibacy, and clerical culture.  

Secrecy was and remains foundational to the operation of the Catholic clerical world. Reviewing several thousand legal procedures over the past ten years demonstrates to me how assiduously—and violently—American cardinals and bishops fight to keep incriminating and embarrassing documents secret.

Within a decade, the fulminating scandal fed by revelation upon revelation of Catholic bishops and priests abusing boys and girls and superiors covering up their crime spread like a string of Chinese fire crackers from Boston’s Back Bay to the Vatican and Pope, from Dallas to Dublin and Bishops Conferences around the world. Sex abuse by priests is no longer a secret, but a scandal properly so defined: a widely publicized allegation or set of allegations that damages the reputation of an institution, individual or creed. Clergy abuse of the vulnerable is the biggest scandal the Catholic Church in America has ever faced and most probably equals the Twelfth and Sixteenth Century scandals in Europe. For example: tapes recorded during an April 2010 meeting between a victim, his bishop abuser, and a cardinal (Danneels of Belgium) reveal the prelate urging the victim not to tell anyone that the bishop sexually abused him. The European press claimed the tapes provided some of the most damaging documents to emerge in the scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church.

Again in 2010 another cardinal, Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Columbia, used the familial argument to defend keeping priest abuse secret saying, “it [reporting priest abusers to the police] would have been like testifying against a family member at trial.” He also claimed in a radio interview reported by the Associated Press “that Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was involved in a 2001 decision to praise a French bishop for shielding a priest who was convicted of raping minors.” (All three of these examples involve Cardinals which means this secrecy and scandal avoidance behavior is set from the top.)

Not long after February 27, 2004 when the Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States was published and made public along with the John Jay Report Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke who served as interim Chair of the National Review Board said that the bishops did not want change, but only “business as usual.” She spoke in 2010 about the problem of “untruth” she sees in the church and the bishops.

The scandal of sex abuse by Catholic clergy has been a public relations nightmare—gargantuan and impossible. No spin makes gruesome facts go away. Many priests and bishops have violated in criminal ways their responsibilities as representatives of Mother Church. Scandal, of course, is not the real problem no matter how distressing; the crisis of betrayal of Mother Church’s children is the crux of the scandal. However, the question remains: has the church learned anything about truth and transparency in the past decade?  

There is wide based agreement that the Catholic Church is in a crisis mode. The crisis has to do with human sexuality—specifically bishops and priests who present themselves as celibate and chaste while they violate minors and the vulnerable under the cloak of their religion. The denial, rationalization, lies, and cover up of clerical crime by Church authority is in evidence and provides an ongoing scandal and crisis. 
There are repeated calls for the abrogation of the requirement of celibacy for ordination to the priesthood. Whatever the merits of the arguments, they will not solve all the problems of clerical sexual malfeasance. Bishops and priests exist in, maintain, and assiduously preserve a clerical culture within which secret sexual activity by clergy is tolerated. 

 Celibacy and chastity are taught in an educational mode and structure established for diocesan clergy at the Council of Trent. That tradition is dependent on a monastic-like schedule (horarium) and a system of sacramental confession and spiritual directors. It is no longer effective. Despite rules and screening procedures a significant number of clerical candidates are sexually active with one another or with priests—sometimes faculty. Celibate observance of religious order clerics has not proved better. But sexual activity in the clerical culture is not introduced from the bottom-up—from candidates for ordination—but from men established in the culture—priests, spiritual directors, rectors, superiors, even bishops. Homosexuality is a predominant operational orientation in clerical culture form Rome to Los Angeles.[23]
( Richard Sipe makes a very important distinction when he writes homosexuality is the predominant 'operational' orientation.)
Culture always trumps reason. Is it possible to revise clerical culture? History, theology and human nature all conspire in favor of reforming dysfunctional systems eventually. Theologically, clerical culture is mutable, no matter how firmly grounded in custom and tradition. Jesuit Bernard Lonergan (1967) wrestling with the possibility of  “transition of organization and structural forms in the Church” said among other things: “there is in the historicity, which results from human nature, an exigence for changing form, structures, methods; and it is on this level and through this medium of changing meaning that divine revelation has entered the world and that the Church’s witness is given to it.”[24]
Literary critic, Lionel Trilling (1965) talks about the power of forces that change culture. Somewhere in the mind “there is a hard, irreducible, stubborn core of biological urgency, and biological necessity, and biological reason, that culture cannot reach and that reserves the right, which sooner or later it will exercise, to judge culture and resist and revise it.”[25] There is hope. (This kind of evolutionary change almost always comes from the bottom up.  The top is too invested in it's own survival.)

Prevention of sexual abuse by priests and bishops presents a daunting agenda. A revision of clerical culture is required to deal effectively with clergy sexual violations of every stripe. The burden transcends the capacities and limits of law and psychiatry and rests squarely on the very core of religion and spiritual transformation—in theologian Bernard Haering’s words on “absolute sincerity and transparency.” Prevention will not occur without discussion of the realities of sexuality, celibacy, and the development of explicit and honest norms for sexual responsibility and accountability for human behavior on every level of the church. The darkness of secrecy breeds betrayal, abuse and violent assault. Revelations over the last decade have proved that. A Mother Church, that sustains, nourishes and, protects her children demands light, accountability, openness and truth. That is the task unveiled over the past ten years. It is vital that the Church respond. Any church that cannot tell the truth about itself runs the risk of having nothing significant to be heard.  (And less reason to be followed.)


Vatican Insider posted an article today about a book-“Golgotha, secret journey into the Church and paedophilia” written by Carmelo Abatte that also comes to similar conclusions as Richard Sipe.  I suppose this isn't surprising since Sipe was one of the experts Abatte contacted when writing the book.  At the end of the article is a quote from Patrick Wall, who is an attorney who has worked closely with Richard Sipe and Wall gives a very succinct account of how the clerical culture can over come reason:

 Patrick explained that there is a different way of thinking within the Catholic Church compared to the outside world. For the Church, the institution comes before everything else. The culprit always confesses his actions to someone, often to someone above him, this way subconsciously he feels less responsible. It’s the exact opposite of what a victim tends to do, which is to shroud him/herself in silence and to feel guilty despite being innocent. The guilty priests on the other hand are convinced that, if their actions really were evil and wrong, their superiors would not let them carry on. This is why they feel safe and remorseless. Those responsible of abuses, when they get a chance to have their say, are never ashamed to talk in detail about their actions, because they are convinced of being innocent.

The only other cultures I can think of that operate in the same fashion are intelligence agencies and organized crime syndicates.  All of these cultures depend on loyalty oaths to a hierarchy based on access to knowledge, on secrecy, and on avoiding scandal or detection.  The very sad thing is, there is zero reason for a Church leadership following the Way of Christ to have anything to do with these operating or organizing strategies.  Removing the discipline of celibacy or ordaining women is not going to change the basic culture. That is the lesson to be taken from intelligence agencies and organized crime.  Only when the laity demand transparency and accountability will there be any impact on the clerical culture.  Which leaves one last question:  Is the laity spiritually mature enough to demand this transparency and accountability?  The price for our unwillingness to pursuit these deep seated changes will continue to be paid for by us and our children.


  1. Yes, clericalism that defines itself as the cream of the People of God is the major problem. Eugene Kennedy also points out that since Bishops, themselves, are rarely celibate, they have difficulty clamping down on sex abuse because of their own lack of celibacy. They are afraid of the abusers blowing the whistle.

    However, complete deprivation of any other necessary need for survival over a long period of time NEVER leads to spirituality or to a good survival. Celibacy itself needs to be understood that like fasting, there are times it might help a person become more spiritual but a lifetime of deprivation is not helpful and it as Sipe shows is impossible to achieve.

    What celibacy is really calling for is a life time of perfect asexuality. Eroticism is one of the key necessities for creativity and I agree with Kennedy, when not used to be creative can and was used to be destructive. Think of what the Church might be like had it promoted all the good ideas of the many condemned theologians. Instead, Ratizinger's drives became perverted as he got his jollies from condemnation of others. This continues to be true of Benie.

    1. Dennis, you are right on this. Richard Sipe has studied the clergy extensively, and his observations don't fit the narrative the institutional church wants the laity and the world at large to accept. Anne Burke has discovered the same thing Frank Keating learned when he was appointed to the review board, and that is the bishops will protect the institution's reputation at the expense of the people. Frank Keating was also very on target when he compared the bishops' behavior to that of La Cosa Nostra.

    2. Kathy, that's because the Bishop's behavior is that of organized crime or intelligence agencies, and the behavior of intelligence agencies is organized crime. It doesn't surprise me that the rumors swirling around the Vatican include both organized crime and intelligence work.

      And then, I will believe the Vatican is serious about ephebophelia when they change the age of consent in the Vatican City States from it's current 12 to at least 16.

    3. Dennis, Richard Sipe also describes the process of grooming amongst hierarchs in order to find trustworthy subordinates. He uses Cardinal McCarrick as the prime example, but I also think Donald Wuerl has been compromised by and continues to engage in, the same behavior. The whole system appears unbelievably corrupt, and it gets worse the higher up the ladder one goes. Laity either raise up and change this system or it will result in the demise of the Church.

      What really sends me over the top, is all the Marian visions the True Believers seriously believe in all have the same message. "The clerical system is utterly corrupt."

      Praying it away is not going to make it go away.

  2. This month U.S. Catholic magazine is conducting a reader survey on this very topic and we'd like Catholics to weigh in with their thoughts on how the church has handled the abuse crisis over the past 10 years. You can take the survey at www.uscatholic.org/abuse

    1. I'm glad you commented on this survey. I will eagerly look forward to viewing the results.

  3. Both you and Mr. Sipe make a very good point that "homosexuality is the predominant 'operational' orientation".

    It is very likely that many of these men, abusers and non-abusers, have a situational orientation, more akin to a prison or a submarine than a normal social environment.


  4. Absolutely Bronx. I've tried to make that point a number of times and so I was really glad to see that Richard Sipe makes it as well. Part of the rationalization that immature priests make is the kind of ranking of 'sin' high school boys make. Lowest level, masturbation, next, mutual masturbation, next, any kind of non vaginal penetration with their girl friends, and finally heterosexual vaginal intercourse.
    That really defines de facto Catholic sexual teaching for males. As for women, well that's a different story.

  5. Coleen,

    "What really sends me over the top, is all the Marian visions the True Believers seriously believe in all have the same message. "The clerical system is utterly corrupt." " This was one of the exact point of Albino Luciani. No wonder the curia felt so threatened.

    Eugene Kennedy makes very good points in his book stating that perfect asualaity is the life that is prescribed for the cleric. This type of perfectionism is unattainable and it leads to terrible consequences when immature men either believe that they are in the constant state of serious sin. He points out as well as Sipe that immature homosexuals feel that since they can never have any form of sex that would be both enjoyable and spiritual that they do not give up anything by becoming priests. Heterosexuals would give up sexual relationships, but since all sex for them is sinful, they give up nothing and this puts a different mind set in these immature catholics individuals who become priests.

    The most important point, I think, that Kennedy makes is that the idea of perfect asexuality pits mind against body and this is just an impossible task. It is in the crucible of all this immaturity and sickness that a sociopathic Episcopacy is created that seeks only comfort and power for themselves. It of course again Luciani that was pointing out that Christ asked his followers to give up all their power and resources to follow him and help the poor with few to no researches. The Bishops appointed by JP II and Benie made their choice, and that was to be couch potato Republicans and to express their blarney that anything they do not like is against their "freedom" to continue to exist in such a sloth-like state.

    1. Oh God Dennis, sometimes I just want to scream. Couch potato republicans is a good description of those bishops hiding behind Dolan, Lorie, Chaput, and Neinstedt. I don't give a damn if they are actually silent in their disagreement, as Thomas More is quoted as saying in a Man For All Seasons, 'silence is consent'. Sociopathic Episcopacy is another well defined diagnosis, cause they ARE enculturated sociopaths with zero empathy---at least for the vast majority. I think that's why I got so teary eyed with Diarmuid Martin on 60 Minutes. "My God", I said to myself, "one of them actually gets it."

  6. asualaity should have been asexuality!!

  7. Diarmuid Martin does actually get it but he has been pushed aside by Rome. I think Diamuid Martin, could deal much better and allow the Catholic Church to come through this crisis as the Irish Catholic Church and leave Rome fuming. I'll bet most catholics that could stomach remaining Catholic in Ireland would join him along with many in the USA. The problem is hat only about 15% of the Irish now attend church, most of them old ladies contributing on the average of 3 Euros to the Sunday collection.

  8. "The only other cultures I can think of that operate in the same fashion are intelligence agencies and organized crime syndicates. All of these cultures depend on loyalty oaths to a hierarchy based on access to knowledge, on secrecy, and on avoiding scandal or detection."

    You are so right, Colleen. Powerful insights. And a scary reality to which they point.