Tuesday, 16 March 2010

To admit the problem isn’t necessarily to agree with the proposed “solution.”

One doesn’t have to agree with Cranmer’s colourful, OTT, and quite repugnant diatribe against Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church to see the very real danger the Church is facing and the need not to allow this kind of attack to go unanswered. He writes:
“If the ever-threatened schism within the Church of England is deemed to constitute a ‘wreckage’ from which Christians must be saved by swimming the Tiber, who will rescue the saints from the purple intoxication, the scarlet deviancy and the priestly blasphemy of the reeking ruins of Rome? Who will save the children from those perverted priests, debased bishops and corrupt cardinals who have robbed them of their innocence, relieved them of their holiness and ‘interfered’ with their purity?”
In fact, he here all but restates the Whore of Babylon and Anti-Christ imagery beloved of the sixteenth century "Reformer" himself - that is, after he had received papal confirmation of his primatial office and perjured himself in the process.
But it is clear that the Catholic Church (and those of us who, at present, support her from the outside) has a huge issue to deal with, in the words of Pope Benedict himself, in confronting and rooting out a culture of “filth” in the Church itself. The attempts to associate Pope Benedict personally with the attempted cover-up of some of these monstrous and appalling crimes (cf St Matthew 18.6) are despicable, but they will, like it or not, continue to cast something of a pall over the now officially announced Papal Visit to Britain later this year. http://thepapalvisit.org.uk/  There will be those who will make it their business that it does.
It’s also clear that, as traditional Anglicans seeking to heal the breach of centuries with our Mother Church, we will now have a more uphill struggle in trying to persuade our as yet unconvinced laity and the general public (most of whom understandably do not think theologically and who won’t separate this one issue from all the others confronting us) that, indeed, Rome is the answer.
In terms of the outrage of abuse itself, the question which willl be asked again and again is whether the structures of the church itself still make it easier for such things to remain undetected.
It would be absurd to suggest that adequate reparation could ever be made towards those who have suffered at the hands of child molesting clergy (how did that disgustingly misleading word “paedophile” come into common currency?) The victims, understandably in many cases, want to bring the whole edifice crashing down. Who can blame them? Would our reaction be any different if we had suffered in the same way?
But the response from the Church (any ecclesial body – we all know this isn’t a problem unique to celibate Roman Catholic clergy by any means) is always going to be perceived as too late and wholly insufficient. The only course of action the Church can take is to make sure, as far as is humanly possible, that crimes of this kind can never be tacitly condoned or covered up in the future.
Inevitably there have been those who have suggested as a solution to the scandal the wholesale adoption of our own much-loved liberal agenda: the abolition of compulsory celibacy, the ordination of women and of  non-celibate homosexuals and everything else on the radical wish list. But it's hard to see how simply extending the clericalism of the Church and, given the nature of secular society, adopting a more "secularist" agenda can be a solution to anything; it hasn't been for Anglicans - "the cure was successsful, unfortunately the patient died." No, child abuse is as much a problem of the "world" as it is of the Church.
But there is one observation we can make from the Anglican patrimony (and, as we need to state, Anglicans are by no means unaffected by these kind of scandals and our past record is far from unblemished) and that is the need for the reality (as opposed to the theological ideal) of the Church as the Body of Christ, consisting not only of the clergy but of all the baptised, the Plebs Sancta Dei. It is when we forget this essential truth in our praxis that, as Newman very clearly pointed out in another context, http://www.newmanreader.org/works/rambler/consulting.html  we end up in trouble. This will inevitably mean the strengthening, in certain respects, of the role of  lay officers and parish committees (churchwardens and PCCs in the British, Anglican, context) and the involvement of suitably qualified lay people at every tier of authority and, administrative decision-making within the Church’s structures.
Synodical government (in the Anglican sense) has been nothing less than an unmitigated disaster, turning the Church into a political battleground and making matters of doctrine a subject for often unqualified and ill-informed debate and subject to majority vote, but an increased lay involvement in administrative decision-making (something which I know is already taking place to an extent) may well import a much needed degree of openness and common sense which is sometimes a casualty of an exclusively clerical system of ecclesial government. Controversial? Undoubtedly for many, but human nature being what it is, it would be a necessary corrective to the tendency for a worrying culture of secrecy, concealing the kind of behaviour which is repugnant to all sane human beings. It would also call the bluff of all those who specialise in a particularly unpleasant form of anti-Catholic propaganda.
However, the issue of clerical child abuse (actually, child abuse committed by anyone in any institution and walk of life) can’t easily be divorced from the sea-change in the attitude to sexuality in our society. The normative celibacy of the Latin rite clergy itself is not actually the problem at all (it has to be stated forcibly that the overwhelming majority of  celibate clergy - or married clergy for that matter - are neither actual nor potential abusers of children, and that the priesthood simply cannot function as it should in an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion), but a mature attitude to one’s own sexuality is certainly harder to achieve in a culture where it is regarded as a virtue “to let it all hang out,” and where the overt sexualisation of children and younger teenagers is an increasing worry even to the most convinced of secularists. I hesitate as a complete outsider to comment on this at all in the Catholic context, but the selection and formation of candidates for the priesthood surely needs to (in fact already does) take place consciously within the wider context of a contemporary culture which is worryingly immature and incontinent in its attitudes to sex; candidates for ordination (in any tradition) should only be those who, as far as can be assessed, are able to cope psychologically with the absence (or chaste limitation in the case of the married) of sexual expression in a world where sex sells and such images are all around us, and then who are not left alone to either sink or swim in a parish setting without being given adequate pastoral support.
But we are not talking about loneliness here; from my own observations in the Anglican ecclesial setting, those clergy who have been found guilty of sexual offences against the young are those who have displayed a terrifying lack of maturity in their interpersonal relationships, not to mention a degree of arrested development which seems to have resulted in an inappropriate attraction to children and young people. These are complex issues and not conducive to easy solutions, but safeguards can be put in place.
Far from liberating us from unhealthy sexual repression, our present culture - the culture which, like it or not, has an effect on us all - has become markedly less grown up and responsible as regards the socially disruptive effects of uninhibited sexual behaviour on adults and children alike. In fact there has been a news report only today stating that most child sex abuse is perpetrated by other children -  truly frightening information particularly for those of us who are parents.
This may or may not have much of a bearing on the scandal breaking all around the world, but it would be dangerous and dishonest to allow this debate to become just another means of discrediting religious belief and practice as such, without also dealing with the problems caused by the breakdown of traditional values and patterns of behaviour in our society as a whole over the last forty or fifty years. It’s far easier to let the genie out of the bottle than to get him back in again.
But first the Church has to be seen to be putting its own house in order, so the Holy Father's welcome and much needed visit here in September and his beatification of John Henry Newman can truly be seen as the beginning of a period of renewal and hope for the future.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a very good and balanced post - a real tonic after the hysterical diatribes seen elsewhere. In fact, the response of the Catholic Diocese of England and Wales to the problem of clergy child abuse - following the Nolan report - was praised by both police and caring professionals. It was not a perfect response and left many clergy feeling a bit paranoid since it offered no protection for those falsely accused. However, it was a robust and determined response. This has been revisited, and the procedures are now more mature although still very strong.

    Part of the problem with this whole situation is precisely the media. In recent days I have seen comparisons between the percentage of Catholic clergy involved in abuse as compared with the vast majority of offenders,(who are not priests and not celibate) and abusers of other denominational persuasions. Catholic priests are certainly not, as a group, the greatest offenders, but many people assume they are because others are not reported or treated with the same publicity. Add to that - I'm afraid - what now certainly appears to be a real anti-Catholicism in our midst, and we have a tendency to irrational and grossly unfair outbursts from people who are not interested in hearing the truth.

    In this situation there is nothing to be done but to turn to prayer. The Bishops cannot peer into people's minds, and there can never be any perfect way of filtering out possible offenders, just as we can never be sure that no one in any walk of life will let us down or create scandal. Those who attack the Pope and the Catholic hierarchy over this matter appear to think that ALL information about ALL Catholic priests should ALWAYS be to hand and that it should be perused almost constantly by EVERYONE in authority, but especially by the Pope, as though the Church had nothing else to do. It seems as though some people assume that Catholic authorities should almost abandon all involvement in other areas to concentrate on policing priests. If this is not hysteria, what is it?


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