The Catholic Church rams headlong into sexual sin yet again . . . and it still can’t cope

I don’t want to write this article.  My own pain over the situation within the Catholic Church, and particularly within its clergy, remains very, very deep.  Nevertheless, following comments from friends and acquaintances over the Cardinal McCarrick affair, I think I have to try to set out the current situation as I see it.  I hope I can shed some light on what’s happening.  However, I can’t offer a solution, because the Church is not going to change willingly.  It’s marching to the beat of a different drummer, and it won’t listen to any other.  That’s potentially one of its greatest strengths, but also, at present, one of its greatest weaknesses.

As background to my perspective, please see the four articles I wrote in 2010 about my experiences within the Church over the clergy child sex abuse crisis, and my reactions to it.  The first article is here, and contains links to the others.  That will show you where I’m coming from.  Bear in mind that I have my own views on the situation, which will be different from others, who may disagree profoundly with what I have to say.  That’s their right.  You’ll have to make up your own mind.

Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation is not unexpected.  The shocking thing is that it took so long to force him out.  He’s been under suspicion of sexual misconduct as a clergyman and Bishop for a number of years, perhaps as many as two decades, or even longer.  Recent reports indicate that he was named as a likely offender in two previous inquiries “in the 2000’s”, in two of the dioceses he previously led – Metuchen and Newark, both in New Jersey.  How is it that he was not disciplined earlier?  It’s all very well to argue that he had not been convicted of any crimes or moral offenses in a canonical court . . . but in that case, why did the Church regard the evidence of his offenses as sufficiently incriminating to pay damages to two of his “alleged” victims?  Why was he allowed to retain his rank as Cardinal, much less his episcopal and/or priestly status, in the light of that reality?  An “ordinary” priest would have been at least suspended from ministry, and possibly defrocked – i.e. laicized, losing his ordained status – for those offenses . . . but not, it seems, a Cardinal.

The answer, of course, is simple.  The Church wanted to protect itself.  It was more than willing to brush the inquiries under the carpet, keeping them out of the public eye, paying damages to the victims with the restriction that those who received them were bound to silence about the offenses for which they were paid.  At all costs, the image of the institutional Church had to be protected.  Those who didn’t toe the line were criticized, pressurized, and vilified.  (Go read about national columnist Peggy Noonan’s experiences in that regard, and her conclusions.)

That remains, I think, the overwhelming factor in the Church’s reactions today.  At all costs, many (thankfully not all) Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals will seek first and foremost to protect the institution that confers power, status and influence upon them.  They may try to rationalize it as being in response to Godless attacks on the Church of Christ by those who are anti-Christian.  Some of them, no doubt, actually believe that.  However, the reality is that they simply cannot conceive of any other response except to circle the wagons and fight off their critics.  Most of them truly believe that they, and they alone, as “successors to the Apostles“, have a God-given mandate – and, of course, a God-given right – to preserve the Church and her teachings against the onslaught of the world, the flesh and the devil.  No-one else has such a mandate, or such a right, in their eyes:  therefore, their advice, suggestions and proposals are simply illegitimate.  Any attempt to criticize the Church and its approach to such scandals is fought off, while critics, no matter how sincere they may be, are demonized as “anti-Catholic”, or something similar.

Such Bishops reinforce such attitudes (or, at least, did so in the past – I fear some still do today) by putting obstacles in the path of those who wished to report such offenses against morals.  An article in America magazine sheds light on the situation, and on the subtle and less-than-subtle conditioning that was (and in some cases still is) applied.  It’s worth reading, if the subject interests you.

To my mind, the greatest tragedy of this situation is that the institutional Church appears to be utterly uninterested in harnessing the knowledge and expertise of modern science and business study.  The disciplines of Organizational Behavior and Organizational Development have grown up since the Second World War, and are today used by almost every business and institution to analyze their own behavior, growth, etc. and improve it where necessary.  I studied both at graduate level during my business career (winning an academic prize for them in the process), and found them very helpful.  They helped me analyze and understand what was going on in the Church as this crisis unfolded during the 1990’s and 2000’s.  However, whenever I or any other qualified person, clergy or laity, tried to offer insights derived from those disciplines, we were either ignored, or told (usually less than politely) to shut up.  We “didn’t understand the situation”.  We “didn’t know the mind of the Church”.  We “were ignoring the centuries of experience that the Church had gained, which would guide her in resolving this crisis”.

Yeah.  Riiiiiight.

That’s why many Bishops overwhelmingly staffed their diocesan commissions on the child sex abuse crisis with those they knew were loyal to the “old order”, and either excluded, or speedily removed, those who held other views.  They didn’t want to know about any approach other than that which the institutional Church had always employed.  Modern insights were suspect, because modern society had given rise to the problem, after all.  If only we’d all go back to the old morality, and everyone resumed their proper place in society, all would be well.

There’s an old English jingle that sums it up nicely:

God bless the Squire and his relations,
And keep us in our proper stations.

That, I think, is how many Bishops – and many older priests – regarded (and some still regard) the people of God, the laity whose money pays for their churches and rectories and salaries and pensions.  “Shut up, pay your rightful dues, and let us run things as God wants us to.”  It’s like the Cardinal who’s alleged to have replied to a Protestant questioner about the liturgy, during the Second Vatican Council, “Sir, you may worship God in your way.  However, we shall continue to worship Him in His.”

Arrogance?  Or the invincible ignorance fallacy in action?  You be the judge.

Those are the same Bishops who lied to their priests about the nature and extent of the crisis;  who instructed their priests to lie to the people of God about the clergy child sex abuse scandal;  who told them to tell their people that the Bishops were dealing with the problem, and could be trusted to do so, even when the contrary was obvious;  and who demanded that those of us who knew better – who knew that all the measures the Bishops were implementing were nothing more than pious window-dressing, and said so to them – should be silent about that, and “get with the program”, or face the loss of rights, pensions, and whatever else they could think of.

I was literally sick to my stomach with disgust and disbelief.  I could not understand – I still cannot understand – how the Church ever thought she could get away with that.  Of course, as history has shown, she could not – and the chickens of her neglect and farcical insularity are still coming home to roost.  Consider just 2018 so far:

If you really want to be nauseated by all the sordid details, see Bishop Accountability’s list of “Bishops Accused of Sexual Abuse and Misconduct“.  It’s daunting.

Some Bishops are trying to address the situation in pastoral letters to their clergy and/or laity.  I’ll cite two examples here.  The first is from Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany, NY (which I’ve visited as a priest).

Let me be clear … in stating my firm conviction that this is, at heart, much more than a crisis of policies and procedures. We can – and I am confident that we will – strengthen the rules and regulations and sanctions against any trying to fly under the radar or to “get away with” such evil and destructive behaviors. But, at its heart, this is much more than a challenge of law enforcement; it is a profoundly spiritual crisis.

Blessed Pope Paul VI prophetically warned us in Humanae Vitae of the long-range consequences of the separation of sexuality and sexual behavior from the conjugal relationship. Contemporary culture in our part of the world now holds it normative that sex and sexual gratification between any consenting persons for any reason that their free wills allow is perfectly acceptable. This is not a sexuality befitting of human beings that responds to the need and true desire of every human person to be respected and loved fully and unconditionally.

All of us who are ordained to preach what the Church teaches must practice what we preach and teach. We also need to uphold what our faith proclaims about the gift and beauty of human sexuality, fully lived in its essential conjugal meaning. A culture of virtue and chastity – in short, personal holiness – rooted in a trusting and committed relationship with Jesus Christ is the path toward healing and wholeness, even as we seek to drive the evil behaviors among us from the womb of the Church.

There’s more at the link.

To Bishop Scharfenberger I say this:  Bishop, you may be a good and holy pastor, but you’re incredibly naive.  Yes, this is a spiritual crisis, but that’s because the Church has not proclaimed and preached its dogma, doctrine and teaching with authority for decades.  When last did the average American parishioner hear a sermon about sexual morality, or abortion, or marriage and family life?  Everything’s social justice, and immigration, and politics, and trendy touchy-feely subjects.  The great, classic liturgical hymns, focusing on God and His works, have long since been discarded for easy-to-sing melodies with politically correct lyrics.  “Kumbaya” has replaced “Kyrie”.  Given that reality, when so many priests cannot and do not proclaim the truth, or do not (or are not permitted to) sanction those who turn aside from it and deliberately, publicly flout Church teaching . . .what else do you expect, literally, for God’s sake?  And when priests are not taught those truths in seminary, but spend most of their time analyzing feelings instead of facts, and social justice instead of holiness, and living in the world instead of letting Christ live in them, and celibacy is honored more in the breach than in the observance by many of the very professors who teach them . . . and many Bishops did, and in many cases still do, nothing – NOTHING! – to stop that . . . why are you surprised at the ongoing scandals?

The second letter is from Bishop Michael F. Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and I have zero tolerance for sexual abuse against minors, as well as against vulnerable adults by its clergy, staff and volunteers, including me as bishop.  This is manifested both in our policies and in our actions.  During my nearly five years of serving as your bishop, I have always taken prompt action in removing priests, deacons, staff and volunteers when credible allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct have been established.  Our process has included transparently calling for victims, with due respect for protecting the identities of the victims.

Our seminarians, priests, deacons, and religious and lay staff are taught to recognize and to report boundary violations without fear of retribution, no matter the status of the perpetrator.

Again, more at the link.

I hope and pray that Bishop Olson speaks the truth, and that a vigorous program such as he outlines is, indeed, in place in his Diocese.  However, his is one diocese among 197 in the USA, and among thousands in the rest of the world.  As shown above, a number of them are, or have been, rather less stringent in their implementation of Catholic moral teaching.  I wish him every possible success in keeping his Diocese on the straight and narrow.  Sadly, it still leaves far too many people in other Dioceses out in the cold.  I have friends among them.  I hear from them how they’re giving up going to church out of sheer disgust at the social justice agenda being forced upon them, to the detriment of the truths of the Faith.  They’re keeping faith with God when his Church will not.  I weep for them – and that’s not an exaggeration.

I was one of more than a few voices raised inside the institution of the Church, pointing out the realities of the situation, striving to contribute what we could to stop the train wreck unfolding all around us.  However, I, and others like me, were brutally silenced.  We were told to “put up and shut up”, to “get with the program – or else”, to lie to our people and convince them that the Bishops were doing what was necessary.  Some older priests were threatened with the loss of their pensions and retirement residences.

We were right.  History has proved us right . . . but that didn’t stop how we were treated, and we’ve never had so much as one word of apology after we were proved correct.  Nor were we permitted to bring real, workable, realistic solutions to the table.  We had to watch as the same pious platitudes that had been used ad nauseam in the past were trotted out yet again . . . with results that were just as ineffectual.  The consequences are still being felt to this day, as the list of current scandals shows.

I, and many others, turned around and walked away.  I explained my reasons and thought processes earlier.  My heart was broken, because the Church in which I had believed, and invested what I expected to be the rest of my life, had turned out to be a “whitewashed tomb” – at least in her institutionalized self.  There were, and are, many faithful, holy Catholics, clergy and laity;  but I submit that they are largely not represented in or by the leaders of the institution of the Church as she exists at present.  They are holy in spite of her, rather than because of her.

I can identify very strongly with Mary Magdalene.

Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”

The Bishops, and Archbishops, and Cardinals, in their collective hierarchy, have taken away my Church . . . and I do not know where they have laid her.  That is absolutely heart-breaking.



  1. I am not of your faith, but I sympathize with your pain. The problems that concern you are also problems of other faiths and I wish those institutions had articulate commentators such as you to point out the failure of leadership to recognize that which is obvious to the laity.

  2. I admire the Catholic faith. I despise the Catholic Church. Far too many other people can't perceive the difference between the two.

    Glenn Beck, for all his many failings, got one thing spectacularly right. The Left infiltrates and destroys "Bottom up, top down, inside out."

  3. You may be interested in Anne Barnhart's essay on the matter, which includes the names of Thomas Williams, Mary Anne Glendon, Elizabeth Lev (Glendon's daughter) and the most infamous Maciel. (Bannon gets a bit part, too!)

    Allow me to firmly request an editorial change in your otherwise dead-on essay: it is not "the Church" which sins, as you imply. It is "the Bishops" (Cardinals, priests, etc.) who sin. I understand the elision you make–but there IS a substantive difference.


  4. This made me think of two things, one long and one short. The long one is T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland". The short one is Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy.

    Sic transit Gloria Mundi.

  5. It's disconcerting that an institution that is based on law, is itself instructing it's representatives to break that law. I grew up Catholic, but fell away from the Church decades ago. I still consider myself Catholic, but don't really have anything to do with the organization anymore. My wife and her family are Baptist, FiL is a pastor at a small country church. After we got married we searched for a local church that was to both our liking. It was an eye opening experience attending various churches and speaking to the leaders. Many of them were willing to lie to us both at the pulpit and in face to face meetings. They seemed more interested in getting butts-in-seats and collecting donations than in truth.

  6. I suspect every organization where adults work with children is will have those who abuse their authority by abusing others. My late grandfather, a Southern Baptist minister, molested both my sister and a cousin, his own grandchildren. My church has stringent guidelines in place, which they have recently strengthened but, even so, abuse happens. I know that abusers, once discovered are (almost) always excommunicated from the church and if ever allowed to rejoin their records are flagged so they are never allowed to work with children.

    One problem, of course, is that the Organization can only protect itself, and others, in official settings. Windows, working only in pairs, special training, whatever, only work in and only cover those areas least likely to be a problem. A predator could use those settings to establish trust with potential victims and use unsanctioned, hidden meet ups to commit their actual crimes.

    And no, I don't have an answer. Individuals and institutions will never be fully protected. It is tempting however, to think that Old Testament rather than New Testament remedies should be used.

  7. I highly recommend that you read Ann Barnhart's blog. At first she seems a little over the top, but she has been proven right on many things over the last ten years. BTW, I read you every day keep up the good work.

  8. People, I'm sorry, but I won't allow this to degenerate into a "Catholics evil – Protestants good" sort of exchange. If you want to do that, please do so on your own blog. Don't vomit it all over mine.

  9. Scharfenberger is on some heavy crack. It makes no sense whatsoever to speak of "sexual desire and sexual behaviour separated from conjugal relations" in the context of the sexual misbehaviour of people who are supposed to be celibate.

    And even us utterly godless heathens who think of sex as nothing more than another biological act tend to recognize that it's not one that should be performed with children.

  10. And that's not to mention that his comment ignores the fact that the sexual misbehaviour of the Catholic Church predates the "sexual revolution" anyway!

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