The Clergy and the Sexual Revolution
I hate to embark on writing yet another article about the clergy sexual abuse scandals. It is like probing a wound in Our Lord’s crucified body. Indeed, it is an actual probing of his Mystical Body. But there may be two such kinds of probing; one which, intentionally or unintentionally makes the wound worse, the other which helps to heal the wound, as I hope this article will.
The world being the way it is, we can expect the press to give massive coverage to any story criticising the Catholic Church. It would be equally unreasonable not to expect the Church’s opponents to make maximum capital out of the situation. It would also be wrong for Catholics to play down the gravity of what has been happening. But we do, as Catholics, have a right to reject unjust or exaggerated accusations. As has frequently been pointed out, in England and Wales less than half of one percent of priests have faced allegations, and fewer have been found guilty. Also, in looking into the causes of what has happened, there are good grounds for asking whether the Catholic Church, or its offending clergy are alone to blame.
Sexual seduction of the young by older men and women, like the other capital sins, we can assume to be as old as the human race after the fall of Adam and Eve. And for the same reason, there will have been instances of it on occasion among the Christian clergy. This is not to excuse it, but to set it in context.
What is startling about the present situation is the scale on which it has suddenly been taking place. Why? Has the Church altered its teaching about the sinfulness of any kind of sexual intercourse outside marriage. No. Is it due to the Catholic Church’s clerical celibacy laws? No. The Catholic Church created a culture in which a celibate clergy served for the most part devotedly for centuries. Why then are those laws no longer so effective? Because there has been a profound cultural change inimical to the natural law and the Church’s teaching about human sexuality. And who has been responsible for this change? Who else surely if not the sexual revolutionaries of the fifties and sixties and their successors?
This is not only undeniable, but in the light of it, I believe, we can justly maintain that they are the root cause of the situations they claim to be shocked by. They are right to be shocked. But was there ever a better case of ‘the pot calling the kettle black’. They are the ones who are responsible for the age of sexual consent being lowered, for the press and media being packed with sexually stimulating material, for younger and younger children being given more and more explicit sex education. Indeed there is a case for seeing overly-explicit sex-education, or too much too early, as itself a form of child abuse.
In this respect I would say there is a good case for considering the sexual revolutionaries as equally if not more guilty than the priests , poor men, whose sins and crimes, have recently been coming to light.
I will go further. By eroticising the whole of western culture to a degree unknown to history --- even the inhabitants of Roman Pompeii, whose eroticism at least often had some kind of religious justification behind it, would have been astounded --- I suggest we can justly accuse them of “sexually abusing” whole nations and generations. Look around you. One can hardly open a newspaper, turn on a television set or glance at an advertisement without the subject of sex or sexually stimulating images being thrust on one. How many millions of children will have had their normal psychological development disturbed or disrupted by these pedlars of eroticism? Indeed there is a sense in which we can see many of today’s priests as their victims too. I am not saying the priests in question are not personally responsible for their actions. But it seems more than probable that in a different culture many fewer would have succumbed to temptation.
What is the Church to do? We are in a situation that is not likely to improve or go away soon --- unless we are overtaken by radical Islam, in which case we would be confronted with a different crisis. How are the faithful to be spiritually strengthened to cope with it? I would suggest it is not something the average parish on its own has the resources to cope with.
John Paul’s theology of the body was undoubtedly a providential step forward. So is the growth of Eucharistic adoration. Then there are the “new movements”, the majority of which are now not all that new. Membership or association with one or other of them can be a great help in keeping one spiritually resistant not only to the eroticism but also to the circumambient materialism. As enticements, I would say, the two reinforce each other. But above all the problem needs to be addressed at parish level. Here the early Christians surely have something to say to us. They were a tiny minority in a sea of paganism, yet they were not overwhelmed by the difficulty or vastness of their task. How did they manage it? Surely their apostolic spirit had something to do with it.
These of course are measures to help Catholics survive in sex-sodden western society over the long term. Recently however Pope Benedict has been tackling the situation from a different angle. It is not enough, he has said to focus on the ill-will and injustice of our opponents. “Today we see in a really terrifying way that the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies outside but is born from the sin in the Church,” with the implication, it seems, that if enough of us had been living at the level we should have been the scandals would not have taken place or nothing like on the scale they have. There is always sin. The Devil never sleeps. But evil only gets a serious grip on the Church at a particular time when grace in the souls of the majority of the faithful is at a low level.
This seems to chime in with what has been said many times in recent years about the loss of the sense of sin. And the remedy? “The Church”, says the Pope, “ has a profound need to relearn penance and to accept purification….”
Coming back to the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandals, I would like to end with a few words about the response of many of the victims and their parents. They have a right to be shocked, deeply shocked. In many cases the incidents must have seriously tested their faith just as the accumulation of incidents will no doubt have tested the faith of not a few of the faithful at large. The tone of some of the remarks to the press, however, often suggests a less than fully Catholic frame of mind. They imply a view of the Church as something belonging exclusively to the clergy --- the equivalent of an hotel or department store providing goods and services for which they are the customers --- not something loved to which they belong as much as the clergy do and are in different ways responsible for.
In view of this it seems to me there is room for a campaign of preaching
about the Church based on Lumen Gentium and the CCC to help victims,
parents and the faithful generally have a more supernaturalised
understanding of what has been happening as well as towards a more
forgiving and merciful frame of mind. Forgiving those who harm us is
not something peripheral in Christianity. It is central.
Were this done they would realise that no matter how much spiritual or
psychological damage the victim may have suffered at the hands of a
particular priest, his situation is incomparably worse than theirs. He is
going to have to answer to the Just Judge who said it is better to be
thrown into the sea with a stone round one’s neck than to scandalise one
of his ‘little ones’. Two priest abusers, poor men, have already died in
prison, one murdered by a fellow prisoner. We hope of course they
repented in time. All the same it is an awe-inspiring thought.
However, at least some good can come out of this tragedy if it makes us all more aware how much the clergy are in the front line when it comes to the devil’s attacks, how much they need our prayers and mortifications, and that this is not just a nice pious idea, but a serious necessity. Also there is nothing like praying for other people for pacifying one’s frame of mind.
Copyright © Philip Trower 2015
Version: 22nd September 2016