Does Pedophilia Scandal Spell an Opportunity for Catholics

by Brian J. Foley

The recent pedophilia crisis presents an enormous, unprecedented opportunity for American Catholics.

Many Catholics have long known that something was rotten in the Church. They were discouraged, however, by the Church from exploring further. Such authoritarianism stems partly from the failure of Church leaders — and Catholics themselves — to embrace the reality that the people in the pews are often smarter, better educated and better informed than the priests, bishops and cardinals who tell them what to think.

Americans have long understood that participation and dissent are necessary for a healthy democracy. The recent scandal reveals, however, that participation and dissent are necessary for healthy institutions of any sort. The Church’s failure to handle this situation properly reveals that the Church is an institution, run by human beings, who are fallible. It needs help.

Where does that leave Catholics?

They can dig in and defend the Church. Many conservative Catholics are already responding by saying that there is nothing wrong with the Church or its teachings; the priests are the problem. This view effectively cancels any serious inquiry or questioning.

Or, Catholics can recognize that, as in other areas of their lives, they should not simply accept what their leaders say. Catholics should demand broader participation in leading their Church, applying the thinking that one applies to other institutions: reason, experience, common sense, fairness.

Here are some things that Catholics should now address:

CELIBACY FOR CLERGY: What reason exists for this? Most other religions and denominations do not require celibacy, and their spiritual leaders work effectively. Is there a relationship between celibacy and pedophilia? Many mental health professionals think so. In any case, it appears that other churches are not facing this problem to the extent the Catholic Church is.

Moreover, experience tells us that celibacy is not required for spiritual life, or the other roles that clerics play — leader, counselor, teacher. Many CEOs are married. U.S. presidents have almost always been married. Rabbis and ministers marry. Time-pressed doctors often have husbands and wives.

Letting priests and nuns marry would result in an influx of energetic, well-rounded people to the clergy. People who had ruled it out would consider it. Very few people have joined in recent years, and many clerics have quit, for this reason alone.

Given the positive nature of contemporary views on sexuality, how many emotionally healthy young people can the Church reasonably expect to choose a lifetime of celibacy? Especially when other denominations do not impose this restriction on their clergy? Of course, some good people will still join, but why limit the pool?

Some of the most amazing, spiritual, intelligent, conscientious people I know are priests. Yet they are being deprived of good, new people to their communities, which results in a deep loneliness, a despair that makes many quit.

WOMEN PRIESTS: Why bar women from the priesthood? Women have proven they can be the presidents and prime ministers, legislators, judges, astronauts, jet fighter pilots, surgeons, CEOs, journalists. The list goes on. Women are ministers and priests and rabbis in other churches and religions.

The Church has arbitrarily shut out meaningful participation from about half of humanity. This represents a failure to tap talent, and it has caused an exodus of women who want no part of an institution that treats them as third-class citizens.

AUTHORITARIANISM: Catholics should participate in their parishes and help lead their church. At the end of Catholic Mass, most parishioners simply leave. There is little or no sense of community. Input from parishioners is not sought. Instead, they are simply told what to do and what to think.

For example, I once heard a priest tell a young woman who questioned a rule that the woman needed to "pray for understanding," until she accepted the rule. The message: She was the problem, the rule could not possibly be wrong.

Would more participation and questioning have prevented some of the pedophilia scandals?

A friend once told me that at his Catholic high school, boys were routinely punished by a certain clergyman who took them all to the shower and made them do pushups — wearing only their jockstraps. No student or parent reported this to the relevant authorities. It is doubtful that such behavior would have gone unreported in a public school.

More to the point, would a majority of parishioners agree to quietly reassign a pedophile priest to the children of another parish?

Catholics should rejoice if bishops and cardinals resign due to public pressure, or ask forgiveness from their flocks. This will signify to Catholics that the Church is subject to questioning, that its members matter. Only then can the Church change. It will probably improve. It might even flourish.

Brian J. Foley is a professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. He can be reached at Brian.J.Foley@law.widener.edu

























 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine
Norman Pollack
American Jews and the Iran Accord: The Politics of Fear
John Grant
Sorting Through the Bullshit in America
David Macaray
The Unbearable Lightness of Treaties
Chad Nelson
Lessig Uses a Scalpel Where a Machete is Needed
September 02, 2015
Paul Street
Strange Words From St. Bernard and the Sandernistas
Jose Martinez
Houston, We Have a Problem: False Equivalencies on Police Violence
Henry Giroux
Global Capitalism and the Culture of Mad Violence
Ajamu Baraka
Making Black Lives Matter in Riohacha, Colombia
William Edstrom
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry
David Altheide
The Media Syndrome Between a Glock and a GoPro
Yves Engler
Canada vs. Africa
Ron Jacobs
The League of Empire
Andrew Smolski
Democracy and Privatization in Neoliberal Mexico
Stephen Lendman
Gaza: a Socioeconomic Dead Zone
Norman Pollack
Obama, Flim-Flam Artist: Alaska Offshore Drilling
Binoy Kampmark
Australian Border Force Gore
Ruth Fowler
Ask Not: Lost in the Crowd with Amanda Palmer
Kim Nicolini
Remembering Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy