In recent months we have once again been forced to confront the sinful evils we have inflicted upon one another. Currently the focus is rightfully on the sins of the clergy. The sexual predations of some clergy have a three-fold effect on the victims and on the Church.
First there is the violation of the Sixth Commandment by all who engage in illicit sexual union. Sin always causes harm; it always sets evil loose. Even illicit sexual union between two fully consenting adults harms human dignity; it dishonors the body and the meaning of human sexuality, and it weakens marriage by usurping one of its privileges.
A second effect of sexual abuse by clergy is that those who perpetrate it gravely violate their vow of celibacy. This adds sacrilege to the list of grave harms and brings the very Sacrament of Holy Orders into disrepute.
Yet a third effect is the terrible violation of trust. Men who are called “Father” turn against their own in a kind of spiritual incest. The horrifying impact of this on the victims is evident in listening to their testimonies. The wounds are deep and lasting. While most of the victims were post-pubescent teens or young adults, the harm is the same. The typical case is a religious superior exploiting someone under his care and authority. The relationship is not one between equals. The victims have suffered behaviors ranging from sexual harassment to outright sexual abuse. In the priestly scandal most of the cases have been ones of homosexual predation, but homosexual or heterosexual, the sin of any sexual predation is grievous and causes tremendous harm.
One of the cultural issues that underlies this scandal, as well as others that have been in the news recently, is a tendency to treat sexual sins lightly. Since the 1960s there has been a steady erosion in the proper understanding of sexuality. While no one lived perfectly before that time, sexual sins were considered serious; blatant disregard for biblical sexual norms was considered by most to be shocking and scandalous. Cohabitation, sex before marriage, the portrayal of sexual acts in movies, and so forth were thought to be serious violations of decency.
At first, many thought it was “no big deal,” even calling it a “liberation.” All the while, though, the horrible effects continued to mount: an increase in sexually transmitted diseases, the skyrocketing of abortion rates, an increase in human trafficking (especially of minors), a steep decline in marriage rates, a steep increase in divorce rates, and an increase in single motherhood/absent fatherhood. And revealed most recently, the additional tolls of sexual harassment, molestation and sexual abuse.
Saying that sex is no big deal doesn’t make it so. It has been said that God always forgives, men sometimes forgive, but nature never forgives. We have sown the wind and we have reaped the whirlwind.
Today’s reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians gives a simple reminder on the seriousness of sexual sins and perversions:
Instead, you inflict injustice and cheat, and this to brothers. Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God. That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11).
Note that this passage links these sexual sins to an injustice so serious that, if one dies unrepentant, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Put more plainly, the unrepentant will go to Hell.
Perhaps as we awaken from our long moral slumber we will begin to see that texts like these are not indicative of the “sexual hang-ups” of St. Paul or of an earlier age in general. In a stern warning like this, God is not trying to “take away our fun”; he is trying to protect us and those we might harm by illicit sexual union and summon us to conversion and repentance before it is too late.
It is a simple but clear warning issued in love and out of a desire to protect us, who often make light of sin.