The Catholic world is on fire — and not in the way Christ intended. Anguished questions are being hashed out. How did prince of the Church Theodore McCarrick get away with it for so long? Who knew? Why didn’t they stop him? Who’s now doing the same thing? How deep does the rot go? Do the bishops see the real problem? And what can the laity do about it?
New policies are not enough. Another set of rules like the Dallas Charter of 2002 is not going to fix this. But what will?
Let’s start with where I ended a previous column: “We should think about solutions to the problems our clergy face.”
First, as I said last time, “we should pray daily for our clergy. We should also encourage them and help them in their work. This will prevent burnout, which makes them more likely to give in to temptation.” We laity can do a lot to make their lives easier and their ministries more fruitful.
Second, Catholics should fight the problem by attacking it at its source, which is clericalism. A proper respect for the priesthood should not mean special immunities for priests. They should be held to at least the same standards as everyone else.
Because the homosexual nature of the clergy sex abuse crisis was never discussed, we are right back where we were in 2002.
Third — and this gets to the unpleasant heart of the matter — the Catholic priesthood must be swept clean of networks of active homosexuals. It has been 16 years since “the Long Lent” of 2002 brought to light the crisis of sex abuse within the Catholic clergy. The conventional wisdom — repeated endlessly by the major media — was that the problem was “pedophile priests.” This was never true.
The truth was known almost from the beginning. In 2005, the National Catholic Register reported that the study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found that “the majority of sexual abuse by clergy took place during the 1960s and ’70s, with 81% of the victims being males between the ages of 11 and 17.” In other words, 80% of the victims were post-pubescent males, not pre-pubescent children.
Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, called that finding “remarkable.” He was an eminent member of the Catholic Church’s National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People.
He told the newspaper: “I’m amazed that this fundamental bombshell has not been the subject of greater interest and discussion. I’m astonished that people throughout America are not talking about it, thinking about it, and wondering about what the mechanisms were that set this alight.”
Ten to 11% of all seminary graduates from 1970 to 1973 abused children, he said. “That’s an amazing fact. This behavior was homosexual predation on American Catholic youth, yet it’s not being discussed” (emphasis added).
Or worse. Much Catholic commentary suggests the Bishops’ credibility is in greater crisis now than it was in 2002. And it was in bad shape then.
Yet, I don’t think even that fully expresses the damage that has been done by the McCarrick scandal. The larger damage to the Church, which I’ve not yet seen anyone comment on, is how the McCarrick scandal will greatly worsen the priest shortage. How much less likely will Catholic parents be to encourage their son to pursue a vocation to the priesthood if they fear he may end up a guest at Uncle Ted’s beach house? (For those who don’t know, when a bishop in New Jersey, McCarrick would invite young seminarians for intimate weekends at a home he kept on the New Jersey shore.)
So the Church must acknowledge and clean up the active homosexual network within the priesthood not simply to restore confidence in its bishops but to ensure the continuing survival of the Catholic Church in America. No priests, no Church. As we know from some Protestant mainline denominations, a church with a predominately homosexual clergy will eventually die.
The laity can assist by likewise acknowledging the problem and refusing to tolerate it. We should call sin what it is and we should fight against it.
One very Catholic way of doing so is by imitating the lives of the saints. They did not remain silent when faced with widely practiced and accepted homosexuality. We have an example that is directly on-point in St. Peter Damian’s 11th century crusade to rid the priesthood of sodomy. As one reviewer wrote of his work The Book of Gomorrah: It “was no easier a thousand years ago than it is today to speak out against this vice and to bring active homosexuals to repentance, to an acknowledgement of the natural law, and to the practice of purity.”
The saint himself said: “Who am I to see such a harmful outrage growing up among the sacred orders and, as a murderer of another’s soul, preserve the stricture of silence, and to dare to await the reckoning of divine severity? Do I not begin to be responsible for a guilt whose author I never was?”
Finally, we should bear in mind the advice of St. Josemaría Escrivá to the laity on the ultimate remedy to crises within the Church: “The remedy of remedies is piety. … Perhaps we still pray little, and God is expecting a more intense prayer from us for his Church,” he says.
Any resistance to the action of the Holy Spirit means contributing to the work of those trying to destroy the Church by adulterating its aims. Let us pray more, since God has enkindled in our heart a great love for his holy Church. Let us cry out, my children, let us cry out (Is 58:1) — and God will hear us and cut short the terrible confusion of these times.
Our primary response to the crisis must be prayer. If we don’t pray, all the fist-shaking in the world won’t change a thing. But after we pray, we must shake our fists.