US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is clerical culture to blame?

Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

This morning, I clicked on three New York Times headlines, read the pieces immediately, and forwarded the links to each article as soon as I was finished: Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys, Abuse Scandal's Ripples Spread Across Europe, and The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal, an editorial.

This was not a good start to my day. In fact, it is depressing and demoralizing. We keep calling this a "scandal," but I don't think scandalous begins to describe the church's state of affairs. At this point, I can hardly say I'm surprised by even more news and evidence of priests who molest children and bishops who lack the moral conscience to speak up and do something about it, but I am most certainly heart sickened, disgusted, and wary of our church's leadership.

This enormous mess on our hands is reflective of what I've resorted to calling a sickness, given the way it is destroying the very dignity of the faithful.  (Megan Sweas' comment on Lawrence Murphy's plea to then-Cardinal Ratzinger to allow him to "live out the time I have left in the dignity of my priesthood,"cuts right to the heart of the matter. She said: "And I'm sure the 200(!) boys you abused would also like to live out the time that they have left in the dignify of their personhood. Too bad you took that away from them!")

Renee Schafer Horton and our own Bryan Cones have lamented that it's the clerical culture in the Catholic Church that breeds this breech of power. I am here to add my voice to that chorus. There has been a serious misuse of authority on the part of both the priests who have tortured and raped children and of the bishops who have grossly mishandled the situations, and I find it hard to point a blaming finger at the disciplines and requirements for priesthood. As Horton commented,  "When you’ve got a system that survives on making sure that the only people who rise through the ranks are 'loyal to the Magisterium,' you’ve got yourself a problem — because anyone daring enough to call a spade a spade is quickly marginalized."

I took a class on the theology of Holy Orders a couple of years ago, and another student (a priest) said, "There may be a shortage of vocations to the priesthood, but there is no shortage of vocations to the episcopate."

These two statements reflect an irony of the clerical culture that I'm saddened to find, as more news continues to surface, seems more and more true: There is a tendency within an inflated clerical culture to care more for self-preservation than for the well-being of the faithful.