Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Difference in Degree, Not Nature

Everything is coming out about the sexual abuse and its cover-up in Europe. And if in Europe, then probably everywhere. The secrecy and insularity, the bizarre psychological connection between sex and power or control...are systematic to the institutional church under the current model.

I can only imagine the situation in Third World countries where there is no media to ferret everything out, and where the poor people are used to being oppressed and not having their plight heard anyway. Where there is no questioning authorities and where children are routinely abused with no recourse anyway.

Far from being a problem of the decadence of the West, I would bet my life that things are even much worse in the Third World when it comes to clerical abuse and cover-up. In spite of the romanticized picture so many neocon and traditionalist Catholics will paint of a simpler world where vocations are booming and the people are devout because they haven't been "tempted away" by consumerism and materialism. In reality, the situation there is probably one of unimaginable abuse, corruption, and suffering, and yet they may never get justice.

However, while the Catholic media and blogosphere have been engaged in a spin campaign to deflect criticism from the hierarchy and downplay the scandal of it all, they have found a convenient scapegoat or distracting issue in the case of the Legionaries and Marcial Maciel. Though even he was long defend during the reign of John Paul, now that he has been definitively discredited, he makes a convenient whipping boy:

http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1342498?eng=y

Certainly his case is exceptional, and the cultish strictness of the Legionaries is extreme, but as we've discussed around here before...I would suggest that these problems are not different in nature, but only in degree, from those that plague the entire institutional structure of the clergy, especially as regards seminary formation.

Though not always taken to the Legionaries' extreme, the "values" of surveillance, inculcation of dependence, limitations on personal freedoms, conformism, distancing from external relationships, totalism of scheduling, and rigidity...seem to be the guiding principles behind how the hierarchy (and, unfortunately, many "loyal" Catholics) view the running of the clergy and the formation of seminarians. As being all about needing to control people, re-socialize, behavior-modify, etc. And almost always this is all tied up with the question of maintaining the facade of mandatory celibacy (in contrast, you don't see them treating married permanent deacon candidates that way).


So it is very ironic that the Legion is being (finally) so denounced for such things by the mainstream, when they are the very issues that characterize the system supported by many of the self-righteous denouncers themselves.

3 comments:

Pater, O.S.B. said...

Yet again you continue to make reference to your 'facade of mandatory celibacy' article. I recommend you read Andrew Greely's (I know, I know) book 'Priests: A Calling in Crisis' for actual scientific studies on the matter. Sipes garbage, at least (I haven't read the others), cannot hold a candle to the work that Greely cites. While Greely leaves much to be desired as a priest and theologian, his professional work in the area of statistics at the University of Chicago is highly respected.

A Sinner said...

Regardless of how many priests you believe are sexually active, mandatory is celibacy is still the cultural facade behind which all this abuse was hidden.

Even were it being kept faithfully, it would still remain the social wall which separates the isolated secret world of clerical society from the light of day, from being anchored in general society, and the oversight and domestication that wives bring to men (in a way secret lovers definitely do not).

As for statistics, I think we can all agree those are hard to come by reliably. People, even answering anonymously, are not necessarily being honest.

They are, however, more likely to lie about BEING chaste than about NOT being chaste. Hence, I trust the testimony more of priests who claim they have done things (like those Sipes has) than those who claim they haven't. Anyone can claim they haven't done something, especially when there is great institutional pressure to do just that.

And they might have different definitions of success. Many might go for long stretches without doing anything, and then slip up every few months or years in a vulnerable state. I don't really care about that, people are sinners, but it is the denial surrounding it that gets me.

I haven't read all of Greeley's book, but I looked over the celibacy chapter on google books and wasn't impressed. There were two surveys, conducted by the LA Times, and 50% of priests considered celibacy to be an "ongoing journey" rather than saying they "never waver"...whatever the hell "ongoing journey" means. It could mean anything, I certainly wouldn't assume (as Greeley does) that it means they are all entirely consistent in their abstinence.

Pater, O.S.B. said...

"I haven't read all of Greeley's book, but I looked over the celibacy chapter on google books and wasn't impressed. There were two surveys, conducted by the LA Times, and 50% of priests considered celibacy to be an "ongoing journey" rather than saying they "never waver"...whatever the hell "ongoing journey" means. It could mean anything, I certainly wouldn't assume (as Greeley does) that it means they are all entirely consistent in their abstinence."

Excellent point. I was disappointed by the vagueness of the questions as well. I shall get the book to you, however. It is worth a read. I disagree with you about lying on an anonymous survey. At any rate, statistical inferences CANNOT be made from the non-random samples encountered by Sipes.