By peremptorily ordering the American bishops not to vote on local remedies for today’s Catholic crisis of abusive clergy and malfeasant bishops, the Vatican dramatically raised the stakes for the February 2019 meeting that Pope Francis has called to discuss the crisis in a global perspective. How the Americans’ taking decisive action last month would have impeded Roman deliberations in February—the strange explanation offered by the Vatican for its edict—will remain an open question. Now, the most urgent matter is to define correctly the issues that global gathering will address. As there are disturbing signs that Those Who Just Don’t Get It are still not getting it, I’d like to flag some pitfalls the February meeting should avoid.
1. The crisis cannot be blamed primarily on “clericalism.”
If “clericalism” means a wicked distortion of the powerful influence priests exercise by virtue of their office, then “clericalism” was and is a factor in the sexual abuse of young people, who are particularly vulnerable to that influence. If “clericalism” means that some bishops, faced with clerical sexual abuse, reacted as institutional crisis-managers rather than shepherds protecting their flocks, then “clericalism” has certainly been a factor in the abuse crisis in Chile, Ireland, Germany, the U.K., and Poland, and in the McCarrick case (and others) in the United States. There are more basic factors involved in the epidemiology of this crisis, however. And “clericalism” cannot be a one-size-fits-all diagnosis of the crisis, or a dodge to avoid confronting more basic causes like infidelity and sexual dysfunction. “Clericalism” may facilitate abuse and malfeasance; it doesn’t cause them.
2. The language describing the crisis must reflect the empirical evidence.
“Protecting children” is absolutely essential; that is the ultimate no-brainer. But the mantra that this entire crisis—and the February meeting—is about “child protection” avoids the hard fact that in the United States and Germany (the two situations for which there is the largest body of data), the overwhelming majority of clerical sexual abuse has involved sexually dysfunctional priests preying on adolescent boys and young men. In terms of victim-demographics, this has never been a “pedophilia” crisis, although that language has been cemented into much of the world media’s storyline since 2002. If the Rome meeting ignores data and traffics in media “narratives,” it will fail.
Read more at First Things.