A series of scandals rocked the Catholic world in the beginning of the 21st century. The publicity started in Boston and spread until pedophilia “jokes” about priests became as commonplace as the cold. The most appalling aspect to the affair was not that rapists had infiltrated the Catholic Church at every level (any position that has access to minors the way priesthood does will invariable attract those who seek to exploit this fact… the American public education system is reportedly full of such issues), but the systematic cover-up of the affair. Bishops – rather than denounce, defrock, and excommunicate priests who had committed such acts to children and minors – chose instead to shuffle them to other parishes, send them on sick leave to treatment centers, or “donate” them to dioceses that were hard pressed for pastors. Payments, hush money, assurances to victims that this would never happen again were the order of the day. Long forgotten was the statement of Christ about millstones around the necks of those who would hurt the little ones.
How was this allowed to happen?
Everyone had their own explanation. Conservatives blamed homosexuality, others proclaimed that this was the end result of mandatory celibacy, heretics jumped at the chance to push for female “priests”, and traditionalists considered the affair further proof of the decadence and failings of the “conciliar church” (the Society of St. John and their scandal in Scranton notwithstanding). On inspection, none of these tell the whole story or paint a complete picture. I would claim that the factors that led to this debacle included:
- Clericalism. Because priests were held to absurd and unrealistic levels, the laity became too comfortable in trusting men of the cloth without condition. Long forgotten were Chrysostom’s sermons on his own frailty. Priests were the elect and the laity were lowly sheep who were to listen to their every word. To be in the presence of a priest was an honor akin to receiving Christ.
- The bureaucratic structure of the Post-Tridentine Church. The end result of 500 years of centralization, opposing Protestantism, putting down Gallicanism and Jansenism, defeating Febronianism, opposition to Vatican I forming a schismatic group of churches that crumbled, Eastern Catholics being pushed proverbially out of sight, and separation from larger Orthodox Eastern Churches was a monolithic Roman Church where everything went to and through Rome. Or, rather, everything went through some institute in Rome. Many bishops lacked any sense of leadership as they had been picked for their low likelihood of causing trouble. In this environment, there was no room for a potential spiritual successor to St. Nicholas. Bishops were more concerned with avoiding problems than fixing them.
- Wrong ideas of sexuality and emotion. The Pre-Vatican II Church had a large problem at times with prudish avoidance of sexual topics or of openness with emotions. This led to a degree of stunting, self-repression, and fear of the very things God gave us to moderate and master. On the other hand, the Post-Vatican II Church erred in the other direction. Shallow and meaningless emotionalism was reflected in both liturgy and theology, dangerous modern theories in psychology were experimented with, and emphasis on self denial was heavily retracted. This was at its worst in the sixties and seventies when the new errors were fresh and appealing while the old ones were still firmly entrenched in the minds of many laity.
- Lack of awareness. It was not until relatively recently that abuse of minors by adults has become a concern, as the true scope of it was unimaginable to those in “more innocent” times (and is still not fully known, as rumors abound of it being widespread in public schools, the entertainment industry, and among the wealthy western elite). The tactics employed by predators were not known, the number of them was far higher than was thought, and there was a degree of trust put in those in exalted positions (see point 1 above).
The idea that abuse by priests started in the 1960’s is a notion that should be killed before it can begin to form. Instances of priests committing sexual sins is well documented in Church History (with medieval councils prohibiting priests from visiting convents too frequently or demanding that any priests with concubines turn them out immediately) and occasional scandals with children is known to have happened at least a few times (as happened to the Piarists when a group of abusers decided to infiltrate them due to their mission of educating impoverished children). There are statistics and testimonies backing up that rings of these clerical child-rapists goes back to the 1940’s and beyond. There was a rise in the 1950′, a steep rise in the 1960’s, and the apex in the 1970’s and 1980’s. As scandals came to light and people became more aware, the opportunities for these crimes decreased. Eventually, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope and was able to put into effect many reforms that he had been unable to previously.
Now, any who work with children and minors in dioceses (like the Vigilante himself) are required to be trained in “Safe Environment” classes. In the current environment children of Catholics are likely far safer than they were 40 years ago. However, it is essential we never relax our watch and never take anything for granted. It is also essential to understand the modus operandi of predators and what drives them. As I have researched the issue more, I have come to realize that these people cannot be detected as easily as popular perception would have us believe. They come in many shapes, sizes, sexual “orientations”, mannerisms, and backgrounds.
Next, a few works that deal with the issue…