The Personalist Project

A Zenit item about the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ $660 million settlement with over 500 victims of sexual abuse is titled, “Spokesman: Church Saddened by Pedophelia”.

Father Lombardi spoke of the attitude the Church takes regarding the crime of sexual abuse.
He said: “Cardinal Mahony explained—as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said many times—that the Church is evidently and above all saddened by the suffering of the victims and their families, for the harm caused by the grave and inexcusable behavior of some of its members, and is firm in its resolve to avoid future vile acts of this kind.
“The agreement, and the sacrifice it involves, are also a sign of this resolve, of the decision to close a sorrowful chapter in history and to look forward in terms of prevention and the establishment of a secure environment for children and young people in all areas of the Church’s pastoral work.” [my emphasis]

I raise this question for discussion:  Is sadness the right response to wrongs of this kind?  What about wrath?

In a review of Leon Podles’ disturbing book, Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, Adventist pastor, Bill Cork, argues that lack of due anger is part of the problem.

For Thomas Aquinas, anger is a necessary element of the virtue of fortitude—fortitude isn’t a matter of just putting up with evil, or of enduring sorrow, but includes actively resisting evil, bravery in the struggle, and anger at the evil which has led to sorrow. Summa Theologica, IIa-IIae, Q. 123, Art. 10.

Leon Podles is angry, and wants us to be angry, too. He wants us to be angry at the sin of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy. But more than that, he also wants us to be angry at the bishops and pope for not being angry at that same sin. That’s what irks him about this crisis more than anything else—never have the bishops or popes expressed any anger that priests molested kids or that other bishops covered it up and transferred the predators to new hunting grounds.

I tend to agree with him.  But I would love to know what others think.

Comments (59)

Rhett Segall

#1, Aug 3, 2009 5:24am

Katie, it’s clear that acts of pedophilia, particularly by the clergy, are despicable and fall under the judgment of Jesus’ statement “If one of you causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it were better that a great mill stone be hung about his neck and he be cast into the depths of the sea.” (Mark 9:42)

So I agree with you that sadness as a response to the situation is insufficient and that justified anger (wrath) is called for.

How is this anger to manifest itself? I believe that the Bishop of my diocese (Howard Hubbard, Albany, New York) is on target in making it clear that the clergy will have to bear the full weight of the legal system, financial and punitive, if they are accused in this area. In addition, where the evidence is credible, the accused will be prohibited from functioning as a priest.

Having said that, and giving all due concern for the victim, it is important that the Christian community remember that wrath is a volatile phenomena, capable of quickly becoming disordered. We must remind ourselves that there are false accusations in this area (remember Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph and that Cardinal Bernadine was falsely accused. Our own Bishop has been falsely accused). So we must be careful not to rash judge.

In addition, without in anyway excusing the actions of the pedophile, the full level of his freedom is not always clear. In this regard I would recommend the film “The Woodsman”, staring Kevin Bacon. It is an extraordinary presentation of a man found guilty of pedophilia with a pre-pubescent girl. After spending about 8 years in prison, and truly wanting to be a responsible person in this area, he is none the less confronted with nearly overwhelming temptations. In addition, he is treated most cruelly by his fellow workers when they learn of his background. The film is a real journey in to the heart of an individual tormented by this particular demon

In this area, Bishops as representatives and leaders of the Christian Community must show total concern for the victims, financial and psychological. So far as the priest is concerned, the Bishops are called to unequivocally condemn the act, impose full penalization, canonical and civil, on the priest, and endeavor to help the pedophile find that strength that will enable him to repent and live out his baptismal vocation.

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Aug 3, 2009 8:53am

I haven’t seen any bishops expressing any anger.  And my sense is that the faithful who express it are treated as sub-virtuous.  The Church seems intent on modeling and preaching an anger-free response to evil.

Rhett Segall

#3, Aug 3, 2009 9:15am

Katie, could you give an example of what you would like to see and hear the bishops say? The US bishops have established a 0 tolerance criterion for pedophilia.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Aug 3, 2009 10:04am

The zero-tolerance policy enactment came across to me as PR crisis management, not holy wrath.  I thought the bishops sounded at the time more like professional spokesmen using corporate-image-consultant talking points than as Christian shepherds speaking the words of truth and life in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

In any case, to enact policy is not to express anger.  How about a little fire and brimstone in the homilies and public statements?
How about less emphasis on “sorrow” and “forgiveness” and “moving on” and more on morality and uprightness and responsibility?

Rhett Segall

#5, Aug 3, 2009 11:23am

Katie, one could say that “fire and brimstone in the homilies and public statements” could also be “PR crisis management”. Remember when Jesus spoke to the woman caught in “the very act of adultery”? His response was “Go thy way and from now on sin no more.” He did not bring her case up in his parables!

A loud, voice is not the only way, nor necessarily the best way, to express “holy” wrath.
Remember the words of James:”...the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

Removial from priestly duties leaves many, perhaps most, priests without income. Public shame, and perhaps incarceration,express unequivocally the wrath of the community.

The final word for the Christian, however, must be forgiveness.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Aug 3, 2009 2:43pm

Jesus also said, “You snakes!” to the Pharisees.  “You vipers’ brood!”  And “I will spit you out of my mouth.”  St. Paul said, “You foolish Galatians!”  Peruse the prophets.  Or the fathers of the Church.  Skim St. Bernard, or countless others of the saints, who did not shrink from “crying aloud and sparing not.”
OF COURSE it is not the only way nor necessarily the best way to deal with each and every case of moral wrongdoing. 
My claim is rather that this normal and right response to aggressive evil has been virtually obliterated from Catholic usage and consciousness, to the extent that we tend to identify it with a “lack of virtue” and to be passive and supine in the face of wrong.

The public disgrace and punishment of priest abusers came only after the scandal was uncovered in the secular media.  Up until then, the practice was to smooth things over, placate the victims with assurances that “it was being taken care of,” charge them “not to cause scandal”, “get help” for the priests involved, urge forgiveness and “move on.”’

Hell is also a final word.

Scott Johnston

#7, Aug 3, 2009 9:11pm

A few thoughts . . .

First, I agree with you Katie, there has been a disturbing lack of justifiable anger. But, please also realize that quite a number of the bishops who had been bishops during the worst period of abuse (the seventies) were retired or even deceased. Most of the abuse cases were old cases from the sixties and seventies. And so many of our present bishops, with exceptions (such as Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles), are not the bishops directly responsible for most of the quiet switching around of abusers that took place. This partly explains what may seem like an unacceptable lack of public outrage. Some bishops would be speaking about situations from the past which they had nothing to do with. I do not hereby mean in any way to excuse the lack of righteous anger that should have been more in evidence.

And second, I would not readily put the popes (JPII nor BXVI) in with those who lacked justifiable anger. We do not know what they have done in private with their bishops and cardinals. In fact, remember how, shortly after the scandal broke in the U.S., JPII called American Church leaders (if memory serves me—was it all U.S. cardinals?) to Rome on short notice for a private meeting? I recall hearing through Dominican religious connections to Rome that JPII was very heated and basically read them the riot act—in private. Cardinal Ratzinger, I had been told, every week on a regular basis at the CDF offices (on Fridays if I recall) dealt with priestly abuse cases that had been sent to Rome. He was deeply personally aware and very personally disturbed by the situation. Recall the reissuing and tweaking (by the CDF, under Ratzinger) of the requirements for admission to the priesthood? Recall the visitations, ordered and overseen by the Vatican, of every American seminary (which I personally experienced) to provide an outside assessment of the state of health of how they treat issues of sexuality (in theory and in practice)? Every seminarian had private time with an outside visitator. We could say anything to them. They asked about a variety of things, including about chastity and homosexuality. American seminaries now, and the priesthood as a group, I would say, is the single most thoroughly scrutinized and purified from sexual perversion of any group of people in the country. I don’t think, as a group, there is at present any collection of individuals less likely to sexually abuse anyone than American priests who have been ordained say within the last ten years.

Third, I wonder if the too-placid behavior of the older generation of bishops in response to the scandal is part of a larger overall cultural process of wimpification of men that is a factor for all American men, not just bishops. How often do American men, in general (compared to the past), quickly come to the aid or stick up for others who are being harmed? I am not certain about this, but I have a hunch that generally speaking, men of the baby boomer generation and younger are less willing to put themselves on the line in calling out other men when they see or suspect some abuse going on. How many teachers, for example, aware (or suspicious) of sexual abuse being done by another teacher, says anything to authorities? And (not the same but related in my opinion), how many fathers say anything to their daughters about clothing they know is ridiculously immodest? It is part of a larger phenomenon, I suspect, of not taking on the role of spiritually safeguarding others. (And, in my opinion, radical feminism, along with other things, has played a role in neutering men’s traditional embrace of the guardian role)

But, I must conclude by firmly proclaiming that despite the failings of the past the younger and newer generation of bishops are men of a different cloth. Of this I am sure. We should not get so dragged down by past sins that we can’t see the very substantial reform and progress that is well underway and all around us as we speak! The seminarians, priests, and bishops of the 21st century do not suffer the same sort of sexual confusion and lousy formation of those from the 60’s and 70’s. I have seen this first hand and there is great hope for the future!

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Aug 4, 2009 5:34am

I tend to agree with you on the wimpification thing, Scott.  I’m sure radical feminism has played in.  So has, I suspect, a strain of Rousseauianism (if that’s the word I want) that romanticizes the “natural man” and sees social forces as the source of wrong and evil in the world.  Needless to say this is a very unfinished thought.

Scott Johnston

#9, Aug 6, 2009 5:41am

So has, I suspect, a strain of Rousseauianism . . . that romanticizes the “natural man” and sees social forces as the source of wrong and evil in the world.

Indeed, this is a valid point I think. I once heard Peter Kreeft give a talk at Steubenville on Rousseau’s influence over modern education. It was eye-opening. A deficient anthropology like this exerts damaging influences over broad sectors of society, education being a big one.

Perhaps some of the prior belief (and which underlay advice given to bishops) that a child sexual abuser could be cured by removing him from his usual environment and doing psychotherapy stems from this. Now the professional counseling world says that hardly ever can pedophiles truly be cured of their abusive inclinations.

Bill Drennen

#10, Aug 7, 2009 9:23pm

Scott, Were the seminaries really transformed as much as you say here? What about homosexuality in seminaries? How was it addressed and rooted out? Is screening now in place? I have heard much to the contrary from first hand accounts.

Have you read “The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform and the Future of the Church” which is George Weigel’s recommendations? He really seems to address head on the failure of bishops authority, seminary formation and culture of homosexuality.

Scott Johnston

#11, Aug 7, 2009 10:39pm

I haven’t read that book by Weigel. Is his analysis of seminaries more applicable to historical problems, or are they presented as currently unresolved problems?

Well, things aren’t perfect, of course. But, compared to a description of a priest friend of mine who was in seminary in the 70’s, things are vastly better. In the Dominican House of Studies in DC, which is also the seminary for the Eastern province Dominicans, I can honestly say in my almost four years there I don’t think I encountered a single fellow clerical student who had serious issues of homosexual tendencies. For sure, no one was anywhere close to acting out at all in this regard. Not in the least.

Some seminaries probably still have a few faculty members (from a previous era) who are perhaps more “friendly” toward a homosexual lifestyle than they should be. But in my experience of seminarians—the students who are the ones being ordained now and in years to come, I truly have not seen anything that made me alarmed about the sexual attitudes of our future priests. Sure, there are less-than-wholesome influences hanging on in faculty positions here and there. But they are fading into irrelevance. The younger generation is just not open to this influence and mostly just ignore it when it is still present.

This is anecdotal, but seems consistent with the experience of other seminarians whenever the issue comes up (which is not very much, because it just doesn’t occupy the spiritual energies of seminarians today; they would rather talk about being good priests and theology and spirituality, etc.)

I have to say, truly, the subject of homosexual problems in seminaries seems to be much more of an issue of discussion among some laymen than among current seminarians. This is not, in my experience, because seminarians want to ignore problems under their noses, but because it simply isn’t a problem that they encounter in their daily lives. If the Bubonic plague does not happen in the United States it is not surprising that American doctors don’t talk about it, for it’s just not relevant for them.

Again, I don’t claim problems don’t exist anywhere. Nor do I claim there is no such thing as a homosexual seminarian anywhere—there probably is. But, contrasted with the past, I am quite confident that things are vastly improved.

Here is one example of a diocesan seminary being massively transformed for the better. When bishop Chaput took the reins of the Denver archdiocese, he closed the diocesan seminary (that way, all the faculty goes away in one swoop). Then, a year (or two?) later, he opened a new seminary under a different name (in the same buildings) but completely under his control—with his own hand-picked faculty members. Vocations instantly went up and Denver now has an excellent seminary with an excellent student body and excellent faculty. Chaput actually moved where he lived to the grounds of the seminary, so he could be near his men. He interacts with them often and gets to know them personally as they are going through formation.

Now, Chaput is one of the best of our current bishops, and he is not (yet) a typical example of American episcopal leadership. But, the younger, newly consecrated bishops are more likely to want to be like this, than not. Seminarians today look up to men like JPII, Benedict XVI and Chaput and Dolan (the new Archbishop of NY—an excellent choice for NY). They aspire to be leaders like them.

Here are a few names of current bishops who have exhibited very good leadership (in addition to Chaput and Dolan), at least on some very significant fronts:

O’Brien (Baltimore)
Finn (Kansas City)
Carlson (St. Louis)

Bishop Sample (Marquette) was fairly recently consecrated and I think has great promise as a leader of his flock (and in my opinion is more characteristic of the men we will continue to see made bishops in the future).

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Aug 8, 2009 5:03am

While we’re speaking so highly of the Archdiocese of Denver, a few fun factoids:
Fr. Jim Crisman, FUS class of ‘90 and Vocations Director in Denver, is my cousin. :)
Fr. Mike Glenn, Rector of the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary there, was a senior at FUS my freshman year, which would make him class of ‘85.  We used to have lunch together often, and liked each other a lot in that totally innocent, non-romantic, happy, carefree way of college students—at least FUS students—conscious of grace and eager for life.
Anthony Lilles, Academic Dean and Theology Professor at same, was my freshman orientation leader.  FUS class of ‘86, I think.  I remember his asking me to dance in a touchingly chivalrous way the very first weekend of college and then visiting us with a friend (now a priest) from Rome when they were studying there and Jules and I were studying in Liechtenstein.  (I’ll never forget how they confounded a drunken ranter at the bus station in Vaduz by giving him a Miraculous Medal.)
This spring I learned that Anthony’s daughter’s godmother goes to our parish here in West Chester. 
God is good and faithful.  And “the world shrinks as the Kingdom advances.”

Scott Johnston

#13, Aug 8, 2009 5:26am

Wow, Katie! You have a lot of connections to St. John Vianney seminary! Neat.

Bill Drennen

#14, Aug 8, 2009 6:00am

The book is 5 years old and problems are presented as present. In your example in Denver, the seminary was just closed in 1999. This is all very recent. Encouraging as your comments are, I think you are overly optimistic in your view of things currently.

Teresa Manidis

#15, Aug 8, 2009 8:59am


I agree with you that this has been ‘handled,’ but handled more like a messy PR ‘situation’ than the atrocity that it really is.  Although (I hope) all the precautions set in place help prevent future crimes, I also feel there has been a dumbed-down, almost a numbed reaction by the laity. 

For example, there was a home school play group that met at a local Roman Catholic social hall (most of the moms belonged to that parish).  This was an established group, which had been meeting for years; just mothers and small children.  It was also a totally controlled environment - mothers were with their own children the entire time, they remained in the same room for the duration, and no outsiders (of any gender) could enter the secure premises.  I was personally outraged when, because of the clergy scandal, because of what these criminals (and they are criminals) did to children, these mothers were told to either submit to the three-hour diocesan ‘Safe Environment’ (molestation prevention/identification) program, or leave the church property, permanently.  I was with these women when the pastor himself came in, smiling,  explaining how no one was singling them out, it was just a new ‘safety’ policy everyone had to go through, even himself, which was in ‘everyone’s best interest.’  And most of these women just nodded their heads, submissively, as if this was normal, acceptable; as if mothers, and not priests, had been the ones who had necessitated these programs in the first place.  I admit I felt a little holy wrath myself at the time, and am not ashamed that I did. 

I think the lack of (justified) anger again goes back to an earlier post on the Linde (Truth as inter-personal breathing space, July 7), which we both commented on; a discussion about the distinction between ‘niceness’ and ‘goodness,’ ‘forgiveness’ and justice, an excerpt of which follows.

‚ÄòWithout Truth, Love degenerates into sentimentality‚Äô . . . I agree that there is a disturbing movement (which I have come up against, time after time) in which the Truth is discredited as uncomfortably ‚Äòharsh,‚Äô and somehow ‚Äòat odds‚Äô with a saccharinly sweet ‚Äòcharity;‚Äô a movement in which rightness is set aside in favor of a blind obsession for ‚Äòunity,‚Äô small c ‚Äòcharity,‚Äô and ‚Äòpeace,‚Äô at all costs . . . [the person feels he is] being ‚Äòuncharitable‚Äô when he is only responding to his innate desire for justice.’ 

I have close friends, college classmates, who are now priests in their mid-thrirties, and they have little sympathy for the concessions made to pedophiles. Every time some mother picks up her child, and hurries into the next aisle when she sees them out grocery shopping, believe me, my friends feel a ‘holy wrath’ towards those men who not only betrayed the laity, but betrayed them as well.

Katie van Schaijik

#16, Aug 8, 2009 10:25am

The new youth minister at our parish asked for volunteers to work with him.  I went to a meeting, at which we were handed background check forms that had to be filled out and signed.  I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I was too appalled and indignant.  To me the policy comes across as designed not so much to protect youth from abuse as to protect the diocese from liability.  It’s as if bishops are taking cues from lawyers rather than from God.

When I objected to the principle of the thing—to the implication that more bureaucratic control were what was needed to prevent further abuses—another woman, whose husband works in juvenile law enforcement, said she appreciated the policy.  I couldn’t argue with her.  How could I?  How could I deny that predators often find their victims by volunteering to work with youth and that such a policy might be a helpful preventative measure?
Still, inwardly, I revolted.  Elaborate policies are no substitute for the kind of personal presence, moral seriousness, wisdom and judgment that the Church MUST exercise in its dealings with souls.

Teresa, if I had been in your situation, I, too, would have been full of wrath—at the offensiveness of the request and at the passivity of the other women in its face.  And you are right to link the matter to the point about truth.

Scott Johnston

#17, Aug 8, 2009 11:07am

Katie, this is now the completely standard, universal practice in every parish in the country. It has been for some years now.

In today’s society, the parish has to be able to guarantee to parents that anyone working with kids on behalf of the parish (including other parents—many molesters are themselves parents, abusing friends of their own children) does not have a history of any sort of abuse. In today’s climate it is downright crazy for a parish not to do this.

Nowadays, every religious and every seminarian and priest goes through extensive background checks. About my second year as a Dominican, the province did an extensive criminal record check on every member of the province. I got a copy back of the results, and I’ll tell you it was very thorough—checking every place I had lived in my life.

Every parish employee, as a matter of routine, has to do the same thing. Every teacher in a parish school, and, every volunteer who will have contact with kids on any sort of regular basis. In order not to get into a mess of discriminating who should and should not be tested (a hornet’s nest of controversy, guaranteed) it is simply a practical necessity for parishes to require anyone working with kids to go through this. Otherwise, they must explain why some volunteers aren’t checked (such as the mothers working with other people’s children as well as their own) and some are—and that, I can assure you—is a nightmare no pastor wants anything to do with.

Please believe me when I say that this issue is so sensitive (understandably) and such a potential powder keg for any parish, that there is no reasonable way for a pastor to say that some volunteers don’t have to be checked and others do. As a matter of fact, almost for sure, this policy of universal background checks is not even set by the pastor. The parish is not making these requirements. These policies are commonly set by the diocese, and every parish is required to comply. And it is stressed heavily as a big deal. I know this from direct experience.

Parishes are an amazing flurry of constant activity. There is no way a pastor (or the other clergy, or lay staff, for that matter) could possibly have a personal relationship—enough to grant the sort of trust needed for working with kids at the parish based solely on that relationship—with every volunteer who works with kids. In order to be able to represent to parishioners that every single person who has contact with kids at the parish does not have a history of abuse, there has to be a standard and universally applied policy. There really is just no other sane and equitable way to do this. And by requiring everyone to do it—including parents—the system is thus assured to include all people equitably with no favoritism and no one falling through the cracks.

Believe me, the diocese checks the parish records as part of parish audits, to be sure that any named volunteer who works with kids also has the appropriate background checks.

And usually, from what I have seen in other places around the country, a background check is not sufficient. The diocese also usually requires that you must be fingerprinted, and, go through an accredited training program for people who work with kids. A very commonly used training program (usually just one night for about two hours) is VIRTUS. I myself have been through this a couple of times. The Washington, DC, Archdiocese and the Cincinnati diocese both require this training for any and all people involved with youth. No exceptions.

The VIRTUS training, in my opinion, is actually pretty good. It is designed to focus on helping adults recognize certain patterns or danger signs of possible abuse. In other words, it does not treat you as a potential abuser, but helps you to be more knowledgeable about recognizing an abuser in your midst. It includes riveting video testimony from convicted child abusers about how they would go about approaching a child and how they singled out and developed relationships with kids in the midst of other adults. Truly, it is quite worthwhile in helping the community become more skilled as a whole at protecting children from potential abusers in their midst.

Whatever personal reaction you might have to such things, I can assure you that if you want to have anything to do with kids in any parish in this country you must go through this. Otherwise you won’t be permitted to work with kids. This is now ironclad everywhere.

Katie van Schaijik

#18, Aug 10, 2009 8:29am

I grant that it’s become necessary and unavoidable.  But would you agree that it’s a stop gap measure necessitated by a grand-scale failure, and also that it entails a terrible loss?
Bureaucratic policies and procedure, be they ever so elaborate, cannot compensate for a lack of personal knowledge, judgment and responsibility.  And they do hinder the recovery of those things.  The more dioceses and parishes rely on bureaucratic measures, the more it will look to bureaucratic types for leadership.  And those types have an inexorable tendency to enact more policies…
It’s a vicious cycle in my opinion.

Scott Johnston

#19, Aug 10, 2009 1:48pm

I mostly agree Katie. Turning to bureaucratic solutions to problems that ideally should be handled in a more humane, personal way, is a growing feature of contemporary society on many fronts. There is also the pressure of defensive attitudes driving policies (e.g. in medicine, physicians ordering unnecessary tests to put up a defensive hedge against lawsuits). And it probably is correct to say there was a grand-scale failure. But, as I mentioned, I think it is essential to acknowledge as well that a great deal has indeed been done to correct that failure—with much success in my observation. While sexual abuse cannot be totally eradicated without eradicating original sin, I believe it is extremely unlikely that the American church would see anything resembling the level of abuse that took place in the 60’s and 70’s at least for the foreseeable future. And this is very good news. It may be hard to sense this from the point of view of one’s own local parish which perhaps seems about the same as it has for many years. But from the point of view of someone who has been in seminary for several years and seen a variety of parish settings up close from the inside, the sense one has is extremely hopeful and positive.

I would also say, however, that the nature of parish communities has changed in such a way that taking a mainly personal, local approach to certain problems is much harder. People move much more often than was typical until around the mid-20th century. Parish communities used to be much more stable, most people remaining the same with a relatively small number moving in or out of the parish over the years. Nowadays, families and individuals move into and out of the parish in much larger numbers and greater frequency so that at any given time a sizable percentage of parishioners are unknown to the priests. This is a reality of present day demographics. Yes, with effort the priests can do things to get to know better those who are new. But the situation is quite different than years ago when father would look out into the pews on Sunday and see mostly all the same faces he had been seeing for the last ten years.

Personal mobility (the car and public transportation) is a big factor also. A vibrant parish known for good preaching and catechetics will attract people for certain events from outside their usual community. It has got to be far more common now than in the 50’s to see people present at a parish only for a particular event who are not seen again (e.g. a lecture; retreat; vacation Bible school). In other words, the flow of people relatively unknown to the parish priests and staff into and out of the parish is a significant factor of contemporary parish life and this restricts the pastor and his staff from being able to handle certain things on a more individual, personal level, even though they might prefer to do so if they could. Today’s parish life is a much more fluid and chameleon-like entity than not so long ago. I think in some ways the Church is still at the early stages of figuring out the best approach to handling this difficult reality.

One final thought on this to throw out here: while a more personal, individualistic touch might be desirable in the ideal for some matters, this also places these things more directly at the mercy (for better or worse) of the particular personality, gifts, faults, quirks, etc., of the pastor. In an age when people are especially sensitive to clericalism, such a way of doing things makes the parish more susceptible to this. Bureaucratic processes, even with their faults, do have the benefit of decreasing the likelihood of excessive clericalism. There is a trade off. If we have a very saintly and self-giving man as pastor, we prefer that he have more direct control over things and resent bureaucratic impositions. But, if our pastor is perhaps a bit rough around the edges and not the best manager, we are glad for certain bureaucratic requirements.

I have been acquainted with a couple Dominican priests (canonists) who have worked in the Vatican, and they have some memorable stories about the odd way some things are done there. This is because compared to America, they are (Italian culture I understand) much less focused on procedure and standardization. This can make things greatly susceptible to and influenced by the whims and eccentricities of the boss. And this is not always a good thing.

Katie van Schaijik

#20, Aug 11, 2009 6:46am

“Turning to bureaucratic solutions to problems that ideally should be handled in a more humane, personal way, is a growing feature of contemporary society on many fronts.”

Even more than that, I’m thinking that a properly personal way of living the faith in our parishes would mostly prevent such problems from developing in the first place.  But I agree with you that the fault is society-wide, not just in the Church.

“while a more personal, individualistic touch might be desirable in the ideal for some matters, this also places these things more directly at the mercy (for better or worse) of the particular personality, gifts, faults, quirks, etc., of the pastor.”

Well, I don’t know.  I tend to think that the laity have yet to take up their proper role in the Church.  We have tended to be much too passive vis a vis the hierarchy.  I think bureaucracy increases the problem of clericalism because it stifles initiative and creativity not just on the part of the pastor, but on the part of the congregation.

Bill Drennen

#21, Aug 11, 2009 10:33am

“Well, I don‚Äôt know.  I tend to think that the laity have yet to take up their proper role in the Church”

I can see this but I also see that the priest and bishop has abdicated their responsibility to the laity in a completely wrong way leading to failure of good pastoral leadership. Nothing I dread more then the lay committees in most parishes these days and I applaud pastors who are not afraid to clean house!

In the same way spiritual leadership has been replaced by secular expert advise on every subject. The laity need empowerment but without the clergy losing their proper authority.

Katie van Schaijik

#22, Aug 11, 2009 11:11am

Yes.  There certainly is a kind of role confusion problem.  I don’t want the laity to take on roles that belong to the priest; I want them to take on the role that belongs to THEM.  Not easy to discern in the concrete, I grant. 
I think a lot more clarity is needed about what exactly the proper authority of the clergy is and what it isn’t.

I recently heard a story of a lay theologian who stood up in the middle of a homily at a Sunday Mass and told the priest and the congregation that what he was saying was false.  I like him for it.

Bill Drennen

#23, Aug 11, 2009 11:57am

Katie, I think you are right on with the failure of our Bishops to act as Shepard’s, Rather then listening to the lawyers, psychology experts and worried about media exposure.

I like to believe Scott‚Äôs report about the new crop but then I continue to hear about Bishops who don’t seem to have this courage like your bishop in NH. I would not mind the lack of volume so much if the sheparding was more firm.

Scott Johnston

#24, Aug 11, 2009 1:19pm

It is helpful, I think, to realize that the ongoing positive transformation of the American episcopacy can only happen one bishop at a time. It is a gradual process. Each local Catholic only experiences the renewal on his own level when his own diocese gets a new bishop cut from the new cloth. So, people in dioceses with lackluster bishops who still have ten years to go do not feel like much is happening. But gradually, in the overall picture, it is.

I think whenever discussions involving the past problems of the American church come up, it is easy to speak of them against a perfect ideal, and overlook too quickly the massively huge societal change that the entire American society went through in the postwar era (the greatest turmoil probably being the late 60’s/early 70’s). The large exodus of people from religious life (especially women) and the priesthood is an indication of the overall confusion the whole country was going through.

This is not to excuse poor episcopal leadership. But, frankly, the less-than-exemplary leadership of many men formed in the 60’s and 70’s should not surprise us.

This older generation had a lot going against them in the combination of (generally speaking) lousy seminary formation and the mixed up American culture at the time.

Basically, I would like to encourage everyone, first to patience, for the older generation of bishops is very unlikely to change much. Yes, we should have appropriate anger when it is called for. But a bishop who has been a poor leader for 20 years is going continue to be a poor leader, with very few exceptions. The change will come when he is replaced by a new generation of bishop.

In the meantime, it’s good to not loose sight of the fact that there is a great deal that an individual lay Catholic can do to grow in holiness and to serve others and to be a leaven in the dough regardless of how excellent or poor his own bishop happens to be.

I say this because (I presume this does not apply to contributors here) I have seen too many instances of lay Catholics who become so preoccupied (and even consumed with anger and bitterness) over the failings (real and imagined) of priests and bishops that they seem to completely lose sight of their own personal calling to grow in Christ.

That being said, the reprehensible phenomenon of sexual abuse certainly calls for close scrutiny and laymen holding bishops to accountability. But realize as well that the number of credible new accusations is far fewer (and of course one is too many) than was happening 30 and 40 years ago.

Ronda Chervin

#25, Aug 11, 2009 1:30pm

Greetings personalists,

I am a disciple of Dietrich Von Hildebrand,a professor of philosophy at Holy Apostles Seminary and author of many books including one on anger entitled Taming the Lion Within: Five Steps from Anger to Peace.
I would like to share a few key points about anger that might be helpful:

First we need to distinguish hot anger, expressed in screaming, throwing things,etc,and cold anger characterized by inner resentment, withdrawal, etc.
Then there is just and unjust anger. Just anger is directed to real injustices directed against us or others. Unjust anger comes when we are furious without cause, for example when rightly upbraided for bad behavior (the pouting child in the corner for example).
Self-righteous anger can be just or unjust. In any case, according to Thomas Aquinas, even if anger is just, it should never be disproportionate, out of control, unforgiving, or vengegul!
Dietrich Von Hildebrand analyzes Pharisaic anger as involving enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations at others. Even if we are justly angry we should be deeply grieved by the sins of others vs. enjoying sitting on the throne of truth hurling denunciations.

I have been involved in a great self-help group called Recovery, International (not 12 step). The founder, a psychiatrist Abraham Low, coined an expression that is greatly helpful to me.

It is symbolic victory. We like to feel strong. In many things in life we are weak or inferior to others in talents or virtues or just in ability to overcome adversaries. To compensate for our feelings of weakness we indulge in hot or cold anger because anger makes us feel, to use Biblical imagery, like lions instead of weak lambs.

Examples I give to illustrate this: a driver is speeding dangerously. We are weak. Even if we called 911 it could be too late for avoid an accident killing us or our loved ones. Some compensate for this unbearable feeling of weakness by screaming at the driver through his or her CLOSED window. This is a symbolic victory. The curses don’t actually hurt the dangerous driver who can’t even hear them, but they give the lawful driver a feeling of being a raging lion instead of a lamb ready for the slaughter.

Take any example of anger if your own life or in controversies you read about such as handing of pedophilia by the Bishops and check to see - even if my wrath is justified, is it disproportionate, unjustifiably sarcastic, unforgiving, vengeful in the sense of indulging in symbolic victory in my head as I wish the bishops disaster and maybe gloat over the millions that are being paid out in law suits.

How should I deal with it instead? It is right to be angry at cover-ups. I should pray much more for the victims, the pedophiles and the bishops than I do. I don’t think that I am okay if I say a one line prayer for each of these groups after 2 hours of vitriolic sarcastic hurling of denundiations from the throne of truth.

Dr. Ronda Chervin (for more about my work on anger see

Rhett Segall

#26, Aug 11, 2009 3:34pm

Like Scott, I have taken the Virtus program and signed a consent form to have my background checked for criminal behavior.

While I agree with Teresa that there is a sense of “dumbing down”, I do think that’s trumped by the necessity of getting a handle on the pedophile situation’s roots in the Catholic community. It’s sort of like insisting that everyone going on a camping trip have a first aid course-you have to go over some pretty basic stuff. More recently (I teach theology at Catholic Central HS, Troy NY) the dioceses sent a list of “good touch, bad touch” guidelines to the teachers. Pretty common sense stuff!

But this, while relevant, begs the key inquiry Katie began with-where’s the holy wrath? Katie felt, I believe, that my position vis a vis convicted pedophiles, i. e., full canonical and civil penalties, was not enough because it did not manifest the outrage the vile deeds called for.

Here perhaps we must agree to disagree. Actions in this case does speak louder than words, although words are also very important. I suspect that Scott is right that Both JP11 and BV1 Have made clear to the Bishops their outrage.

Again I ask ‚ÄúWhat more can be done?‚Äù  Have the culprits names bold printed in every issue of the diocesan paper?  Require priests in their Sunday homilies say the names of the culprits and ask God to curse them?  Have the culprits wear a red ‚ÄúP‚Äù emblazoned on their garments?

What would Jesus do?

There is a situation that arose a few years back in the Amish community that has relevance to the question of wrath. You will recall Charles Roberts entered an Amish school house and killed 5 girls, ages 6-13, execution style, before killing himself. The Amish mourned and forgave but did not condemn the culprit. A father of one of the girls said: “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”

My impression is that the anger was repressed and this was not only spiritually harmful but physically and emotionally too.  But what else could have been done? At least not feel ashamed of their anger, admit it and leave it to God

Katie van Schaijik

#27, Aug 11, 2009 4:10pm

No, I don’t agree to disagree.  I insist that everyone agree with me!
JUST kidding. :) 
I have some thoughts in reply, though, Rhett, and will try to get to it later today.  Now I’m off to pick up kids at camp.  I haven’t forgotten that I also owe you a response on the Von Hildebrand/Sheen comparison.  I’ve been making notes, but finding it difficult to gather enough leisure to write at any length.  Summers are busy when children are small.

Katie van Schaijik

#28, Aug 11, 2009 6:12pm

Rhett, a few points (welcoming, as always, your feedback):

“While I agree with Teresa that there is a sense of ‚Äúdumbing down‚Äù, I do think that‚Äôs trumped by the necessity of getting a handle on the pedophile situation‚Äôs roots in the Catholic community.”

I’d be interested in hearing more of different readers’ sense of what the roots of this crisis are.  I have a lot of sympathy with Podles’ idea (offered in the early part of his hair-raising, heart-rending book, “Sacrilege,” which I’m reading under a sense of obligation this summer) that there is a long-standing and widespread legalistic tendency in Catholic culture and ethos, perhaps particularly among clerics.  He traces it to late medieval nominalism. 
I don’t suppose he and I would see eye to eye on the relative merits of Franciscan and Thomistic metaphysics, but I do think he nails something true on this point.  Part of the problem in the sex abuse scandal is that grave sins have been treated as mere violations of law.  Many priests and bishops seem to have conceived of their role as being mainly to provide the sacraments and administer the practical affairs of the Church.  They don’t seem to take holiness or evil quite seriously. It’s all just a matter of confessing wrong, receiving absolution, and moving on.  There has been far too little sense of morality as having to do with the interior structure of reality, and of sins as inflicting serious injury on others.

“Katie felt, I believe, that my position vis a vis convicted pedophiles, i. e., full canonical and civil penalties, was not enough because it did not manifest the outrage the vile deeds called for.”

Don’t forget that my post on this subject was in response to a Vatican official who seemed to make a point of stressing that the Church’s response to this was one primarily of “sadness.”  You and Scott speculate that the wrath was expressed behind closed doors.  I ask, why?  I mean, have you any grounds for believing that wrath was expressed, apart from your sense that such great Catholics in authority must necessarily be wrathful?  And if it was, why behind closed doors?  Are the victims—is the rest of the Church—not entitled to see and hear it?
Do you agree that the Church seems intent on modeling an anger-free response to evil?  And if so, do you not see a problem with this?  I think, with Podles, that a false fear of anger may be one of the roots of the problem under discussion.

I have to say, I intensely dislike the “What would Jesus do?” line of moral reasoning.  God’s ways are not our ways.  Jesus was constantly surprising not just the pharisees, but his closest friends and disciples.  We don’t know what He would do in any given situation.  We only know that it would be super-humanly perfect; that it would be motivated by love; that it would be free of all taint of evil.

I share your worry that the forgiveness expressed by the Amish in the face of ghastly murders might have been premature and carries the danger of repression.

“But what else could have been done? At least not feel ashamed of their anger, admit it and leave it to God.”

I hesitate to predict what should be done in such situations.  My thought is rather that the right interior response will put a person at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, who will prompt him or her in the right direction for him or her.  What I oppose is theoretical responses: viz. “I say this or do that because I am a Christian and this is what Christians should say or do in such situations.”

Ronda Chervin

#29, Aug 11, 2009 7:16pm

Dear Katie,

I am very interested in what you say about a legalistic attitude toward sin such that there is not enough pondering of the personal aspect of what sin involves. I hadn’t thought about this enough in terms of wondering why some priests who are liturgically glorious yet never preach about sin claiming that “everyone knows when they have sinned and if they don’t confess it, it’s too bad but we don’t have to dwell on it. Aside from the reaction to Pharisaism in this laxity there could also be a subtle legalism such as you describe - not seeing how sin represents an attitude toward others not just a lapse out of hedonism.

Rhett Segall

#30, Aug 11, 2009 7:41pm


As to the relationship between Nominalism and legalism I don’t know.  It seems obvious that the Bishops’ initial response to the pedophile reports was tainted with legalism. By that I mean they seemed to be saying that the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the privacy of the confessional was enough to handle the situation. I think the scandal was rooted in a clerical, male culture in which candidates for the priesthood, with its mandatory celibacy, were not properly veted for the necessary psychological maturity such a vocation demanded.

I’m surprised at your discomfort with the maxim “What would Jesus do”? It is right at the heart of Christian morality, often stressed by DvH. I think, further, that it is a most applicaple principle, relevant to such issues as racial prejudice, sexual prejudice, consumerism, militarism and, yes, holy wrath.

Katie van Schaijik

#31, Aug 11, 2009 7:53pm

Have you got references for DvH using the WWJD formulation?  It seems so unlike him. 
I find it highly problematic.  First, because we do not what Jesus would do in a given concrete situation and should not presume that we do.  Was any of his earthly actions predictable, even by his closest disciples?  Were they not rather characterized by a note of the unforeseeable, almost the unimaginable?  Did he not constantly startle and confound friends and enemies alike?  And haven’t the saints throughout history done the same?
Secondly, Jesus is God; we are not.  We cannot do and ought not attempt to do whatever He can do.  We do not stand in the same relation to the Father, or to other souls.  We are not Omnipotent or Omniscient; nor are we the Redeemer of the World.
I find the question, breathed in fear and trembling, “What would You have me do, Lord?” much closer to the center of Christianity.  He knows us in all our individuality, our background and temperament, our strengths and weaknesses, our hopes and aspirations, plus the full import and bearing of each situation we face (most of which is hidden to us).  The Holy Spirit searches our hearts and prompts us from within.
As I see it, the “imitation of Christ” classically understood, gets at the idea you want but without any of the presumptuous tendencies of the “WWJD?” formulation.

Scott Johnston

#32, Aug 11, 2009 9:25pm

I think the scandal was rooted in a clerical, male culture in which candidates for the priesthood, with its mandatory celibacy, were not properly veted for the necessary psychological maturity such a vocation demanded.

I can partly agree with this, but it needs more filling in. And celibacy has little to nothing to do with it (A minority of priests—those attracted to boys—committed a majority of the abuses. Heterosexual priests are far less likely to sexually abuse minors). The statistics of the abuse cases compiled by the national review board that published the 2004 report on all the known cases of abuse (occurring between 1950 and 2002) they could get data on revealed that the largest proportion of priest abusers were homosexual men who targeted and abused adolescent boys. Specifically, 81% of the victims were male.

Here are some selected quotes from the report:

In American society as a whole, sexual abuse of minors appears to be far more widespread than earlier thought. According to some estimates, one out of every four women and one out of every seven men experienced some form of sexual abuse as minors. Most abuse occurs in families.

The number of priests who engaged in sexual abuse of minors and the number of victims of that abuse changed dramatically during this time period. Although there were reported acts of sexual abuse of minors in every year, the incidence of reported abuse increased by several orders of magnitude in the 1960s and 1970s. After peaking in the 1970s, the number of incidents decreased through the 1980s and 1990s even more sharply than the incidence rate had increased in the 1960s and 1970s.

The majority of the victims were males between the ages of eleven and seventeen. The number of reported male victims in this age group increased from 353 in the 1950s, to 1,264 in the 1960s, to a peak of 2,129 in the 1970s. The number then decreased to 1,403 in the 1980s and 363 in the 1990s. The number of girls who have been the victims of sexual abuse by priests has varied much less over time. The total number of female victims between eleven and seventeen when the abuse began peaked in the 1960s at 305 and has decreased every decade since then.

The survey data are consistent with statements made by clergy, lawyers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, indicating that the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors by priests significantly increased in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s, and decreased thereafter.

According to the survey data, 9.7% of the reported allegations of abuse began in the 1950s, 26.1% in the 1960s, 35.5% in the 1970s, 22.6% in the 1980s, and 6.2% began between 1990 and 2002. . . . Priests ordained in the early 1970s were more likely to have been accused of sexual abuse of a minor than priests ordained in any other period.

To see the full report, go to

Notice the huge difference of reported abuse in the 1970’s compared to the 1990’s.

So, a large majority of the priestly sexual abuse scandal involved homosexual priests abusing boys in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, peaking in the 70’s and declining after this, with a sharp decline in the 90’s.

Scott Johnston

#33, Aug 11, 2009 10:22pm

Here is one more excerpt from the same report which I think will be of interest:

Why did so many priests sexually abuse minors? Although it is not possible to pinpoint any one “cause” of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests, there were two overarching contributing factors:

  * Dioceses and orders did not screen candidates for the priesthood properly. As a result, many sexually dysfunctional and immature men were admitted into seminaries and later ordained into the priesthood.
  * Seminaries did not form candidates for the priesthood adequately. As a result, seminarians were not prepared for the challenges of the priesthood, particularly the challenge of living a chaste, celibate life.

So, it is evident that of the “sexually dysfunctional and immature men” referred to above, the vast majority of these men who would go on to commit abuse, were homosexual. The proportion of dysfunctional and immature men among heterosexual priests was far, far smaller.

Go back to the numbers in my previous comment. If you were to eliminate all the homosexual abuse of minors cases and retain only heterosexual abuse cases between 1950 and 2002, you would notice two things: 1) the overall abuse numbers would drop hugely, and 2) the explosion of abuse from the 60’s into the 70’s would disappear. Heterosexual abuse cases did not have an explosive rise and fall but remained low and at a fairly constant rate.

What does this indicate? Among other things, that perhaps the single most effective, and quickest way, to dramatically lower clergy sexual abuse, is to 1) make sure strongly homosexual men do not enter the priesthood, and 2) ensure better formation in human sexuality and celibate chastity for men in seminary.

And, indeed, in my observation, both of these are very much happening, and have been for some time now.

Katie van Schaijik

#34, Aug 12, 2009 2:25am

Scott, while I love priestly celibacy, I don’t think it’s quite true to say that because it was mostly a problem of homosexuality, celibacy had nothing to do with the scandal. 
I think it’s undeniable that the celibacy rule made priesthood an attractive vocation for homosexuals.  It was a socially respectable way of not being married.
Wouldn’t you agree?

Bill Drennen

#35, Aug 12, 2009 2:33am

Maybe Katie but Scott is still correct in the higher sense because just because something is harder or requires something hard does not mean that failing to live up to the hard thing is in any way due to the requirement itself does it?

That’s just like saying people are failing to climb the mountain because it’s just too high.

No, they should not be climbing if they are not up to it. The mountain itself is unchangeable. There will always be those souls with the grit to climb it. Let the others stay in the valley or choose an other mountain.

Scott Johnston

#36, Aug 12, 2009 2:50am

I wasn’t thinking of this angle, but only of the fact that a celibate life itself does not necessarily cause a man to be more tempted to sexual sin than a non-celibate life. An unchaste person is unchaste, whether he is trying to be celibate or not.

Yes, you are probably correct in that the priesthood is attractive to some homosexuals as a respectable way of not being married. And this goes back to the importance of thorough evaluation of candidates.

Katie van Schaijik

#37, Aug 12, 2009 6:13am


Scott Johnston

#38, Aug 12, 2009 6:29am

I’d be interested in hearing more of different readers’ sense of what the roots of this crisis are.

As the statistics on clergy sexual abuse of minors show and which I have given in other comments, the primary answer to this is homosexuality.

Other contributing factors would include the rapidly changing American culture toward greater sexual license, an overly rigorist and legalistic attitude in seminary formation in the years before Vatican II, poor and too little attention to a sound, holistic and appropriately human formation in chastity.

there is a long-standing and widespread legalistic tendency in Catholic culture and ethos, perhaps particularly among clerics.  He traces it to late medieval nominalism.

I think this is true, with the caveat that the legalistic tendency is diminishing among the younger generation—clergy first, then laymen. This change is happening among the young, JPII generation of priests, and small pockets of laymen here and there—for example, Franciscan U grads. Pinckaers put a great deal of blame upon nominalism for 20th century Catholic legalism. The moral theology prof at DHS also taught this. It involves the (inevitable?) consequences of rooting morals in a dictate from authority which is taken as good not because it accords with what is understandable as the inner nature of goodness itself, but simply because it is promulgated by the authority. A corrective is to see that morals are grounded in the very nature of the good itself. Created things have natures, teleologically ordered, and human life’s nature is ordered to the good which is that which when attained brings about ever greater flourishing of one’s being as human. Virtue is integral, as the inner power which enables one to grow ever closer toward one’s own best fulfillment as a human being.

It‚Äôs all just a matter of confessing wrong, receiving absolution, and moving on.  There has been far too little sense of morality as having to do with the interior structure of reality, and of sins as inflicting serious injury on others.

I agree somewhat, but with a caveat that this sort of attitude is one of the dangers of priestly life that if it has become a factor, it probably did not happen quickly, but slowly crept up and grew little by little over the years.

In the case of priests who eventually end up in a serious crisis of vocation I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that every older, respected, holy priest who has spent lots of time counseling brother priests (e.g. Fr. Groeschel, Fr. Basil Cole, OP) whom I have heard speak of this always—always—give the following as THE most serious reason (not the only one, but the single biggest factor) for priests experiencing an increasing absence of evangelical fervor for the priestly life: They stopped praying. That’s it. Nothing very intellectual. Over and over again, I have heard it said by those in a position to know from direct experience, that the common denominator for priests who eventually end up getting into trouble or leaving the priesthood, is that they stop having a regular prayer life. This is an essential lifeline to Christ which as it leaves their life they lose their fire and love for priestly service.

Scott Johnston

#39, Aug 12, 2009 6:43am

have you any grounds for believing that wrath was expressed, . . . And if it was, why behind closed doors?

JPII summoned the U.S. Cardinals to Rome in April, 2002, for an unscheduled emergency meeting after the scandal broke. I heard later through third parties (Dominicans with Rome connections) that JPII was very angry with them at this meeting.

As far as behind closed doors, isn’t it an accepted general principle that we “praise in public, punish in private”? When it comes to something really serious, don’t parents prefer to speak to a child privately rather than in a public setting? Would a parent speak to a son or daughter about sexual sins in front of other siblings? This sense of preferring privacy, especially when the matter is grave, just seems to be a common instinct.

Also, chastising others in public is humiliating. Even when justified, people still have a right I would say, not to be humiliated/put down in public. In the case of those in high leadership positions, scolding them publicly can damage their authority with their subjects. In the military, for example, if a general were to dress down one of his colonels in front of the colonel’s men, it could very likely have the effect of harming the colonel’s ability to properly exercise his authority over his men in the future, for their respect for him as a leader would have been damaged. A good general wants to swiftly correct and even punish his inferiors when necessary. But he does so privately, because ultimately he wants his officers to become better and more effective leaders of their men. Scolding them in public is counterproductive to this end.

Katie van Schaijik

#40, Aug 12, 2009 6:49am

“As far as behind closed doors, isn‚Äôt it an accepted general principle that we ‚Äúpraise in public, punish in private‚Äù?”

No, I don’t think so.  I mean, that might be good advice for parents reprimanding children for a fault.  But it certainly can’t be considered a general rule of ethics, or else we’d have to condemn the prophets and the Apostles and the Church fathers and innumerable saints.  Also Jesus—for publicly dressing down the pharisees.

Humiliating or not, a public reprimand is sometimes called for as part of re-establishing justice.  Secondarily, it can have a crucial pedagogical value for the whole community.  The mortification may also have a needed purgative effect on the wrongdoer.

Bishops who were complicit—either actively or by omission—in the abuse of children by priests have no right not to be publicly humiliated.  Their victims rather have a right to public vindication and redress. 
In my opinion, the bishops’ authority—the moral authority of the whole Church—was much more drastically undermined by the clerical habit of self-protection under the guise of “not causing scandal” than it could be by a full and proper public accounting of the matter.

The idea that such things should be handled privately and behind closed doors is what allows perpetrators to remain in undeserved positions of power and influence.

The need for a public airing increases dramatically when the victim is weak and socially powerless in comparison with the wrongdoer.

Bill Drennen

#41, Aug 12, 2009 6:52am

Katie, I think it depends on the level of sin and failure involved.

If Jules was correcting one of your kids in a way you thought was a bit harsh or off in some way you most likely should speak to him in private later and then let him modify his direction to the child himself or apologize if he needs to later. It would be wrong for you to publicly undermine his authority while he is disciplining your child unless the abuse rises to such a level that justice demands an immediate protest.

I think we all have different thresholds here but I do tend to agree with you that the threshold in this case justifies a public rebuke.

Katie van Schaijik

#42, Aug 12, 2009 7:00am

Of course.  My claim is not that every wrongdoing should be handled in a public way, but that some should—or at least that part of the handling should be public.  And that claim is just one aspect of the larger claim that there is a serious dearth of holy wrath in contemporary Christian life, preaching and teaching.
Wrong-doers are treated with compassion and gentleness and kindness and concern.  Angry victims are admonished and for their uncharitableness and lack of forgiveness; they are urged to “understand” and forgive and move on.
I know a lady influential in Catholic circles where wrongs were happening.  She didn’t want to hear about them.  “I don’t like to be around bitter people.”
In my experience this is maddeningly commonplace.

Bill Drennen

#43, Aug 12, 2009 7:16am

As to the roots of the crisis we have to include the effects of an unauthentic interpretation of Vatican II, in particular with respect to discipline and orthodoxy in the church, when Catholic academics felt increasingly unbound by Church teaching.

Let us also recall that the “years of legalism” in the church had no such crisis to deal with and priestly vocations flourished.

I think it is true concluding from what you say, that an authentic interpretation of Vatican II incorporating personalist ethics will in fact lead to taking sin MORE seriously not less.

In a sense we can say that the strictness of the past was too external, yet it was effective. In our current times we need more internal accountability which will lead us back to orthodoxy but it will be an orthodoxy based on the full “weight of glory” we have as persons.

Rhett Segall

#44, Aug 12, 2009 7:18am

We are not God, but Jesus has given us his Spirit and promised we shall do greater things than him.(John 14: 12)

Here are a few references from DvH:

The first is the act of “collecting ourselves”…of ordering all things before the face of God, and referring everything to the great “common denominator,” Christ. (Transformation in Christ, “Recollection” p. 95)
“The same consideration applies to all virtues. In regard to all of them we must…see all things….in the transfiguring light which Christ has spread above them.” (Transformation…”Striving for Perfection” p. 197)

….many virtues are possible only as a response to God in Christ and through Christ, and in a world seen in the light of Christian revelation, such virtues, for instance as humility, meekness, purity, charity.” (True Morality and Its Counterfeits, p. 163)

P.S. I inadvertantly delited myself from responding! Help me get back on!

Katie van Schaijik

#45, Aug 12, 2009 7:42am

As I read them, none of those DvH references comes close to making the question “What would Jesus do?” a practical guide in moral perplexity.

In this connection, I recall a ethics class in Liechtenstein where Dr. Crosby read to us from chapter 2 of Jacques Maritain’s book “Essence and the Existent.”  It was about the absolute uniqueness of each moral personality and each moral situation.  (It was a true personalist alternative to the false relativism of situation ethics.)  He spoke about how the acts of a given saint are “venerable but not imitable,” because they issue from his or her own individuality and interiority in relation to God and circumstance.  The same act that is heroic in one person might be rash and irresponsible in another.
If you can get your hands on it, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

I’ll try to remember to ask Jules about the technical glitch.

Rhett Segall

#46, Aug 12, 2009 8:09am

Thank you, Scott, for the link to the report of the Bishops regarding the pedophilia scandal. It will be helpful in my work in Catholic Education. One of the most difficult tasks is informing one’s conscience regarding controversial issues and you have supplied an important tool.

Katie, your point about the uniqueness of the moral decision is true in one sense and erroneous in another. (DvH deals with this in “True Morality… “ in the chapter on Circumstance Ethics.) It is clear that a person’s situation regarding a moral demand will be unique so far as the circumstances are concerned. However, the principles guiding the decision will be universal. (DvH utilizes the example of Sonia in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” Sonia, you will recall, was involved in a dire situation of poverty. In addition she was the sole support of her family. She chose prostitution as a way of handling the situation. What was unique in her situation was her temperament, her family, the social milieu, etc. What was universal was the wrongness of prostitution.) I think that the position you espouse of the absolute uniqueness of every moral situation is a form of Nominalism, i.e. there are no common denominators to various moral situations.

So far as Maritain is concerned, in Existence and the Existent, I think he is saying that in a particular situation, because of a person’s unique temperament, he may be called upon to do something that others may not be called to do. Dietrich Bonheoffer’s decision to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler is an example. However, Maritain does not deny the application of universal principles. (pp. 50 ff.)

Here’s a further quote from DvH on the imitation of Christ:

‚ÄúChrist and transformation in Christ are the very themes of the Christian‚Äôs life; and this transformation implies that morality is not a mere presupposition, but an essential element belonging to its very core.  Transformation in Christ-the imitation of His Sacred Humanity-is equivalent to the sanctification of which St. Paul says‚Äù‚Ķthis is the will of God, your sanctification.‚Äù) (1 Thes.4;3) (Graven Images: Substitutes for True Morality p. 182)

Katie van Schaijik

#47, Aug 12, 2009 6:54pm

Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify my position, Rhett.  I am not a moral relativist.  I hold that there are absolute moral norms, relevant to everyone in every situation (which does not change the fact that every person is unique and so, hence, is every moral situation he encounters.)  For instance, it is never okay to kill an innocent person.  It is never okay to commit adultery.
In criticizing the “WWJD” formulation, I had in mind the kind of cases where absolutes are not at issue (cases which compose most of the moral life for Christians). 
For example: someone does me an injury.  Should I suffer it in silence or speak out?  This is a moral question where “WWJD?” is no help.  It is a question offered to my own freedom, which (I maintain) I should answer not by trying to imagine what Jesus would do, but by asking Him, inwardly and prayerfully, what He would have ME do.
It’s easy to imagine choosing to act in a way that is very different from the way another Christian might be choose to act, and that both ways could be found “holy and acceptable”.

Teresa Manidis

#48, Aug 12, 2009 7:38pm

I agree with Katie’s objection to the over-simplified formula, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’, not because we shouldn’t consider our own actions in the light of Christ’s example (after all, we are all called to be ‘Christ-like’), but because, as the phrase is popularly used today, it seems to carry a ‘whimpified’ (where did we get this adjective, by the way?  From Scott?  It’s classic) connotation in our culture; it’s become a kind of a pacifist, non-confrontational slogan (‘Jesus was a nice guy. Can’t we all get along?  All we are saying, is give peace a chance’).  In fact, I saw its spin-off on bumper stickers, before the last election: ‘What Would Jesus Bomb?’ (mushroom cloud offset), with the implication that since Jesus certainly wouldn’t bomb strategic targets in the Middle East then, by extension, our nation’s involvement there was, ipso facto, un-Christ-like, un-Christian and (flatly) wrong.  I believe truth-seeking individuals could have a heated debate, and disagree wildly, about the reasons for Islamic-Israeli conflict, the US’ involvment in Iraq, or what exactly constitutes a just war; but just saying some catchy phrase (or, rather, catchy acronym) and walking away from the debate is neither logical, relevant, or, even, very interesting.

Teresa Manidis

#49, Aug 12, 2009 9:03pm

Since Katie has (generously) asked to hear “more of different readers’ sense of what the roots of this crisis are,” my opinion is as follows.

Pre-Vatican II, there was an overly rigid, punitive focus in Catholicism, centering on error-avoidance; if a priest did not hold his chalice, thumb and forefinger exactly so, for example, it was considered a grave (perhaps mortal) sin.  At that time, the (largely Irish) clergy in the US emphasized to the (largely immigrant-based) laity the paramount importance of the sixth and ninth commandments (almost to the exclusion of the other eight), thereby perpetuating their homeland‚Äôs Jansenistic tendencies.  All this (as has been commented on in earlier posts), led to an unhealthy, inhibited attitude towards sexuality for many Catholics, along with its attendant shame - and an unwillingness to discuss or confront sexuality ‚Äì let alone sexual perversions, such as pedophilia.

Vatican II has been called a ‚Äòbreath of fresh air‚Äô, and an attempt to correct the scrupulosity of the church, at that time. But, post-Vatican II, some abused their new-found liberty, going from the mentality of ‚Äòeverything-is-a-sin‚Äô to ‚Äònothing-is-a-sin‚Äô (moral relativism).  As I have chronicled in my article, ‚ÄòConfessions of a Patchwork Catholic,‚Äô 2001, this was the time in history when we had the (unfortunate) clown masses, nuns prancing about in leotards during liturgy - or even women trying to ‚ÄòCelebrate the Word‚Äô (after all, who needs men?)  It is not such a stretch to say that, presented with this suddenly permissive and experimental atmosphere, after such a canonistic and repressed experience of the priesthood, those men who may have (secretly, for fear of being found out) already been sexually perverted ‚Äì or even men who simply did not know how to deal with normal sexual orientation and desire, due to their formation ‚Äì might begin down the path of pedophilia or homosexual activity.  Both sins could be easily hidden, or covered up later, due to the code of silence (‚ÄòEvil protects its own‚Äô); and the initial reluctance on the part of the laity to confront (and confusion about how to react to) clerical sexual sin further perpetuated the cycle (later on, as information and litigation became more easily accessible, certain victims eventually spoke out). Continued

Teresa Manidis

#50, Aug 12, 2009 9:05pm

There may be some reading the previous post who assume, due to my candid criticisms, that I am attacking the church, or am now one of those ‚Äòbitter people‚Äô Katie‚Äôs ‚Äòmaddening‚Äô friend tries to avoid ‚Äì but they couldn‚Äôt be farther from the truth.  I love my church ‚Äì I have always loved my church ‚Äì and have found in her the surest way to peace and love ‚Äì the surest way to Christ, the source of all love, that is possible on this earth.  But it is precisely because of this love that I speak out.  How can we, as a church, ‚Äòmove on,‚Äô as has been suggested?  How can we ‚Äòforgive‚Äô and simply ‚Äòforget‚Äô?  How can we fix what is lacking in our wonderful, fallible, infallible church if we do not squarely face the causes of her ills in the first place?

If a soft-hearted, ‚Äòoutcomes-based‚Äô permissiveness (in part) led to the priest sex scandal (and the subsequent ‚Äòcover-ups‚Äô) of the previous century, then, as Katie has suggested, perhaps a different approach is called for in the new millennium.  Not a ‚Äòhot anger,‚Äô not a ‚Äòcold anger‚Äô; not a vengeful, self-righteous ‚Äòhurling‚Äô of denunciations.  But, as Bill has so picturesquely suggested, maybe by ‚Äòmountain‚Äô climbing, by raising the bar, by increasing the challenge; by holding everyone (even priests, even bishops) strictly accountable for their actions can we (finally) get back to following Christ, and discerning His demanding ‚Äì yet transcendently beautiful ‚Äì call in our lives.

Scott Johnston

#51, Aug 12, 2009 10:54pm

Nice! I agree very much with your thoughts here, Teresa.

Your remarks hint at something that I believe is absolutely crucial for the continuing renewal of the priesthood in today’s society: a (properly manly, as opposed to a life-diminishing acceptance of wimpification) healthy eagerness to sacrifice oneself for others.

A strong, masculine desire to embrace the cross, to pour oneself out for one’s flock, is essential for a healthy and properly priestly identity.

[This reminds me of a talk I heard Fr. Groeschel give about ten years ago to a group of men I was among on a vocation weekend visiting the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal to check them out. His talk included an admonition, to the effect that “The brothers like to joke and have a good time. But, you need to know—we are very serious about this life. If you are not serious about giving up everything for Christ and embracing the cross, you’re in the wrong place. We aren’t for you.” No slick presentation about how lovely religious life is!]

A second essential item I would add to this is a wholehearted embrace of being a father! Almost any priest I can think of who seems especially priestly and especially adept at projecting an “I’m here for you” demeanor is someone who wholeheartedly embraces spiritual fatherhood. Such priests are forever placing any suffering they endure in the context of pouring themselves out for their beloved children. His attitude is to beg God to help him share in His fatherhood, constantly giving Himself for others.

And it is fairly plain to recognize, these two aspects come together: the sacrifice of a humble father, giving his all for his children. This, I think, is certainly at the heart of the ongoing invigoration of the priesthood.

And, I say, continuing renewal, because such things are indeed already being placed front and center in seminary formation. When I was a Dominican student there were weekly formation talks given usually by the priest Student Master. We heard solid talks about how essential it is to cultivate a strong identity of being a father. These were all emphasized in formation: embracing the cross; a close devotion to Mary; a strong prayer life including quiet contemplation as well as communal prayer; being accountable to each other; and as future priests, having a deeply eucharistic-centered spirituality.

And we not only listened to talks, we discussed these topics in formal group discussion time that often was as fruitful as the prepared remarks. Casual conversation also would often take up these sorts of things.

Other helpful topics included things like cultivating healthy friendships with laymen, observing proper boundaries with women and others, having balance in one’s life (exercise, eating properly, adequate sleep, etc.). The Student Master even brought in a personal friend of his, a layman who was a father of large family, to speak about fatherhood and his thoughts on what bio fathers need from spiritual fathers, and about what is common and central to all fatherhood.

Diocesan seminaries also have (weekly I think is standard) regular formation talks. Along with this, all seminarians have spiritual directors and (usually) regular confessors. And a yearly weeklong retreat is also standard. Also, as part of religious life, my former Dominican community would have monthly house meetings where the prior of the house would give a spiritual talk specifically addressed to the community as a whole. We had daily adoration in the student chapel, and a more formal weekly adoration in the house chapel with incense and benediction every Friday evening. Often, the preaching at daily community Mass (at which a Dominican priest would be preaching to an audience consisting mostly of his fellow Dominicans, with some laymen) was geared toward things relevant especially to religious life, to priestly life, to Catholic evangelical life.

I am mentioning this because sometimes I feel that when laymen write about what the priesthood needs, and what seminaries need, they have no idea of just how much present day seminarians are deeply engaged, in a variety of ways, with a constant dialogue about what it means to be a good priest. And there is so much available to help provide rich food for this ongoing dialog: Scripture (foremost), Church documents about the priesthood and religious life (e.g. pastores dabo vobis), the writings of the Saints and Doctors of the Church (and for religious, the life and spirituality of their founder).

Seminarians today are enveloped by many and varied positive formative influences all stretching toward that day of priestly ordination: private prayer, community prayer, daily Mass, frequent conversation with brother seminarians, spiritual direction, regular confession, formal formation talks, interaction with other priest friends and mentors, academic study of the sacrament of holy orders, regular private formal assessments by formators. By the time a priest today is ordained, he has spent at least a good six years or more preparing for the priesthood, with six major retreats, countless formation talks, many hours of prayer, summers of apostolic service . . . That’s after making it past the initial psychological evaluations (a two day ordeal), the interviews with the diocese or religious order, etc.

Scott Johnston

#52, Aug 12, 2009 11:06pm

Forgive me! I am (understandably I hope) passionate about just how solid and thorough the formation was that I received with my brother Dominicans at the Dominican House of Studies. And how much each brother, personally, desires to be a good priest. We talked about it all the time! And these conversations included our own observations of the mistakes of the past, and how we could participate in changing things for the better. It was an ever-constant background to our hours of daily prayer.

Scott Johnston

#53, Aug 12, 2009 11:47pm

I didn’t mention the most important and obvious of factors out of my above elements for ongoing priestly invigoration because I assumed it. But, I would like to mention it to be sure this is not left out of explicit consideration: a good priest must identify strongly with Christ, in the sense of being united with Christ, of being completely joined to Christ’s mission. He is ever-aware of his sacramental identity with Christ; that he is, in a uniquely sacramental way, a consecrated extension of Christ’s body for the sake of the salvation and sanctification of others. He stands in persona Christi, and is united with and configured to Christ through Holy Orders. He is especially united with Christ on the Cross in a special way, united with Christ’s suffering, sharing in His priestly self-emptying for others.

Bill Drennen

#54, Aug 13, 2009 6:22am

Excellent comments ALL!!

Katie van Schaijik

#55, Aug 13, 2009 6:56am

I agree with Teresa’s analysis.  And Scott, your description of current seminary formation is encouraging.  The difference between the young, JP II priests and older, formed-before-he-came-on-the-scene priests is definitely felt in the pews.  It’s impossible not to look forward to the day when more of them are mature enough to become bishops.
Meanwhile, we lay people have our own maturing-in-our-vocation to do, do we not?
I would like to add to your excellent point about fatherhood: 
I read an article a few years back about a young Dutch bishop, then newly ordained.  (It happens that I was on a silent retreat at a Benedictine convent of perpetual adoration right after he was named Holland’s youngest bishop.  He was there too.)  Asked about how we might renew the Church in Holland, he proposed that all Dutch priests try to spend some time in America—to get hope and encouragement from the vibrancy of the Church here, and (perhaps even more) to hear themselves called “Father.”  In Holland, priests are called by their official title: “Pastor” or “Vicar” or “Rector”, never “Father.”  He spoke about how much it meant to him when he spent a year studying at Catholic University that wherever he went in America—on campus, in airports, grocery stores, on the street—he was constantly addressed as “Father”, by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  He said it awoke a crucial dimension of his priesthood for him.

Scott Johnston

#56, Aug 13, 2009 7:13am

Awesome! (though sad that Dutch priests do not hear themselves being called “Father”)

Scott Johnston

#57, Aug 13, 2009 9:10am

Meanwhile, we lay people have our own maturing-in-our-vocation to do, do we not?

Absolutely! And, properly viewed, we should see that the lay vocation and the priestly vocation do not mature independently. They very much each need each other, growing in wisdom and holiness as they each relate together on the journey toward the Heavenly Kingdom.

Katie van Schaijik

#58, Aug 13, 2009 9:30am

This raises another thought for me:
I think we need a fresh understanding of the image of priest as husband of the Church.  I love the image of “husbandry”—the skilled farmer, loving and understanding his land, knowing all is aspects—which fields are best for which purposes, which need to lie fallow for a time—cultivating it, making it fruitful, serving it with all his energy, tenderness and devotion.
On this score, I wish priests would befriend “JP II husbands”, who are, in my observation, as different in their formation and understanding of their role from earlier generations of men as JP II priests are from the preceding generations of priests.  It might be a key to finding the right relation between priests and laity in the new millennium. The old, patriarchical, authority-figure, father-knows-best ideal has been subsumed in a new ideal of heroic, self-giving service.  I am constantly in awe of many of the men I know who are young husbands and fathers—of the way they love and lay down their lives for their families.
I think if priests grasp this: that their role is at least as much one of cultivation as of authority, things will go well with us.

Scott Johnston

#59, Aug 13, 2009 9:39am

Yes, Katie! Totally with you. Many Dominican brothers do this naturally already. Unlike religious life in a forgone era, present-day Dominican formators encourage the brothers to keep up healthy friendships with men and women they knew before entering religious life.

So, I noticed that the youngest brothers (not long out of college) kept in contact with their closest college friends. This means that as their male and female collegiate friends get married and start to have kids, the brothers share these experiences with them. And when they are ordained deacons, they often have babies to baptize (even marriages to celebrate!) for close personal lay friends. In fact, as I think about it, because of this phenomenon of the lay friends of the youngest brothers, when they would invite guests to share an evening meal at the Dominican House, often this would mean a young couple with a baby in tow. You might be surprised how often this house of celibate men had little babies around! And it was great!

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