The best book (by far) on the scandal of clerical abuse
In 2019 I was invited to write the foreword for a collaborative study on priestly sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, a thorough study proceeding under the leadership of Jane Adolphe, Professor of Law at Ave Maria Law School in Naples, Florida. The results have now been published by Cluny Media: Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis. Rather than pretending I have just discovered this impressive volume, I am simply reprinting my foreword below. This important book will be the gold standard in its field for a very long time.
The most important thing to know about Clerical Sexual Misconduct: An Interdisciplinary Analysis is simply this: When the Church suffers under the weight of the sins of her members, it is always her most devoted sons and daughters who do the heavy lifting. What is truly remarkable about this book is the breadth and depth of the analysis of the entire sex abuse crisis from men and women possessed of deep Catholic identity and firmly committed to authentic Catholic renewal.
Without these qualities, those who study and comment on the crisis offer little more than fluff, an emotional rehashing of either their own prejudices or whatever the world wants to hear. But the contributors to this volume enter into their subject at a far greater depth, not only thoroughly studying the failures but analyzing them in the light of a goodness that only Christ and the Church herself can shed on every form of human evil.
There is no need here to itemize the contents or introduce the nearly thirty Catholic scholars who have contributed to the work. The critical point is that every aspect of the topic is thoroughly covered by highly competent Catholic scholars who care deeply about truth, virtue, and grace. Consider these questions, which most of us have:
- How is the sex abuse crisis in the Church related to the problems of our culture as a whole?
- Is the Church impervious to real change?
- Are sex abuse and clericalism related?
- How have sexual shifts in the modern world exacerbated these sinful tendencies?
- To what degree are our culture’s new sexual myths to blame?
- Is seminary training at fault?
- Is it primarily a matter of homosexual priests?
- Does Christian anthropology legitimately ground human identity in homosexual orientation?
- Has the problem gotten any better since it became public knowledge?
- Why haven’t Canon Law, church structures, and accountability solved the problem?
- What about the legal efforts of victims and governments to punish or correct the Church?
- Are some legal remedies more dangerous, or more promising, than others?
- What can we learn from Biblical sexual morality?
- How does the maleness of Christ fit into all this?
- How can we understand clerical celibacy in the midst of the abuse crisis?
- Can we improve formation for all Catholics, and especially for clergy?
- Is pastoral care possible for both victims and perpetrators?
- Can women offer any special insights about how to set things right?
The remarkable thing about the collaborative effort which resulted in this book is that every one of these questions is thoroughly explored and answered to the degree that correct answers are available—a degree which necessarily varies between probable and certain depending on the topic.
In Part I (CHALLENGES: Church Culture and the Social Sciences), the authors explore the data on clerical sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Considering past studies, seminary formation, the problem of homosexuality, and differences in the data over the past twenty years, this portion of the study also reflects the courage of the authors in exposing prevalent cultural myths which conceal the roots of the problem.
In Part II (CONTRIBUTING FACTORS: Extra-Church and Intra-Church Influences), the authors set the problem of clerical sexual abuse against the background of the surrounding problems which influence it. Here they consider such things as the broader cultural roots of abuse, Catholic organizational culture, and clericalism.
In Part III (CONSEQUENCES: Legal and Policy Issues) we learn much about the complexities of Canon Law, Criminal Law and Civil Law as these impact the ability of both the Church and the world to punish abuse and bring it under control. This material is indispensable for an understanding of why sexual abuse has been, and continues to be, such a difficult issue to deal with effectively.
Finally, in Part IV (CHARTING THE COURSE FORWARD: Biblical, Theological and Pastoral Reflections), the study saves readers from discouragement by identifying the authentically Catholic roots of a true solution. For most of us, who do not have to deal directly with the abuse problem, it is this part which will make us better Christians, uniting us more fully to our Incarnate Lord, and strengthening both our understanding of human sexuality and our commitment to moral life in Christ.
We know, of course, that a deepening of the spiritual life and growth in virtue are the bedrock answers, but we also know that the Church is made up of sinners, and so we must clearly identify and define the problem, discern its interconnections with the broader and sometimes deeper cultural problems which contribute to it, and figure out why the normal tools the Church has for regulating the conduct of the clergy have failed to accomplish the ends for which they were devised. Yes, authentic renewal is essential; but no widespread renewal is possible without concrete formative and administrative mechanisms that actually work. This study leaves none of these stones unturned.
Finally, there is the last question on my list. It is answered in a very strong appendix, in which four experienced and highly-regarded women seminary professors offer a series of recommendations which will help these institutions guard against sexual abuse and do a better job of forming future priests, both to embrace celibate chastity and to avoid clericalism. Here we have a wonderfully concrete proposal for effective and immediate reform.
The scholarship on display here is, by the way, impeccable. The footnotes alone could fill a separate volume, and yet the writing remains, in its very clarity, once again a tool of authentic renewal. I am not only impressed with, but grateful for, what Jane Adolphe and the entire group of authors and editors—priests and laity, men and women—have given us in these pages. The result of their efforts must already be declared essential to the Catholic mission which we are all called to serve.
Jeffrey A. Mirus, Ph.D.
Feast of All Saints
November 1, 2019
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