Five things every Catholic can do to end the abuse crisis
When I wrote that faithful Catholics “need to spend more time in prayer and sacrifice than in advocacy for a papal resignation” (see Pope Francis: The resignation scenario), I received notes from only a very few people who disagreed. These few asserted that it was a very good thing to work toward ridding the Church of a bad pope.
Believe me, I understand the theoretically “good” aspect of this position, which is why I gave specific reasons for thinking it a bad idea. But now let me go one step farther by committing the unpardonable sin of stating the obvious: For the vast majority of Catholics this approach to the abuse crisis is, in fact, delusional. The number of faithful Catholics who can contribute anything at all to any sort of resignation effort is vanishingly small. On this basis alone, any sort of commitment on our part to the removal of the current pope is a tremendous distraction. And the great problem with distractions—throughout the whole long history and life of the Church—is that they are used by Satan to prevent us from tending to our own holiness.
What can I do?
What, then, are some of the things that all of us should be able to do? Here are five suggestions:
Speak (and live) the truth about human sexuality:
Both the crisis of Western civilization and the current crisis in the Church are rooted in faulty views of human nature which destroy the natural and supernatural horizons of the human person. We have lost sight of both our natural being and our final end, let alone seeing our final end as a key to understanding our nature. As a result, we equate mere pleasure with “the good”. One of the first casualties is our understanding of human sexuality, in which we sever the connection between love and life, reducing sexual relations to personal gratification. In all our opportunities to influence the way others perceive the mess we are in, we must speak and teach the full truth about human sexuality, beginning with who we are and why our human nature is differentiated into male and female in the first place.
Talking (and living) points include these realities: (a) Men and women together image God more fully than either does alone, including God’s marvelous fecundity; (b) When a man and a woman marry, becoming two in one flesh, this union is modeled on the relationship of Christ with the Church—a relationship which is never selfish or sterile, always self-giving and fruitful; (c) The right use of our sexual powers, therefore, is to participate in the generative power of God Himself, and to be always open, in every use of our sexuality, to that participation. Thus we refuse to use mere pleasure to close our sexuality in upon ourselves. We learn to control and deny all sexual desires and temptations which are inconsistent with these realities, because such desires are the disordered results of a fallen nature that is destined to be healed and filled by God.
Be unflinchingly honest about the nature of the current abuse crisis:
The root cause of the abuse crisis is our distorted view of human sexuality, which reduces sex to the satisfaction of our pleasurable inclinations. This cause destroys human relationships and multiplies affective distortions of many kinds in those afflicted by it, particularly homosexuality. The specific cause of the crisis is the combination of such disordered affectivity with the widespread denial that homosexual inclinations are fundamentally disordered, and that homosexual acts are fundamentally evil. Thus homosexual impulses may never be morally acted out under any circumstances, which necessitates the development of that perfect chastity which is required by all who are not married.
While it is true that clericalism is always a danger—just as a feeling of “club superiority” is a constant temptation to all those who find themselves in high office of any kind—clericalism is manifestly far less a problem around the world now than it was a century ago, whereas sexual abuse is not. In any case, clericalism has no intrinsic relationship to sexual abuse, still less to homosexual abuse, still less to consensual homosexual behavior among adults. One cannot credibly dismiss the abuse crisis as “clericalism”. One cannot credibly hide its homosexual character by subdividing homosexual behavior into target age groups and obfuscating its reality with clinical names. One cannot credibly refer to “clerical abuse” in general today (as the secular press would like to do) without identifying its overwhelming homosexual nature. Refuse to be swayed by these highly-suspect claims and dismissals. Keep the spotlight where it belongs.
Communicate with your pastor and your bishop:
For most of us, the bishop is the highest hierarchical position which we can reach through our own advocacy for the good of the Church. But we also need to recognize that bishops and even pastors can be notoriously hard to influence with what we might call “outlier” positions. True, if your pastor and bishop are solid men, deeply committed to the Church, all that she really is, and all that she teaches, then they are unlikely to be influenced much by today’s pervasive secularism, assuming they recognize those influences. But if they are secularized men, formed far too much by the spirit of the world, they are unlikely to be influenced by small voices in favor of authentically Catholic fidelity. This is where a groundswell can make a big difference, especially because pastors communicate with bishops, and bishops communicate with Rome.
So communicate clearly about the abuse crisis, in the manner outlined above, to those in your normal diocesan chain of command. Organize or participate in groups of lay people who are willing to do this according to the principles I have indicated. Every Catholic lay organization is adversely affected by anything that weakens the Church, so every Catholic lay organization—from a prayer group to a Vincent de Paul Society to a Knights of Columbus Council to the many national and international apostolates around the world—can legitimately make it a priority to encourage and facilitate this kind of communication. God knows that the malformed consciences of so many Catholic laity make it difficult to create a groundswell of support for any cause that is not widely admired in the larger secular culture. But the sexual abuse issue should create at least a somewhat broader coalition of parish members and parish groups that are willing to express their concerns and, in a very real sense, speak truth to power.
Strengthen your relationship with the Church:
Despite your annoyance or even disgust with all that is wrong with the Church, take steps now to strengthen your connection to the Church, to embed yourself ever more firmly in the Catholic ranks. Perhaps you can attend an additional daily Mass, sign up for Eucharistic Adoration, help with Sacramental preparation, join the choir, work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, attend parish presentations for adults, serve on the parish council, or any of a hundred other things which will strengthen your connections with the Body of Christ—both to give and to receive. This could be something as simple and unstructured as getting yourself to Confession just a little more frequently, stopping in for a quick visit to Christ in the tabernacle, or even developing the habit of making the Sign of the Cross each time you pass a Catholic Church.
All of this is good for both you and the Church, but you will also be accomplishing something of immeasurable importance. You will be reducing the likelihood of abandoning the Church, of breaking ranks. Not one single Catholic should ever be moved by the present impurities of the Church’s members to doubt the essential holiness of the Church herself. If you are tempted—and, yes, it is a temptation—to think that sins x, y and z disprove the Divine character of the Catholic Church, then I suggest you learn something of Church history. The Church in her members has been a constant mess from day one. And yet she is still here, still the wounded Body of Christ, yet still an unfailing font of truth and grace. She is the longest-enduring institution in history, and clearly the one that has done the most good, as well as producing the greatest models of holiness, in every time and place.
Pray and Sacrifice:
I have said it before and I will say it again. The abuse crisis is endemic to the Church because it is endemic to the culture from which the Church draws her members and her priests. Counter-claims are specious. For example, some say the problem lies in celibacy. But celibacy is rather a very good thing which can be exploited, in direct violation of its essential purpose, by those who are prone to homosexual sins—all the more easily within a Church in which education and formation have been far too influenced by the fallacies which dominate the larger culture. My point here is that, while the quickest route to improvement in the Church is an administratively serious correction effort, the cultural nature of the problem means that long term success requires far more than administrative techniques. Effective screening of priestly candidates, better ecclesiastical discipline, and deliberate transparency are not nearly enough.
The total effort must be far broader and deeper, a comprehensive effort at Catholic renewal itself. It involves measures as diverse as cleaning out the stable of academic moral theology, restoring in every parish lost standards of commitment to what it means to be a Catholic, ending the tendency of Catholics to rely on secular schools for the education of their children, transforming the understanding of marriage within whole Catholic communities, and rooting out the enormously widespread sin of contraception. But this level of change requires a massive infusion of grace. And reception of grace, by God’s design, is deeply influenced by prayer and sacrifice. This is something that everyone can do. After all, if we are not offering material and spiritual sacrifices for our families, we should be. In the same way, with Saint Paul, we must “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
In conclusion, let me make a very practical spiritual suggestion. When you choose increased prayer or sacrifice, or a means of directly strengthening your relationship with the Church, avoid choosing things that seem very hard. If you try to do something that appears to you to be great or spectacular, your motives may well be mixed, and in any case you will find that you cannot keep it up, and so you will fall into discouragement. To inspire optional commitments which are unrealistic is one of the Devil’s oldest tricks.
So start small, selecting something you can do easily enough as long as you make a point of attending to it regularly. Do this and offer it for the good of the Church and, in particular, for the proper resolution of the abuse crisis. If you find difficulty in keeping up what you have chosen, scale it back a bit. When this commitment that works for you becomes such a regular part of your spiritual life that you hardly notice it, it will be time enough to add something more.
These prayers and sacrifices and connections to the Church are a solution to the crisis only because they are also part of your own path to union with God. So do not worry, do not despair, and do not forsake the Church of Christ. We can only be part of the solution if we remain in the Church and take advantage of her saving power. We can only be part of the solution if we become better Catholics ourselves.
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Posted by: dfp3234574 -
Sep. 18, 2018 8:34 PM ET USA
"Be unflinchingly honest about the nature of the current abuse crisis." Sure! Here you go: These cases we continue to hear about are all *many decades old*. There has rarely been anything "new" to this entire narrative since 2002. I also think the Catholic media is doing a gross disservice to the Church by relentlessly attacking others and playing into our enemies' hands. We need to recognize these recent stories for what they are: the latest secular assault on the Church. Wake up, everyone!
Posted by: mary_conces3421 -
Sep. 16, 2018 4:19 AM ET USA
Thanks. Keep up the clarity. When I hear the cant about “protecting children”. I want to spit. I’m almost as skeptical about meetings & conferences. I could go on, but will spare you. On the up side: our pastor has started a 9-5 NIGHT vigil on Thursdays for the duration. Begins with a reading of a Passion narrative; then silent prayer ad lib before the tabernacle. Anyone may drop in & stay as long as they can.
Posted by: dapsr -
Sep. 15, 2018 3:10 PM ET USA
Thanks Jeff. This is an excellent summary for all concerned Catholics who are asking "what can I do?" The challenge is momentous and can only be met by a spiritual renewal of our lives individually and as the Body of Christ.
Posted by: Leopardi -
Sep. 14, 2018 6:48 PM ET USA
Excellent analysis, Jeff, along with great suggested actions by the laity. I take issue with your letting celibacy 'off the hook'. Celibacy is a noble thing but in the minds of some young, inexperienced and sexually confused men it appears to be something it isn't. It becomes a negative selection bias in those candidates for priesthood and may well be adversely effecting our seminary population.
Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 -
Sep. 14, 2018 4:42 PM ET USA
Thanks Jeff, your resolution in number 5 is right on. I am starting it today.