About three years ago, I began attending an “old school” Catholic Church: as in one of the few in this state that routinely performs the high Latin Mass. In it, I found something that reached me on levels I’ve not felt in some time. So much so, I began the process to join the Catholic Church.
The RCIA program, designed for adults desiring to become Catholic, varies a bit from church to church. At this church, it is intense and through it one gets a full history of the Church as well as a thorough grounding in the theology, dogma, and — most importantly — how both the theological and dogmatic aspects of Catholicism have evolved over time.
In this RCIA program, there was often some frank discussions of various problems the Church has faced, theologically, politically, and otherwise. The fact is, while the Church is the bride of Christ and is intended to be a bedrock of the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, it is an institution of man. Man (male and female) are fallible, and one sees that fallibility time and time again in the history of the Church (all churches, to be honest).
One of the things I enjoyed most about that process was that this program took the time to get into how theology and dogma developed and why. We got “into the weeds” if you will of what lies behind the modern beliefs of the Church as contained in the Catechism — the beliefs and “laws” of the Church. Of how and when the Church has adapted the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, and of how and when the ceremony of worship (the Mass) have changed and why.
I strongly suspect that if one of the original Apostles were to attend a modern Mass, particularly a Latin Mass, they would find much familiar. That said, I also wonder what they would think of some of the changes.
One core element of the Church is that the powers given by Christ to the Apostles have been handed down directly and without break to those that followed. That process is also supposed to help those that followed to rise to the challenges faced by them in resisting temptation as well as the ability to forgive sins.
However, humans are — by definition — weak and fallible. This includes priests, including those who rise to leadership within the Church.
I joined the Church knowing those weaknesses, and that the Church has issues. To be honest, one of the hardest parts for me to accept was that the Church is committed, through the Catechism, to developing new generations committed to Social Justice. In and of itself, the basic idea of social justice is commendable in that it promotes the importance, indeed sacredness, of the individual and requires respect of same. In practice, it has become something that I feel is the opposite, as anyone viewing the antics of the modern Social Justice Bully (so-called warriors) should be able to see.
It is with sorrow that I have come to realize that far too much of the current priestly leadership (and priests) are far more committed to so-called social justice than to being good shepherds to their flock. Far too much of the leadership is focused on numbers, dollars, and pushing so-called good causes than in providing sound theology, sound worship, and good leadership. So much so that they would rather hide problems than confront them honestly.
No where is this more apparent in the abomination that is the ongoing efforts to conceal rampant sexual abuse and perversion within the ranks of the priesthood. There are, to my mind, four areas of corruption involved.
The first, and to my mind worst, of them is problem of pedophilia. This is a subject near and dear to my heart, as I know far too many who were abused as small children, though I note that none of those were raped and abused by priests. It is in some ways a silent problem, within the Church and without, as people work very hard to deny it. To do otherwise would “destroy the family” or “destroy the Church” or other group. The immediate response to someone saying that X abused them is to deny it, to say that they are such a good person, a respected member of the community, an “important” person. They do “good work” for important causes, have high social standing, etc. Therefore, the matter is hushed up, ignored, and far too often the child or adult making the charges is attacked. The issues for the child are a discussion for another day, but I agree with those who say that it is a life sentence for them as what is done to them quite literally re-wires the brain and brings on a lifetime of consequences.
The second is the rape of those who are past puberty, which is not pedophilia but rather hebephilia/ephebephilia. While it is an important distinction, it tends to get lost. While a pedophile often doesn’t care about the sex of the victim, those in this category tend to be fixated on a particular gender and to be focused on behaviors that are non-consensual and/or produce suffering in the victim. I will admit that my interest in this topic came about through having a much older male attempt to rape me when I was in my early- to mid-teens. Again, the fact is that sexual trauma at any age has effects on the wiring of the brain.
The third area is the fact that the most recent report calls out (though it seems to be being ignored in the media) an ongoing problem with homosexuality in the priesthood. From reports, this is not an isolated thing but, rather, a systemic problem. I note that being a homosexual does not automatically make one a hebephile; but, it is a factor in why so many of those abused within the Church as teenagers tend to be male since the gender focus is already present.
The fourth area is the response of the leadership of the Church at all levels. More than one Pope has said the right things, but efforts to reform the system have been stymied, to be polite. The current response sickens me, as having done a bit of crisis management in PR over the years, the words and phrases used are not those of CEO’s but of those who are enabling if not participating. They are far more concerned with protecting the image of the institution than in protecting the true Church and its members. To my mind, this ties back to the focus on matters temporal rather than in providing sound theology and worship.
For those who want to learn more about what is going on, at all levels, I commend to you the writings of Rod Dreher, a now former Catholic. They are richly sourced and linked.
As for what can be done, I think Megan McArdle has it right: it is time for a housecleaning. The Laity needs to demand and force action – something it has not done to date. The Church is not the Pope, nor the leadership — it is each individual member joining together.
For me, my faith in the leadership of the Church, and its ability to do what is right, are heavily damaged if not destroyed. My faith in the institution of the universal Church remains. I also can’t help but wonder if the various prophecies from appearances of the Blessed Mother that say that the Church will be destroyed and reborn, might not be upon us. What this all means for me, in the long-term, remains to be seen. I simply know that I cannot support the current institution and its leadership. And, that hurts in ways and on a level that can’t be fully described.
The title of this post is deliberate in two ways. First, there is a clear need to debride the rot that has infested the institution of the Church. Second, as a play on words, it is time to take that rot away from the Bride of Christ — de-bride. For the Church to survive, it must be done. To fail to act swiftly and decisively per the teachings of Christ (see what he had to say about those who harm children…) means the death not of the Catholic Church, but potentially the true Church.