Monday, March 27, 2006

Unseemly eagerness


My home town paper (the Chicago Tribune) recently published an article by Dennis Byrne, who is understandably upset at the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. He laments the times when oversight failed, when rules were not followed. But then, he shifts direction, and wonders whether the teaching of the Church is responsible for the problem:

"The recommended reforms are precise, so there can be no more excuses. But they are procedural only; the abuses have been so persistent, it's reasonable to ask if they are the result of something systemic about the church. Here the church must be willing to look at fundamental questions that are empirical, not necessarily theological, in nature: Are clergy more prone to child abuse? Are they more prone to same-sex abuse? Do other denominations have this problem and to what extent? If they don't, is there something specific about the Roman Catholic priesthood that leads to greater incidence of child sexual abuse? Is the something related to the vow of celibacy? Does it have something to do with the priesthood's male-dominated environment? Is it an institutional problem, flowing from the authoritative, hierarchical structure of the church?

The church hierarchy has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that issues of celibacy and female priests have anything to do with these questions. (We're told that "church tradition," not theological certainty, already has provided answers.)"

Never mind that he didn't do any research to look into studies of these problems. He was eager, very eager, to use the scandal to beat the Church up about the male priesthood, as were the commentors on his blog. One wonders if the reason why the sexual abuse in the Church is focused on so much isn't because of outrage over sexual misconduct (there's plenty of it in other denominations, in the schools, everywhere) but because of the teaching of the Church on human sexuality--it is so demanding, so countercultural, that any chance to tear it down will be seized. So, rather than attributing the sins of priests to, well, sin (that's the systemic problem), we attribute it to dogma or discipline. Pristes screw around (with boys! (not that there's anything wrong with that!)), and so they can't tell me I shouldn't abort/contracept/have sex with members of my sex!

I don't know what Byrne's position is on the teachings of the Church, but I would take more seriously the outrage of those who call on Cardinal George to resign if they were supporters of Church teaching, like St. Catherine of Siena, rather than Garry Wills.

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