The Clergy Abuse Crisis has posed the greatest threat to the traditional understanding of the Catholic priesthood since the Protestant Reformation. Now, as then, the deadliest attacks are coming from within the Church. In an attempt to ameliorate a system that allowed a small minority of the clergy to violate children and minors and the gross negligence of some bishops who recycled these predators, the American bishops instituted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, in 2002. It is, unfortunately, doing the Church more harm than good.
By adhering to the Charter’s provisions the American hierarchy has unwittingly undermined the Church’s sacramental theology regarding Holy Orders and Her ecclesiology which depends on a priest’s relationship with his bishop. This breakdown has encouraged present day Modernists, who believe that truth is culturally conditioned and that the Faith is based merely on sentimentality, to try to remake the Church according to their own lights. Intra-ecclesial groups like Future Church, Voice of the Faithful (VOTF), and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) have subsequently formed challenging the hierarchical nature of the Church, Her non-fallible teaching on the male-only priesthood, and the Western tradition of priestly celibacy.
A major factor responsible for a large number of the sex abuse cases, according to the 2011 John J. College of Criminology Report to the bishops, is attributed to the sexual confusion which reigned in society and the Church in the 1960’s and 70’s. The teaching of moral relativism and the acceptance of popular psychological theories over traditional theological principles led to the excess of bad behavior during this period. No doubt bad thinking led to bad actions. The lesson is that orthodoxy is necessary for orthopraxis.
The Dallas Charter was a response to the deep regret felt by the bishops for the perverse crimes that had occurred against minors and a recognition that strong safeguards must be in place protect them. But, the remedies that they enacted were influenced by the secular solutions of lawyers and public relations experts which compromised the Gospel. They do not reflect justice, charity and forgiveness towards priests. Dangerous procedural measures, such as, administrative leave, zero tolerance and a one-size-fits-all policy for accused priests and for punishing malefactors have lent themselves to violations of canonical due process and a mockery of time-tested principles of jurisprudence. This is especially evident when dioceses publish the names of defenseless dead priests as sex abusers on their websites. But, most egregious is the forced laicization imposed on those deemed to be guilty. This action clouds in the popular mind to the permanency of the indelible character of Holy Orders conferred at ordination.
The present state of affairs has caused mistrust and fear in the priest-bishop relationship. The collaboration of a priest with his bishop is vital since he participates in the bishop’s priesthood. Bishops who are supposed to be fathers, brothers and friends to their priests have instead become mere managers with institutional damage control as their top priority. Many priests have dubbed this the Caiaphas Principle. A recent survey in an unpublished dissertation found that most priests don’t believe that they can count on the support of their fellow priests in the event of a false accusation. Presumably, out of fear of retribution from their bishop or from victims advocacy groups. This too is extremely dangerous because priests of the diocese form a presbyterate in union with their bishop. It has devastating pastoral consequences.
“Credible evidence,” the nebulous standard of used by Diocesan Review Boards, has effectively made priests guilty until proven innocent. This has forced priests to shy away from human interactions, especially expressions of pastoral warmth and concern which were the hallmarks of Jesus’ public ministry. Now a fatherly touch may be interpreted as a sexual advance, or an act of kindness toward a young person misconstrued as “grooming.” As one so priest so poignantly stated, “If I meet a woman, I’m having and affair, if I meet a man, I’m gay, and God forbid I’m with a child, I’m an abuser.” In the current climate, any human action of a priest is suspect. Naturally, this has had a devastating toll on the effectiveness of the ordained ministry.
In Hope Springs Eternal in the Priestly Breast, Father James Valladares shows how justice and charity have been violated by some bishops in dealing with accused priests. He examines the pertinent canons that guide the Church’s justice system and finds that these are often ignored or wrongly applied. He provides true cases which highlight the injustice of the process and the agony of priests who have been subjected to the Charter’s draconian mandates.
The Church has incurred tremendous financial losses because of settlements rising from both legitimate and false claims. Her image has been marred by the secular media which has taken advantage of the crisis. However, we often fail to understand how trivial these are in comparison to the damage done to the priesthood by the enactment of the Charter’s policies. This is now the pressing issue that the bishops need to address.
The present scenario reported by Father Valladares is dark. Yet, he has surprisingly chosen a title for his book which speaks of hope. For sure, it is a hope based on Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I will be with you always”. Therefore, far from being pessimistic, Father Valladares presents the facts with confidence that “the truth will set us free.”
For his hard work, born out of love for the priesthood, Fr. Valladares is to be commended.
To purchase the book: http://www.amazon.com/Hope-Springs-Eternal-Priestly-Breast/dp/1462072410