About 5,000 priests and religious brothers have been identified as credibly accused of sexually violating minors. Most of these men were unavailable to criminal prosecution due to statutes of limitation; some within the statutes are in prison. The rest are dead, have voluntarily left the priesthood, were laicized, are residing in religious communities with more or -- usually -- less appropriate supervision, or wait in limbo for the church to adjudicate their cases.
Examining the Crisis
Many people, including bishops, date and label the "Crisis in the Catholic Church" to Jan. 6, 2002 when The Boston Globe began publishing its series about sexual abuse of minors by priests and revealing the conspiracy of bishops in covering up crimes. That was the flash point of a worldwide scandal. The crisis it epitomizes is more profound.
Read the full report here: Beneath the child abuse scandal
Examining the Crisis
Ron Westrum, professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, suggests that organizations react in a series of stages to “anomalous reports.” They are: 1) suppression, 2) encapsulation, 3) public relations, 4) local fix, 5) global fix, and 6) investigation of root causes. He came to his formulation through the study of the battered child syndrome that many people, even professionals, found hard to admit was a widespread phenomenon.
It is not difficult to match the trajectory of church response to allegations of hidden clergy sex abuse against Westrum’s model. It’s a good fit.
If the church is to emerge from the crisis of the clergy sex abuse scandal and cover up and enter a new day, rather than being permanently degraded and diminished by it, a vital project of renewal is needed. It would involve all Catholics -- laity, nuns and priests, including the hierarchy -- in an energetic search for creative and vital means of replacing patterns of domination and control with more cooperative ways of interacting.
Like all Catholics, I gratefully depend on the faithful ministry of the many good priests who serve the church. Yet I offer a broad critique of something central to their lives and identities -- the rule of celibacy. Many priests will recognize the truth of what I describe.
I write from inside the question, having lived as a celibate seminarian and priest for more than a decade when I was young. In the Bing Crosby glory days, celibacy was essential to the mystique that set priests apart from other clergy, the Roman collar an “Open sesame!” to respect and status.
From a secular perspective, the celibate man or, in the case of nuns, woman made an impression simply by sexual unavailability. But from a religious perspective, the impact came from celibacy’s character as an all-or-nothing bet on the existence of God. The Catholic clergy lived in absolutism, which carried a magnetic pull.
Read Carroll's full commentary here: Mandatory celibacy at the heart of what's wrong
Theologian Yves Congar once said, “In the Catholic Church it has often seemed that the sin of the flesh was the only sin, and obedience the only virtue.” This dynamic dichotomy forms the linchpin to the structure of the entire clergy sexual abuse crisis currently embroiling the Catholic Church.
But the sexual abuse of minors by clerics vowed to celibacy is only the symptom of a system desperately in need of fundamental reconsideration.
Let me take you into a situation that illustrates the church institution's instinctive reaction to cover-up scandal. It was a workshop in 2000 for new Jesuit superiors. The presenter, a former provincial, was discussing the circumstances when a superior could break the bond of confidentiality between himself and the men he was in charge of. He said something could be shared with the provincial "If it was a matter of danger for the individual or to others."
The Roman Curia is the Vatican bureaucracy. Most people know little about the men who run the curia. But press coverage of the clergy abuse crisis is closing in on cardinals whose blunders in the clergy abuse crisis have begun to draw criticism from other Princes of the Church.
As words fire back and forth in the press, the wall of secrecy that traditionally surrounds the curia is showing cracks.
Miters somewhat askew, the recent queue of bishops from Ireland to Germany, and beyond stepping forward to offer apologies for sexual abuse by their priests is unprecedented for the European Catholic church.
Even as the apologies pile up and policies for dealing with abuse allegations are tightened and meetings with victims are promised, something remains amiss that takes the heart out of the bishops' mea culpa.
Lisbon, Portugal -- Not long ago, there was a brief flurry of speculation in the Italian media hinting that Benedict XVI was insulated from the full gravity of the sexual abuse crisis swirling around his papacy. Reports suggested the pope was getting only a carefully redacted daily press digest, producing a skewed impression of global discussion – and in particular, perhaps, shielding the pope from grasping the negative fallout of the “blame the messenger” commentary from some senior Vatican aides.
Tuesday morning, however, Benedict XVI seemed to show that he gets it just fine.