40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Catholic Priest = Child Molester

I’ve thought long and hard about this topic and how to treat it.  In fact, I’ve started to write it more than once then scrapped what I’ve written.  For one thing, any defense of the Church on this issue can be easily twisted into the support of child-abuse.  In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.  No child should ever be subjected to sexual abuse; not one; not ever!  I am not condoning the behavior of any of the men who committed this terrible crime.

I thought about quoting the many statistics that show that this is a problem of society at large and not just a problem of the Catholic Church.  That would be boring and wouldn’t convince anyone who’s decided to hate the Catholic Church to change their mind.  All I’ll say is this.  Studies show that the percentage of Catholic priests who have these tendencies is no higher than any other large group of men.  It has nothing to do with celibacy.  Married men are just as likely to be child molesters as single men.  Male public school teachers, Boy Scout leaders, athletic coaches, protestant ministers, and male police are just as likely to abuse a child as a Catholic priest.  Women can be child molesters, too.  It’s been reported that child sexual abuse is rampant in Hollywood.  The casting couch isn’t just for young starlets any more.

So, why is the Catholic Church singled out when the matter of child sexual abuse is discussed?  And, why does every online discussion, and many articles and news reports about the church eventually turn into an attack on the Church’s history of abusive behavior by a small minority of priests?  It’s because the Church is an easy target and no one in the media has ever been called out for being anti-Catholic.  Catholics are the only group in America who can be the victims of discrimination and downright hateful treatment and no one complains, not even Catholics.  In fact, there are a lot of people who call themselves Catholics who excuse whatever type of unCatholic behavior they choose to do with the excuse that the Church has lost its moral authority by virtue of the sex scandal.

Let’s get some things straight.  First, a small minority of priests (and deacons) have committed grave sins against the young people who were in their care.  Second, some of the Bishops bungled the situation, mostly because they didn’t know what to do.  Remember, until not so long ago, the psychiatric community believed that child abusers could be cured.  If the people whose job it was to deal with mental illness didn’t have the answers, it’s not a big surprise that the Bishops didn’t know either.

Third, we are talking about a mental illness, three mental illnesses actually.  Pedophilia, which is not what most of these cases is about, is an attraction to prepubescent kids.  Hebophelia is the attraction to kids between 11 and 14.  Ephebophelia is the attraction to male children in their late teens.  Most of the cases where priests have been accused of molesting people have been cases of ephebophelia.  

In spite of what the medical community once believed, there is no known cure for these illnesses.  As we’ve learned, moving a child molester into an environment where kids aren’t present isn’t effective, unless the environment has bars on the windows.  Even then, when the abuser is released, he (or she) goes right back to their old habits.

So, what’s the point of all this?  My point is that the bad actions of some members of our clergy do not negate two thousand years of good works done by the Church.  In fact, since the scandal broke in the United States, the Catholic Church is a very safe place for children.  The Church has imposed very strict standards for entry into the seminaries and has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for abusers.  Anyone who has anything to do with kids in the Church must take a class on child abuse and pass a state background test.  Here in Saint Louis we must also take a monthly test.  Will this stop all child abuse?  Of course not.  But it does make the statement that our Church is not a safe haven for molesters.  There are also strict rules in place covering the reporting of even the suspicion of abuse.

It’s worth pointing out that, try as they might, the media are having a hard time finding current cases of abuse by clergy.  What they are reporting on are charges of abuse that happened 30, 40, even 50 years ago.  Often these charges are made against priests who have died and can’t defend themselves.  The Church is perceived to have deep pockets.  Does that mean that all of these charges are get-rich-quick schemes?  No.  But some of them are.

To wrap this up, it’s absurd to say that the bad actions of less than 4% of priests, priests who were suffering from a mental illness, takes away the Church’s moral authority.  The Church has never abused a child.  Employees of the Church have, as have employees of every large employer on earth.  No matter what some individuals have done, nothing changes the fact that the Church does have moral authority.  She received it from Jesus himself.  As we know from our Holy Week observances, scandals are as old as the Church.

On the day that Jesus established the priesthood, Judas sold Him out for 30 pieces of silver and the man Christ chose as the first Pope denied Him three times.  People are not perfect.  Far from it.  But the Church will go on.  He promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against it.  As far as the abusers and those who failed to deal with them properly, Jesus told us in yesterday’s Gospel,

“Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

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Married Priests?

Every once in a while someone brings up the topic of married priests.  “Wouldn’t it be great if priests could marry?”  “There wouldn’t be a shortage of priests if they could be married.”  “There would be no sexual abuse crisis if priests were married.”  And on and on.  Then you hear the usual criticisms, “It’s all about money.  The Church doesn’t want married priests because then they’d have to pay them more money.”  “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they don’t want to have to take care of their widows.”  “The Church doesn’t want married priests because of the high cost of health insurance for families.”   “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they’d have to provide them with houses where they could raise their families.”  Again, on and on.

I’m no expert on the theology of married clergy, but since I am one, maybe I can shed some light on this subject.  Number 1, there are married Catholic priests.  Married priests from some other faith traditions can convert to Catholicism and become priests.  There aren’t a lot of them but they do exist.

Number 2, the Church’s teaching on married priests is a “discipline”, not a “dogma”.  What’s the difference?  Disciplines can and do change.  (Remember meatless Fridays?)  Unlike the “all male” priesthood which is a dogma of the Church and can’t ever change, the celibacy of priests could.  (See # 1 above)

Here’s the real issue.  Those who say they want a married priesthood haven’t really thought the matter through.  Here’s where my experience as a married deacon comes into play.  It’s not possible to give 110% to two vocations!  You say you want a married priesthood?  Let’s look at a very simple scenario.  Your beautiful daughter is in love.  She wants to be married.  She has her heart set on a big church wedding on June 1.  She’s already reserved the hall.  (Believe it or not, brides do reserve reception halls before they check on the availability of the church.)  She also loves Father Bob and will only be satisfied if he performs the ceremony. Only one problem; Father Bob’s  son graduates from the university on June 1, two hundred miles away.

Or on an entirely different level, grandma has been rushed to the emergency room.  The situation is critical.  Your faith tells you to call the pastor.  You need him right away.  Here’s the problem.  The pastor’s daughter’s dance recital is going on as we speak and he’s turned off his cell phone.  Grandma is called home before you can reach Father.

I can hear you saying, “But deacon, other religions have married clergy and it doesn’t seem to be a problem.”  The thing you have to remember, with all due respect to our brother clergy, Catholic priests are called upon to do far more then their protestant counterparts.  Anointing of the sick can only be done by a priest and medical emergencies always seem to happen at the worst possible time.  We just expect the priest to always be available.  Protestant churches seem to have larger staff that Catholic parishes, making it more difficult for priest pastors to delegate.  Priests are “married to the Church” forever.  Protestant pastors are employees who can be hired and fired and often are.

Then we have the marriage itself.  Our protestant minister friends have a divorce rate that’s very close to the national average so there’s no reason to think that married priests would do much better.  (BTW, they also have a similar rate of child sexual abuse).   But we belong to a Church that teaches that marriage is until death do us part.  What do you do with a divorced priest?  I imagine you do the same thing you do with a divorced deacon.  Transfer him somewhere where they don’t know his past.  But that’s not really much of a solution.

Just imagine how messy a priest’s divorce could become if the about-to-be exwife blames the Church (the other woman, so to speak) for the breakup. Yikes!

I’ll site an example from my own life and then I’ll lay this topic to rest.  I currently have a handful of parishioners who are mad at me because I left the Goulash Festival a half hour early to catch the tail end of my grandson’s birthday party.  On the other hand, I’m sure I disappointed the grandson by missing his soccer game and the rest of the birthday festivities.

So the members of my church expect me to be available 24/7 and my lovely, long-suffering wife says that when there’s a conflict the diaconate “always” wins out.  And, remember a deacon’s responsibilities are so much less than those of a priest.

Bottom line, you may think you want married priests, but when push comes to shove, you really don’t.  You want the sacraments to be available around the clock, 365 days a year.  You want the priest to spend his free time reading and praying and in general just “being a priest.”  You want him to hang out with the school kids and to never miss a meeting.

When you call the rectory you don’t want to hear that Father had to take his sick child to the doctor and is gone for the day.  The Church hasn’t survived for over 2,000 years by being stupid.  Someday the discipline may change, but I doubt it because it just makes too much sense.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic # 7 Priests

The day before he suffered he took bread in his sacred hands and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise.  He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:  Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.

When supper was ended, he took the cup.  Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said:  Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlastingcovenant.  It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.  Do this in memory of me.  The New Roman Missal

With these words, Jesus established the priesthood.  Without priests we wouldn’t have the Eucharist.  Acting on behalf of the local ordinary, these men have the power to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Only bishops have the power to ordain priests and our current bishops are direct descendants from the original twelve.

These men give their lives to the Church.  Unlike most protestant clergy, they take a vow of celibacy.  There are some who suggest that this is a bad thing because they think it discourages many men from the priesthood.  That may be somewhat true, but by making a lifelong commitment to celibate life a priest is able to give 110% to his ministry.  As a married clergyman myself, I can see how valuable the priest’s dedication to the Church can be.  It’s impossible to give your all to two different callings.

This is anything but a scholarly treatise on the theology of the priesthood.  There are many good sources for that elsewhere.  My point is this.  As Catholics we have the gift of a dedicated priesthood, men who are literally married to the Church.  They ace in persona Christi, that is in the person of Christ, to consecrate the Eucharist, to forgive us our sins, and to perform the sacraments.  Sadly, there aren’t enough priests to go around right now and that’s a problem.

As faithful Catholics we have an obligation to encourage our young men to at least consider priestly life.  You would think, in this treacherous economy, that a job with lifetime security, good benefits and room and board, would be very attractive.  But here’s the thing.  In recent years the Church has been rocked by the child abuse scandal, and make no mistake, it’s a terrible thing.  But the news media have blown it totally out of proportion.  The percentage of priests who abuse children is no higher than the percent of men in the total population who commit these crimes.  Yet, it’s the Church that’s been the target of all the bad press.  Child abuse IS NOT a Catholic problem.  It’s a societal problem.  But young men who are considering the priesthood might be scared off by all the negative news.  They may fear guilt by association.

Most of the alleged victims who are coming forward are claiming abuse that happened in the 60s, 70s, and 80s; some even earlier.  Today, in 2012, no organization in the world is doing more to prevent the abuse of children than the Catholic Church.  Your children are safer in a Catholic church or school than they are in a protestant church, a public school, on a little league team, or in a secular scout troop.  You and I must do all we can to spread the word that all priests are not child  molesters.  The guilty parties are a small percentage of the total priesthood and that percentage is getting smaller, thanks to the policies that have been put in place by the US Bishops.

If we’re going to have enough priests to lead the Church in the 21st century, we all have to do our best to encourage our young men that the priesthood is a viable and prestigious profession.  God hasn’t stopped calling future priests.  We’ve just stopped listening.

Jesus established the ordained priesthood intending it to last until the end of time.  He designed it so that you and I would have access to an educated, compassionate, dedicated priest whenever we need one.  When we need the sacraments they’re there for us, day or night.

It’s definitely one of the top 10 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic.