The abuse crisis reared its putrid head again this year and I am concerned lessons have not been learnt regarding how it is dealt with. The latest scandal began with a revelation that Cardinal McCarrick, ironically once in charge of dealing with abuse in America, was himself a serial abuser. He has since stepped down from public office but seems to be enjoying a pleasant retirement rather than being disciplined, punished and defrocked. That he remains an Archbishop is damning proof that bishops seem unable or unwilling to discipline their own. A large part of the problem. To whom are they accountable?
It is a serious question because the ultimate authority, Pope Francis, despite many strengths, has a shocking record when it comes to handling abuse. And sadly he has this past year broken several golden rules of child protection policy. He has stonewalled complainers, refused to answer credible allegations, attacked victims of abuse in Chile (later apologising) and sent investigators after the whistleblower, Archbishop Vigano, rather than the abusers. This despite the fact that Vigano was a cleric in good standing whose reputation was never questioned before he came forward. That he is now in hiding is appalling. Such methods of dealing with abuse and speaking out on abuse belong to a bygone era and are causing serious damage. I know many clergy and laity who are both angry and demoralised at present.
Now factor in that several of Pope Francis’ close advisors are themselves linked to scandals involving corruption and homosexual sins, see here and it begins to look worse. The lamentable impression then given shifts from mere incompetence to possible collusion. A feeling exacerbated when Cardinal Cupich was recently named leader of a summit to deal with abuse. Many are outraged by this appointment because Cupich is the protege of disgraced McCarrick and an outspoken supporter of the LGBT agenda. Can you imagine the outrage if a BBC investigation into abuse was placed in the hands of somebody elevated by Saville? How tone deaf can you be? Of course Cupich may be innocent of crimes but his links to those disgraced make him a woeful choice for engendering trust.
It has led many to ask if Pope Francis obfuscates deliberately? Some say he isn’t himself involved but is affected because he rose to power with the backing of the ‘lavender mob’ at the heart of the crisis. That is the claim of the book ‘Dictator Pope’. Others suggest Pope Benedict and Mueller were forced out by the lobby and that Francis protects them. I have no idea if such rumours hold truth, I hope not, but they certainly appear ever more credible each time sexual abuse allegations are downplayed and those mired in controversy and scandal are handed positions of influence. This week, to be fair, Pope Francis did finally acknowledge the homosexual aspect of the present crisis and stated ordination should be closed to those who struggle with sexuality. But such words lack force when his actions seem to contradict them. Let us hope he is waking up to the full implications and not just offering some plausible deniability for the audit trail. Time will tell and history will judge.
His denouncing of homosexuality whole-scale leads to a second problem. One centring on ideology. Put bluntly many, including Cupich, do acknowledge the abuse problem but get irate, and even shutdown debate, when homosexuality is cited as a major cause of it. Here let me make two important points. First sex abuse is not predominantly homosexual within the outside world. However it is within the church. Secondly, just as we differentiate between healthy and unhealthy heterosexuals, swingers are less socially acceptable than married folk, so we should be mature enough to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy homosexual behaviours. To criticise a particular homosexual abusive subculture is not to criticise all homosexuals. But such nuance is getting lost at present because LGBT is so very fashionable and people are defensive of any hint of criticism whatsoever.
Understand over 80% of global clerical abuse was not technically paedophilic but involved teenage lads hit on by older men. Understand that of the many cases cited none yet cover numerous other cases of priests hitting on adults, seminarians, other priests, etc. Yet still the denial continues. Some suggest abuse is about power not sex and orientation isn’t a factor. Which any truly heterosexual (probably homosexual) man can laugh off. Others suggest prison mentality sets in because priests only have access to young men. Another farcical claim given that parishes are crammed full of women and most sanctuaries contain female servers. Prisoners have no access to women – priests definitely do. So let us first admit, whether we ourselves are gay or straight, that homosexuality is clearly statistically significant where clerical abuse is concerned. It cannot therefore be ignored.
But having done that let us not veer off into over reaction or witch-hunts. Which is why I am not sure blanket bans on all same sex attracted men is helpful. Maybe it would be productive therefore to switch the focus away from the controversial issue of sexuality and focus instead on the Christian virtue of chastity? It is not helpful to speak of celibacy, since that simply means not being married and many use that to excuse sins, but if attention turned to chastity we might begin to go after the right people.
We could then differentiate between the healthy and chaste priest, who happens to be same sex attracted, and the vile predator whose roving hands are a serious menace. We could note a huge difference, in terms of public damage to the church, between a homosexual cleric who has a close friend but strives for holiness and turns to the confessional in moments of weakness, and one who goes straight from sacristy to gay or straight bar (or seminary) to cruise for sexual conquest. In other words we would find a way to chart a careful course between expecting perfection from imperfect men and covering up what should never be hidden. Indeed such a focus could help the hierarchy find nuance. In short we might start to deal with the mess without getting side-railed by political footballs. I hope the hierarchy come to this realisation sooner rather than later.