First things first. These sex scandals obviously involve serious crimes. No one doubts that. But as far as we have data on these matters we know that a Catholic priest is no more likely – in fact, he is probably less likely – to molest a child than is anyone else. Pedophilia is no more a part of the Catholic priesthood than it is a part of the neighborhoods in which we live. And now, inevitably, we will have to sift through a number of false accusations made by profit-seekers. Men like Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles – just like Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago a decade ago – have already been shown to be falsely accused.
We also know that more than ninety percent of these sex scandal incidents involve sexual overtures to post-pubescent boys. In other words, the issue isn’t, in the overwhelming majority of cases, pedophilia, but rather criminal homosexual behavior – criminal because it can be classified as statutory rape. The real story, if it were being reported accurately, would be “Church Experience with Homosexual Priests Confirms Boy Scout Fears.”
But we’re not getting reporting, we’re getting prejudice – prejudice that views the Church as a reactionary, sexually repressive, morally hypocritical institution that needs to be secularized, to “get with” the progressive program. And that colors the conclusions that the media is giving us. That prejudice says that sex is overpowering and uncontrollable, so unless you give it an outlet, you get pedophilia. Stated baldly, rather than insinuated, that conclusion appears exactly as it is: absurd. Catholics believe – and a look back at history would seem to confirm their view – that man has free will. If he didn’t, why is it that within living memory of “the Greatest Generation” the rates of promiscuity and illegitimacy were a fraction of what they are today? Reformists have said that chastity is impossible – and they have worked, assiduously and with rousing success, to make it so.
Another media prejudice is that a married priesthood is obviously the answer to these Church scandals. But no rational person would say that marriage “cures” pedophilia. And does anyone really want to make the argument that married people are less likely to commit adultery (or other sexual crimes) than priests are to violate their vows of celibacy? We know that’s not so.
Catholics believe that the Church’s sex scandals are part of a crisis of faith – and not just the faith of priests who violated the law and their sacred vows. It is the very same crisis of faith that leads roughly half of all marriages to divorce. We’ve lost the sense that vows are sacred, that fidelity is the test of virtue, and even that virtue matters. It is a problem that is plainly not met by lowering standards, or by abolishing two millennia of sacred tradition, or by abandoning Christ’s example and apostolic teaching on an exclusively male priesthood. It is a problem that can be met only by a return to faith and to the true teaching of the Church.
The Church, of course, knows this. It reads these horrible stories, and the statistics that lie behind them, for what they are, not as the media would have them be. That is why last month the Vatican directed the American church that homosexuality could not be tolerated in the priestly and religious life. That is why the reforms, which have already been operating for a decade, are looking to dismantle “the Lavender Mafia” within the Church and to ensure that seminaries ordain orthodox, heterosexual males devoted to celibacy and a calling of selfless service to Christ and his people. And that is why, when the dust settles, we are not going to see the triumph of the “progressives” – the very people who allowed the dissent and moral laxity responsible for these scandals to develop within the priesthood of the Church. Church leaders who found it impossible to condemn and refer to law enforcement the criminal activities of clerics known to be predatory pedophiles and homosexuals – as in the recently revealed Shanley case in Boston – are hardly the men who will be entrusted with reform. Had Church leaders insisted on and enforced Church teaching on sexual morals there would be no scandal. That some of these leaders have failed to do so is a betrayal of their calling and their congregations.
The reforming broom will – it must – sweep the liberals away. We are going to see a more conservative, more orthodox, and healthier Church devoted to Catholic teaching. We can see this already in the new young men coming up in the Catholic seminaries. It is telling that most of the priests accused of these heinous crimes are men who came of “psychological age” during the Sexual Revolution and into the seminaries in the wake of the post-Vatican II liberalism of the American church. That liberalism – the very liberalism that the media pushes; the liberalism that, as one wit recently put it, hates the sinner but loves the sin – is what will be repudiated.
The Catholic Church has survived 2,000 years of attacks by every power known to man. It was challenged by persecutions and by heresies that nearly abolished the Trinitarian faith. It was challenged by kings; attacked by the Reformation; driven to the wall by Revolution; held hostage by Napoleon; bound, gagged, and looted by statist-liberalism; and martyred by the Nazis and the Communists who left a death toll of Catholic millions. The Church has survived all this. It is still the largest undivided religious body on Earth. The Church will survive, because as Jesus said, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it – and neither will the hyperventilating prejudice of the liberal media.
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