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Roots of sexual abuse in the Church

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From Feb. 21-24, Pope Francis met in Rome with the presidents of bishops’ conferences, religious superiors, plus other guests —190 in total— to examine how to better protect children, as shameful cases of sexual abuse have proliferated.

1) Clericalism — It is an element in the crisis, mainly understood as an abuse of power, but it is not the deepest root. In fact, the Church is less clerical now than it was 60 years ago. Before Vatican Council II, the Church was divided into a “teaching Church” (clergy) and a “learning Church” (laity). Over time, the laity has been assuming more prominence in the Church. There are many lay theologians teaching in Catholic seminaries and universities, and writing doctrinal books, as well. There are also lay people occupying positions of responsibility in parish and episcopal curias, and even in dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

In a certain sense, clericalism has decreased so much that some lay people complain that their priests are not clerical enough, that they do not show due respect for their sacred condition. Parishioners criticize certain pastors for their automobiles, choice of vacation, way of dressing, eating, drinking, etc. In short, they say that some clergymen are not pious or austere enough; that their secularized lifestyle makes them seem like laity.

On June 29, 1972, Pope Paul VI issued a chilling statement: “The smoke of Satan has entered the Church.” He was referring to the series of errors and deficiencies that began to manifest themselves in those post-conciliar years.

2) Homosexuality — For a long time, there has been an insistence on not admitting homosexuals to the seminary. Last year, for example, the pope told Italian bishops not to admit “candidates who practice homosexuality or with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” (Vatican, May 21, 2018). The presence of men with homosexual tendencies in the clergy is another important factor but not entirely determinant, as there is no evidence that people with homosexual tendencies are more motivated by lust than heterosexuals are.

3) Deficit of holiness — In closing the Vatican meeting Feb. 24, the pope pointed out the need “for a constantly renewed commitment to the holiness of pastors” (that is, all spiritual shepherds). This is where we can find the deepest root of the crisis. Awareness must be raised, as detective- or police-style disciplinary measures will not solve the problem.

No one can be a good priest and bishop without living the love of God that the Gospel demands: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22: 37). All saints have passionately loved God and have worked hard to fulfill his holy will, whose expression includes the commandments. Holy people live chastity (the sixth commandment) with special faithfulness. Through their biographies, we learn that the maxim of many saints was “rather death than sin.” As St. John of the Cross wrote, “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.”

And what about the complementary and healthy fear of God? As the Scripture states: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1: 7). However, it seems that faith has weakened to the point of not fearing divine judgment. Doctrine cannot be simpler: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice” (Catechism 1033).

When clergymen have been caught living a double life, often falling into sins of lust, the logical question is where was the love of God and the holy fear of God? They probably did well during seminary formation, but they forgot that the gifts of grace do not accumulate; they must be renewed daily. When they began to neglect the exercises of piety, became undisciplined in their use of time, and made concessions to the senses, they found themselves with no strength to overcome temptations. How many of the Lord’s anointed ones end up as simple officials coldly carrying out the liturgies! How many have lost their pastoral zeal and frequently refuse to serve their parishioners! How many have fallen into the sins deplored by the Church!

One cannot exaggerate the importance of the spiritual and penitential life in the order of holiness, of a chaste life. No one who has sunk very low should lose the hope of standing up with the help of God. In the Litanies of the Saints, one of the prayers says, “From the spirit of fornication, deliver us, O Lord.” That evil spirit is like the demon that the disciples of Jesus could not expel. The Lord explained to them that this kind of demon “can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mk 9: 29).

Comments from readers

Rodrigo Rodriguez - 03/19/2019 06:13 PM
No hay nada que supere al Amor de Dios y del prójimo. Es raro ver en el mundo eclesiástico de hoy, un sacerdote que cargue con su honesta verdad, estas virtudes tan esenciales para poder dar ese buen ejemplo a sus hermanos clericales y al resto del pueblo de Dios y eso es exactamente lo que podemos admirar de este gran sacerdote, fiel a su hábito y juramento de fidelidad a la iglesia. Muchas gracias Padre Barrios por cumplir todas esas cualidades! Un fuerte abrazo! Amigo mio.
Arturo Acuña - 03/18/2019 01:23 PM
I agree with all your points though, I think one additional point needs mentioning. The Church hierarchy (bishops, cardinals, etc.)need to react and address these offenses quickly and firmly. While the presumption of innocence is important, accusations must be rigorously investigated and, if credible, must be dealt with accordingly. If criminal, then the criminal justice system must take the lead; if not criminal but ethical (e.g. violation of priestly vows) then the offender must face the consequences of his action: from reprimand to de-frocking. Priests are men and, as men, are as flawed as the rest of humanity but, because of their voluntary choice, they are rightfully held to a higher standard. It is understandably difficult to resist the onslaught of temptation yet, that is what they must do and if they fail, then they must suffer the repercussions (both in this world and the next). It is important that the church upper management pro-actively address this problem rather than react when criminal charges have been made.
Deacon Vince Eberling - 03/18/2019 12:37 PM
Great article! We must also pray for our priests. With fewer priests, there is more stress from the world. We should help to lighten their burdens with assistance rather than demands.
JULIA JOSEFA PATRICIA SANCHEZ VIUDA DE RUIZ - 03/18/2019 11:33 AM
Sí, Padre, Usted tiene razón: Solamente, la oración diaria y la asistencia a la misa diaria hacen que nuestros sentidos, nuestro alma y corazón pertenezcan a Dios. Esto hace que podamos obrar con inteligencia, fe, esperanza, caridad y amor para hacer un mundo mejor. Los sacerdotes del mundo entero deberían de escuchar más a nosotras, las Mujeres Viudas, que estamos creando nuevos métodos pedagógicos y ling├╝ísticos para hacer un mundo mejor, educando en la paz y en la fidelidad a la infancia. ¡ Que Dios los bendiga ! Julia desde Las Bellas Muñecas de Julia - París Santo
Dr Lou Ambrosio - 03/18/2019 10:51 AM
Great article

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