To the editors:
Your article of May 24, "The Sins of the Fathers," deserves and demands a response. A response not just of outrage and a feeling of betrayal, which it merits, but of some reflection. How and where did the American Church go so wrong? Because if even a portion of what Jason Berry reports is true, it indicates a state of spiritual decay as serious as that of the 16th-century church indicted by that irate troublemaker Martin Luther.
Having taught in a Roman Catholic major seminary for seven years, and in Catholic institutions of higher learning for ten, I feel that I have some perspective to offer. Sad to say, this article fits my experience. While the actual percentage of offending clergy may be relatively (??) small, all who taught at my seminary knew that such events happened on a regular basis, and that such offenders (often highly placed) offended. We also knew that priests who were involved sexually with anyone (children, other men, or women) were as a matter of policy either transferred to another assignment and/or sent for psychological rehabilitation to very comfortable, and often rural, surroundings. (A middle-aged priest who got a degree student pregnant was sent away for such "therapy," and the woman vaguely promised that the child would be "provided for.") This was--alas--business as usual. Our seminary was very nervous about students going for AIDS testing, and its "insurance," meaning possible lawsuits resulting from the sexual exploits of its members. Meanwhile numerous seminars and weekends were presented on celibacy and "psychosexual development," seeking to promote the "sexual celibate" (the actual title of a 1975 book by Donald Goergen that was much in vogue in several seminaries).
Now the "news" is out and what was once covered by embarrassed silence is now as public as Andrew Greeley and the Reader. For that I rejoice. When this illness is brought to light there is the possibility of cure--however distant.
Equally distressing and equally true is the author's portrayal of the cover-ups. It seems that one of the primary qualities desired in the contemporary priesthood is the company mind: close ranks around the accused and protect the institution. After all, "these parents" only want money! So--pour thousands of dollars into legal fees and "therapy" for the accused while inner-city and struggling suburban parishes and schools rot from neglect and are closed if not "cost effective." Where people are starving for signs of hope and community we cover our clerical asses.
The crucial question remains: Why?? Are there just more incidents being reported? Perhaps. But even a fraction of these--given the widespread nature of these problems--would point to serious illness in the church's body.
It appears to me that one major cause of these tragedies is the refusal of the church--both as an institution and as individual members--to confront its own sexuality honestly. To admit and to be happy that we are men and women (there is a difference!), not androgynes or Platonic stuntmen. Perhaps the Hindu and the Buddhist East with its tantra and shakti, or yin-yang, has for us a far greater wisdom here than an imposed celibacy built around doublethink and doublespeak that would have given George Orwell pause. (One does not need a PhD in Historical Theology to find out that clerical celibacy is hardly an unvarying part of Catholic faith and discipline. It was forced on an often very unwilling clergy by the 11th- and 12th-century papacy from its own peculiar vision of sacerdotium and imperium--"priesthood" and "empire," and a desire to strengthen the "fulness" of its own power--plenitudo potestatis.)
The matter goes even deeper than celibacy. It questions a church (any church) where the woman is suppressed, repressed, denied, or "bought off" into innocuous activities that do not challenge or question male/clerical power. In too much contemporary Christianity biology is indeed destiny. And that destiny is not only social and human injustice, but the psychosis so reported in Jason Berry's article. We need the goddess to make fertile our sterility.
Until then our anguish is Luther's as he confronted the world (church) "with devils filled." In faith we add in our prayers for the sick a special request for "our holy mother the Church." Maranaha. Even so, quickly come Lord Jesus.
Name withheld on request