That’s So Second Millennium

Episode 023 - Clericalism, Sex Abuse, Addiction, and Hope

September 3, 2018

Discussion notes:

We start to discuss what everyone in the Catholic Church has been discussing for over a month now, which is the new storm of revelations about sexual abuse of children, youths, and seminarians by priests and bishops.

Parallels between modern day and the 17th century. Nicolaus Steno (the subject of our last podcast) lived in a tumultuous time, and many of his contemporary churchmen, Protestant and Catholic both, do not cut an inspiring figure on the stage of history. Steno tried to live a better life, but it's easy to see his heroic efforts as useless and even a bit misguided. He likely wore himself to death conforming to an ideal that was not quite what Jesus of Nazareth said or intended. (You can say that about many priests in the history of the Church; Michael McGivney and Augustine Tolton are arguably analogous figures here in America.)

Why are we bringing this up on this podcast? The purpose of the podcast is to explore whether faith and reason are compatible. Since both Bill and I believe that the Catholic faith is both reasonable and true, we have and haven't made a secret of the fact that there is an apologetic (in the technical sense of "Christian apologetics") aspect of what we're doing here.

Clerical scandals such as the one that we're facing now are an impetus to some people to reject the Catholic faith as, analogously, the misbehavior of leading members of other faiths, political, and philosophical movements can lead others to reject those as well. We feel it worth while to take one podcast to examine whether that makes sense rationally as well as emotionally.

The collapse of cultural Catholicism in perhaps its last bastion, Ireland...more on this later.

Bill: "All creation is crying out for a new day of change..."

Why I find the 17th century so depressing...a focus on external statements of faith rather than conversion of heart. The massive hypocrisy of Christians fighting war after war against other Christians, whether in the name of their own religious doctrine or, even more so as the century wore on, simply using that as a cover for their own petty political goals.

The conflict between faith and science depends on a lack of intellectual humility. It's a difficult human weakness to overcome (difficult, not impossible) to actually take the observations and reasoning of others seriously and let it influence one's own thinking, rather than just bulling ahead and believing what one prefers to believe.

Paul's followup:

Why clerical scandal is not intrinsically a logical argument against faith. Why nevertheless it is certainly a problem in an indirect sense: if these men can't or won't live up to the standards of Christianity, how can others?

The long decay of the medieval model of the Church, with bishops as wealthy, powerful political figures. The intrinsic tension between this model and the New Testament, recognized throughout the centuries. The ease with which prelates in such a scheme can get caught up in contemporary intellectual currents. The 20th century myth that sexual activity (and a great many other things, like consumer goods and hour long automobile commutes) is a necessity like eating or sleeping. The temptation to enter the priesthood for cultural reasons and to be an authority figure in one's community.

Problems on both the "liberal / progressive" side of modern culture and "conservative" side. Liberal: to reject the testimony of history and wave about in the current of contemporary opinion. Conservative: to adopt a conformist attitude that's primarily about not doing things proscribed by an older culture and one's contemporary conservative subculture. Both attitudes lack strength. One gives in to the noise in the broader culture; the other, being cut off from the real God of love and action, can find itself lacking the ability to live up to the negative goals of celibacy or sexual exclusivity.

What do WE do about it all?
    Is there a way to volunteer to help the victims in your diocese? Are you in, or should you get into, a position to help change the way the institutions of the Church--or any other church or organization you are part of and care about--work so that this sort of thing is avoided in the future?
    If not, or if a frank discernment of your life situation pushes you in a different direction, what else can you do to "look after widows and orphans in their need" (James 1, reading from last Sunday)? What in your life is most important that you're not doing? What do you need to weed out in order to focus on that?

    I myself recognize that in the tension between 1) my work: my consulting, my writing, my scholarship and 2) my private life, which is in desperate need of focus and effort to make it more livable and worthy of Jesus Christ, I think I am also badly in need of 3) finding additional ways to serve others. Where do I do that and how?
    If YOU happen to be a victim of sexual or physical abuse, please report it and please find help. You have been wounded, and there are places where you can find healing.

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