Protestant and biblically bound Christians, particularly those of the Southern Baptist Convention persuasion (of which my church is affiliated), have had to reflect somberly upon the revelation of a sexual abuse within our own camp, concerning some 400 pastors and ministry workers impacting nearly 700 victims over two decades in 20 American states (MCT, Skeletons Found in the Evangelical Closet; Feb. 12).
Thankfully, the SBC immediately upon the publication of this crisis by The Houston Chronicle, has begun to undertake serious reforms and action in response to the scandal, reviewing policies, procedures and discipline in concert with law enforcement agencies, in order to reform the lax structural deficiencies that were pervasive in those churches, allowing such heinous acts to occur.
But what has, and what is the Catholic church and its hierarchy to do in the wake of yet another series of sexual scandals, some reaching to the highest levels of their leadership? Just recently, Pope Francis “defrocked” former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, amidst allegations from multiple men that McCarrick abused them—some as minors and others when they were adult seminary students.
The allegations spanned McCarrick’s career as a priest, bishop, archbishop, and cardinal. A church whistleblower has gone on record saying knowledge of the accusations against McCarrick reached as high as the Holy See (the Pope) at times, and yet McCarrick was allowed to advance through that hierarchy without facing any official public discipline until late last year.
An Australian court in December convicted Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser and the Vatican’s economy minister, of molesting two choirboys as confirmed by church officials. Pell is the most senior Roman Catholic cleric thus far, charged with child sexual abuse.
If all that wasn’t enough, Pope Francis was forced to recently and publicly acknowledge that perhaps 200 or more nuns have suffered sexual abuse by priests and even bishops – including in the U.S.
As the USA TODAY reported, this was not exactly new information, according to other leaders within the Catholic Church. In a statement issued by the largest association representing nuns in this nation, this problem has been prevalent mostly in developing countries like the United States — though there have been many cases in Africa, and last year a nun in India accused a priest of repeatedly raping her between 2014 and 2016.
It is a widely known fact that the Catholic Church has been engulfed in sex-abuse scandals for at least the past 20 years, as stories of priests abusing children and students as well as nuns continue to flood the media, all spotlighted by the phenomena of the #MeToo movement.
Therefore, less than two weeks ago, the pontiff wrapped up an unprecedented Vatican summit, where Pope Francis denounced the abuse of minors and called for an end to the Catholic Church’s long history of covering up such scandals.
In a Sunday Mass, he made an appeal for an “all-out battle” on clergy sex abuse but offered few specifications, reflecting broad criticism that the four-day meeting had not produced anything concrete in which to hold church leaders accountable.
Though Francis told leaders that most sexual abuse of minors occurs in the family and talked about abuse in relation to online pornography and sex tourism across the world, he glossed over the likely and most fundamental cause of this scandal, which can assuredly be traced back several centuries, to the very origin of the policy mandating celibacy among the Roman Catholic clergy.
The Elephant in the Room
During a news conference in the midst of the Vatican summit, its organizers fielded questions from journalists about whether priests, bishops, and cardinals have been unwilling to denounce each other because of the reported and politically incorrect evidence of widespread homosexual behavior throughout the hierarchy.
One journalist asked about a book just released, In the Closet of the Vatican, by a French writer who spent four years investigating the double lives of Catholic bishops and cardinals and called the Vatican one of the world’s largest gay communities.
This bombshell of a book will soon be published in eight languages and 20 countries, under the title “Sodoma,” as in Sodom, in Western Europe and “In the Closet of the Vatican” in the U.S., Britain and Canada.
It includes the claim that about 80 percent of the male Roman Catholic clergy members who work at the Vatican, around the pope, are gay. It contends ironically, that the more outwardly homophobic a Vatican official is, the more likely he belongs to that crowd, and that the higher up the chain of command you go, the more homosexuals you find. And not all of them are celibate. Not by a long shot.
Interestingly enough, Frédéric Martel, the book’s author, himself is openly gay and zeroes in his inquiry to Catholic officials who have had sex with men, not counting the many who have had sex with women, which all points to the glaringly inadequate and abnormal policy and promise of celibacy that priests make which forbids sexual activity of any kind.
In truth, what violates Catholic teaching isn’t just gay sex as provocative as that may be, but any sex including in marriage, which is an unbiblical and extremely difficult expectation to hold (1 Cor. 7), much less mandate over clergy.
When the apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, penned the qualifications of an elder or pastor in in his pastoral epistles, he said that they should be, “the husband of one wife”- literally meaning a faithful, one-woman man, as a manager of his own household, his “little church” as the Puritans put it, expressing the norm of the married pastor and elder with children in a home as the proving ground of leading a Christian church.
The ages-old dysfunctionality and error of the Catholic clerical system is the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ which the Pope and company can no longer ignore.
The Scandal of the Priesthood
The sex abuse scandals of the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy is only symptomatic of the illegitimacy of its function or very existence.
Roman Catholics talk about the priesthood’s teaching, pastoral and sacerdotal power. The pastoral work is not so much about comfort, care and compassion, as it is about legislative, judicial and punitive power.
They make laws to which they hold people by the traditions of men in much the same way their ministerial Hebrew ancestors (‘scribes and Pharisees’) did in the first century. As one theologian wrote, “They adjudicate as to whether people have violated those laws and they mete out punishment. And through the years that punishment has been everything from excommunication to execution” (see the Crusades and Inquisitions).
As to celibacy, it has become an obligatory law of the Roman Church imposed on all priests widespread, since the eleventh century with abstinence vows going as far back as the fourth century, becoming obligatory through the western Church by the time of Pope Leo the Great, in the fifth century. Whereas, the eastern or Orthodox Churches allowed married priests to stay married while prohibiting some single ones from marriage, despite Paul’s clear teaching that the church was not to “forbid marriage” or other forms of false asceticism (1 Tim. 4:1-5).
Unsurprisingly, according to one of many like-minded historians, “This (ancient) mandate for celibacy generated all kinds of immorality. The abodes of the priests were often dens of corruption. It was common to see priests frequenting taverns, gambling and having orgies with quarrels and blasphemy. Many priests kept mistresses and convents became houses of ill fame. In many places the people were delighted at seeing a priest with a mistress because the married women would be safe from him.”
Does this have a ring of familiarity to the 20th and 21st century scandals of the Catholic Priesthood?
Why ban marriage from the priesthood? There was a time in which priests were very influential and powerful people. They became wealthy. They had families in which they passed their wealth and inheritance to as their wealth accumulated.
Priests owned land and had far reaching influence and the Vatican and its empire needed resources to build and grow.
It is believed by many that Pope Gregory VII determined that priests controlled too much wealth and the Church should take it. If the Catholic Church was going to run the state as the world power it would become, it had to start by confiscating property and the wealth from its most powerful people, including its own priesthood.
Notable historian, Philip Schaff said, “The motive for opposing the marriage of priests was to prevent the danger of a hereditary line which might appropriate ecclesiastical property to private use and impoverish the Church.” Thus, the priests had to give everything they had to the Church and could not procreate families in which an inheritance could be passed on to.
What Rome has never properly reconciled in all its sorted history, is the enormity of this elephant in the room- the inevitable sexual sin that would befall its clergy as the result of its imposing sexual abstinence upon them.
Yes, there are still failed attempts to justify this policy from faulty scriptural interpretations (e.g. eunuchs referred to in Matt. 19) to linking the celibacy requirements to the Lord Jesus Christ’s first advent, just as Vatican dogma still attempts to link the papacy to the apostle Peter, who just happened to be married and with children- doh! All that aside from the apostle’s having no other connection whatsoever to the historic papal office.
The long-term solution to removing the elephant from the room after acknowledging its existence at long last, is for the Vatican to reverse its celibacy requirement of the priesthood, which would then jeopardize the credibility of the Vatican, its Papacy and perhaps further shake the foundations of Roman Catholicism itself, which is another reformation about 500 years overdue from the last one.