Church Reform, Clergy, Hierarchy

Sex Abuse, Cover Up, and Catholic Culture, Part 7: Summary and Conclusions

By TOM SMITH

This seven-part series of articles began as one shorter article which I originally wrote soon after the report on sex abuse and church cover-up in Pennsylvania was released. After some discussions with a variety of small groups, it was evident that the items mentioned in the shorter piece needed more content and development. That expanded effort ended up close to 5,000 words, which I judged was too long for the format I planned to use for publication.

I then decided to write these seven separate, but interlocking, articles. Each of these topics deserves even more space. The hope is that readers will think about, research, discuss, clarify, dispute and finally internalize their own conclusions about each theme. As the scandal of sex abuse and cover-up unfolds within the Catholic culture, more insights will emerge, greater clarity will appear, and needed change will either be accepted or rejected. Multiple articles by a variety of authors have already been written offering an avalanche of helpful insights. Many more will follow.

In any case, significant consequences for the Catholic church and its mission are emerging. This series was intended to contribute a little something to the ongoing challenge.

The goal was to describe some of the underlying issues that compose a Catholic culture which augments the now-exposed sex abuse and ecclesiastical cover-up within the church. Unless these more substantive issues are addressed, the Catholic church as an institution will lose even more credibility, and its mission to channel the message, comfort and challenge of Jesus will be compromised even further.

Themes like the theology of the episcopacy, victim first response, abolition of forced celibacy and male only ordination, shared decision-making with laity, clear due process procedures, and more specific priest roles are all parts of a serious reform process. Other issues are also involved. The suggestion here is to create a 10-year project to launch this rethinking and restructuring effort. The end result will be a church more closely aligned with the gospel and the teachings of Vatican II.

The suggestions embedded in these articles are fundamental to how Catholics could experience their church in the future. Early centuries in church history offered a much different experience than the current way of being Catholic. What we now have is transitory, and there is no reason this current Catholic experience is necessary for future centuries. We have learned what does not adequately reflect the teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. For at least a millennium we have allowed a male, clerical leadership to control the institutional church, and the result has been dwindling membership, loss of credibility, widespread sex abuse, and cover-up bishops and popes.

We clearly need radical change based on the gospel and an extension of themes outlined in Vatican II but not fully implemented. When we lament the continuing revelations about sex abuse and cover-up bishops, we are forced to consider the issues outlined in these articles, and other related topics, as areas that demand reformation.

Millions of people have already chosen to simply leave the Catholic church, and find their spiritual guidance in other denominations, faiths, teachings or nowhere. Without some transformative renovations, millions more will follow.

We live in pivotal times, and the future will be quite different from today. The choice of how that future will be rests with us and the decisions we make now. A 10-year, fully engaged commitment involving the whole church, with substantive contributions from women and laity, without clerical dominance, will save the church from itself and help it rediscover the spirit of the early church, with an emphasis on the clear message of Jesus of love, forgiveness, compassion, and service.

I am grateful to the Southern Illinois Association of Priests (SIAP), of which I am a founding member, for creating a forum to publish these articles. These columns are not official statements of the organization but this website provides a platform for members to express their opinions. In particular, thanks to member Jon Garinn, who developed and manages this website. Find us at https://siaponline.org. Browse the site for more information about SIAP. For this series of articles, click on Recommended. Please forward this address to your family, friends and interested organizations

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