Sex Abuse, Cover-Up, and Catholic Culture

By TOM SMITH

Introduction

The Pennsylvania priest sex abuse/bishop cover-up scandal screams for justice.  Following immediately on the Cardinal McCarrick revelations, the “what can be done about this terrible reality” leaps to the forefront of current Catholicism.  While the focus is on the shocking statistics of what happened, the more substantive questions revolve around why and how this behavior could survive and flourish within the institutional Catholic church and what needs to change to prevent it from happening again.

Since that report was released, other states have begun or completed similar studies with similar results. Findings in other countries corroborate that the crisis is world-wide.  The Pope has called for a global summit on the issue of sex abuse and cover-up to be held in Rome, February 21-24, 2019.  He also prohibited the American bishops from discussing specific responses to the crisis and ordered them to make a week-long retreat in preparation for the summit.  The momentum toward a response is building and there is no rug big enough to hide under.

Peter Steinfels, in the January 25th, 2019 issue of Commonweal, wrote an insightful article analyzing the Pennsylvania report and insists that the 2002 Child Protection Policy adopted by the American Catholic bishops has been largely successful and has in fact significantly changed the way the church now handles clerical sex abusers.  I invite you to read his article titled Vehemently Misleading. 

Even granting Steinfels’ analysis, it remains clear that pedophile priests and cover-up bishops do not operate in a vacuum.  They are part of the Catholic culture, breathing in a set of values, presumptions, thought patterns, behaviors, expectations, and privileges that form that culture.  Everyone everywhere absorbs multiple cultures – ethnic, religious, familial, social, political, and economic communities that shape the way people think, feel, and act.  The Catholic culture is one of these communities.

There are factors within this Catholic culture, especially the clerical culture, which make this destructive behavior possible, even predictable.  The end result is a system that practically guarantees no accountability for anyone who is ordained.  Fortunately, there are many bishops and priests who minister with selfless dedication, exceptional talent, genuine faith, and a practiced love.  Their ministry reflects the gospel and echoes the best impulses of the Catholic tradition.  But even if they feel accountable to the gospel, to themselves, and to the people they serve, they may not be accountable to the institutional Church.

What elements in this Catholic culture contribute to the widespread existence of pedophile priests and cover-up bishops?  I will address seven of those factors in this article.  Calls for reform must deal with all of these elements in order to minimize the damaging presence of pedophile priests and cover-up bishops in the future.

The Theology of the Episcopacy

The first factor flows from the theology of the episcopacy.  Ordination to the episcopacy comes with a gold-plated guarantee of immunity and carte blanche permission to run a diocese however a bishop wants, with extremely rare exceptions.  Bishops are free to exercise their ministry without a boss.  Bishops are directly accountable only to the Pope.  That’s how the theology works out practically.  It continues the argument that Peter was the Rock, the first among the apostles, and the Pope is his successor as the bishops are the successors of the apostles.

Even if you support that whole line of reasoning, there is one enormous difference between Peter and the apostles, and the Pope and the bishops today.  The ratio of Peter to the 11 other apostles is 1 to 11.  The ratio of the Pope to current bishops is 1 to 5200+.  In other words, the organizational flow chart for the Catholic church shows over 5200 direct reports to the Pope.  That ratio guarantees no accountability.  As a result, any bishop who wants to can maneuver the system however he wants.  He is de facto an ecclesiastical feudal lord.

To a lesser degree, pastors have a similar open-ended, do or don’t do as you please, free to serve or not serve as you see fit, management style.

Where are the checks and balances?  An appeals system?  Consequences?  Nowhere. Bishops do not report to Cardinals.  This system, based on this theology, is a fertile Petri dish for rampant unaccountability, the e. coli of our hierarchical system.

Changing our whole system of selection of bishops begins with changing our thinking, our theology.  The apostles personally experienced Jesus, his life, teaching, death and resurrection.  No one after the apostles and disciples has ever had that personal experience.  Bishops as we know the role did not evolve until much later.  They are not “successors to the apostles” as we now claim because they do not have the personal experience of Jesus.  No one “passes down” a personal experience to successors.  They can talk about their experience but they can’t “give it” to anyone else.  Once we change our thinking on that key point, we are freer to create an episcopacy that has greater built-in accountability than 1 Pope to 5200+ bishops.

We need to put in place a sensible system of accountability, with appropriate consequences for those who can’t or won’t comply.  There are many examples of large organizations that have better models of accountability than the church has.  Learn from them and bury the myth that we are so different because we are a church.  Then we will have some more sensible ways to hold bishops accountable, and help prevent future cover-ups of sexual abuse.

Revamping our theology of the episcopacy is just one of the factors that will contribute to changing the Catholic culture enough to help protect children from pedophile priests and cover-up bishops.

Protect the Church vs. Protect the Child

How did the thinking, policy, and action end up with bishops protecting the image of the Church instead of protecting the children who are victims of sex abuse by priests? It seems so obviously backwards that there must be something in the Catholic culture that allows and promotes this clearly reversed set of priorities.  This destructive response reflects blindness even from bishops who, in other areas, are “good men”.

As recent reports indicate, this upside-down reaction goes back many decades, perhaps centuries. Similar cover-ups took place in vastly different countries (Australia, Chile, Germany, USA and most likely everywhere), so the culture that promoted this behavior is beyond race, regional influences, or age.

The hierarchy’s commitment to protect its Catholic brand is indisputable.  Avoiding the appearance of scandal by hiding the charges of sex abuse was dominant for a long time.  To be fair to well-intentioned bishops, it seems no one really knew how to treat sex abusers, especially pedophiles.   Sending a priest accused of this sexual abuse of minors to a treatment center to “fix him” by therapy, prayer, and confession seemed the best the experts could advise.  Bishops at a lost about how to handle these cases followed the experts’ opinions and reassigned “recovered” sex abusers, many of whom “sinned again.”

Bishops who thought they knew better than the experts did or didn’t do whatever they wanted to do.

But I suggest that the Catholic clerical culture goes deeper than this faulty action or no action. There are at least two inter-connected factors that contribute to this dominating and damaging culture: a sense of brotherhood and loyalty among the clergy which coincides with a reliance on canon law as opposed to criminal law.

The culture that thrives in a male dominated seminary and priesthood normally includes a bonding, a brotherhood that values loyalty to each other.  The shared experience during formative years and reinforced through the unique life of priesthood generates a comradery and a network of relationships that creates emotional ties designed to support one another.  This sense of brotherhood is most evident in the relationships among priests from their own generation and personally known.

Loyalty to one another is a valued side-effect of this shared experience.  It is an unspoken acceptance that there is a bond among those who have walked the same path to adulthood and who share the same generic and unique life style of a priest.  Similar to the “code of silence” attributed to law enforcement personnel, or the bonding that occurs among the military, priests and bishops are conditioned to defend their friends, and their clerical caste system.  With this mind-set, a sex abusing priest is still a priest and deserves protection and loyalty from brother priests and bishops.

This spontaneous thinking goes further.  When a priest is accused of sex abuse, the treatment, care, understanding, and forgiveness needed for the priest is best delivered within the clerical culture since outside that culture there is little understanding and less forgiveness.  The mistaken belief is that only those who have experienced seminary and priesthood can really relate to those who have deviated from the acceptable standards of behavior.

It is no wonder that in dealing with the sex offender the reflex guidance to the problem is to resort to canon law rather than civil or criminal law.  There is a presumption that church law is superior to civil law.  The mind-set here is that the Church has policies and procedures that implement the gospel.  Love God, love your neighbor, follow canon law and the current catechism, and you don’t need civil or criminal law for these kinds of issues.  When someone sins, the Church will handle it internally – and better.  Confession and the sacrament of Reconciliation is better than a criminal arrest, trial and jail.  This approach not only protects the image of the church but it is better for the priest as well.  And satisfactory “arrangements” can be made for the victims.  The inevitable consequence of this mind-set rejects a primary role for the civil justice system to investigate and prosecute criminal behavior, like sex abusing priests and cover-up bishops.  The sacrament of Reconciliation becomes a forgiveness palliative.  This thought pattern existed for centuries, and still lingers.

A change in thinking is needed to address this church protectionist aspect of the clerical culture.  The fear of false allegations is real (more on that later) but an initial focus on the presumed victims must be the first reaction.  Complete involvement in the whole process by the laity, including women, is essential (more on that topic later also).

This reverse thinking is a pre-requisite for reformative and lasting action.  It is not enough to replace priests and bishops with “better” priests and bishops.  The cultural structures are too in-grained.

In any effective, revised clerical structure and set of presumptions, protecting the church is achieved by protecting the children, not hiding the perpetrators.

Sexuality and Forced Celibacy

Many of the priests and bishops who have been identified as pedophile and sexual predators went through a seminary system that differs from the current approach.  Whether the present version of seminary training will also create an environment that produces a similar rate of sex abusers as the former approach remains to be seen.  There are fewer seminarians and priests than there were in the past so the raw number of pedophiles and predators should also decrease.  Hopefully.

Looking back on the previous approach to seminary training and priesthood, it is no wonder that the emotional and sexual development of seminarians and priests would likely produce some men with serious sexual problems.  Enticing young, elementary school boys to enter the seminary for high school to begin their long journey to ordination is a prescription for arrested sexual and emotional growth.  It is not only the all-male environment, eliminating normal developmental relationships with girls and women, it is also the heavy, rule-focused, continually monitored setting that prevents some personalities from evolving into mature males, sexually and psychologically. 

Since the vast number of priests ordained before 1980 experienced some version of that kind of seminary training and a priesthood that followed that pattern, it is predictable that some of those priests would be diverted from normal, expected, and accepted sexual behavior.  

Forced celibacy highlights and nourishes this anti-sex regimen.  Celibacy does not cause pedophilia.  But celibacy is a requirement for priesthood and, for centuries, many priests professed celibacy because there was no other way to be an ordained minister in the Catholic Church.  (In recent decades, the deaconate is now available to married men.) Still, some priests who profess, but do not accept, celibacy have serious psychological conflicts regarding sexuality.  Obviously, too many of them acted out these destructive sexual behaviors, including pedophilia.  And bishops trained in the same seminaries and living the same priesthood covered up the damaging behavior of their fellow priests.  Their similar life experiences created some unhealthy bonding that contributes to protecting the offending priests.

Celibacy is a gift for some people, male and female, who specifically choose a single way of life.  It is not a specific gift for ministry, and the reasons why the Catholic Church requires the coupling of the gift of ordained ministry with celibacy are murky, suspect, and institutionally damaging.  It is stubbornly negligent to continue the practice into the 21st century. 

The ultimate goal would be to have a fully integrated, male/female, married/celibate ordained priesthood and episcopacy which would collaborate with the laity in all substantive decisions.  While the arguments for a married clergy and for women’s ordination differ to some extent, the end result of those discussions should lead to an all-inclusive clergy.  Those policy decisions would normalize the sexual experience of ordained ministers.

While eliminating a forced, celibate clergy does not guarantee the total exclusion of pedophiles from the Catholic clergy, normalizing the ordained clergy sexually will prevent people with pedophile tendencies from seeking public shelter for their destructive behavior and easy access to potential victims.  The priesthood would no longer provide a convenient cover for a person who is also a predator pedophile. 

It’s also likely that a married episcopacy (most of the apostles were married men, after all) will temper the personalities and decisions of local bishops. 

Since the sex abuse and cover-up scandal directly concerns sexual activity, a core fix must also deal directly with sex.  Other aspects of Catholic culture are also involved as this seven-part article insists.  But the central factor of human sexuality must play a major role in addressing the scandal and the behavior that causes it. 

The history of the Catholic church in terms of sexuality in general has been extremely negative.  The constant message has been that sex is bad and all sexual expression must be tightly regulated and repressed.  Sex within marriage is acceptable for the sake of procreation but sexual enjoyment, even within marriage, has been suspect and generally misunderstood and underappreciated by a supposedly celibate clergy.  Overcoming that overwhelming onslaught will be extremely difficult and will take enlightened leadership and courageous action. But correcting the teachings, policies, and practices of centuries of Church insistence on this fundamentally negative version of sex is necessary to minimize the sexual exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, male and female, in the future.  An enlightened view of homosexuality is also required.  Placing the blame for pedophilia on homosexuality is a dodge from this necessary, total re-evaluation of Church sexual teaching.  Anything less than that wholesale reversal will continue to leave some children and adults vulnerable to the proclivities of sexually deviant priests and cover-up bishops.

Clerical Power Dominates

Every Catholic in every pew, including those who don’t sit in those pews any more, knows that clerical power dominates within the Catholic system.  Pedophile priests and cover-up bishops know it too.  And that concentration of power within the clergy is another element in our current culture that augments the wide-spread presence of abusing priests and cover-up bishops. 

Sanctioned and sanctified by canon law, the priest, bishop, and pope have final authority and decision-making power in all situations.  Parish trustees are supposed to oversee financial matters but they are appointed by the pastor.  Pastoral councils are advisory only and any decision they try to make, can be vetoed by the pastor.  Bishops, and, of course, the pope, have similar and expanded power.  While many pastors are wise enough to seek the advice of lay people, we all know that a new pastor can neutralize the pastoral council immediately.  The same dynamic thrives on the diocesan level. And there is no practical recourse.  This system eliminates accountability and promotes a feeling of immunity for some clerical personalities. 

A pedophile priest in a system like this can choose his victims without much fear of discovery.  No one is watching him, supervising him.  He easily learns the profile of a vulnerable victim and uses his status as a weapon.  The bishop has even more freedom and the presumption of wisdom and sound judgment because of his position.  He was promoted by the institution and so his loyalty is to the institution.  His unchecked power reinforces his sometimes-misplaced priorities.  His decisions are the right decisions because he decided.  Some bishops are able to reject this power-fueled temptation but others, obviously, are not.  And there is no one to stop him.   A culture of clerical power floods the Catholic experience and feeds pedophile priests and cover-up bishops.

One of the most discouraging aspects of this total clerical domination within the Catholic culture is that there is no relief in sight.  Centuries of teaching have reinforced this clerical strangle-hold on Catholic decision making.  Popes, Cardinals, bishops and pastors are all in total control of their related fiefdoms and can do or not do whatever they wish as long as they celebrate the sacraments validly and are not too blatant about stealing, abusing, lying, or their own public image.  All they have to do is preach and teach orthodox Catholic doctrine which is easy to do especially when their underlying primary focus is on devious behavior. 

Thankfully, many priests and bishops are genuine in their commitment, compassionate in their ministry, and balanced in their personalities.  But there are some, obviously way too many, who are deceptive, self-serving, and misuse their clerical power for their own pleasure and victimize people, even kids, to satisfy their destructive tendencies.  That deviation is what numerous surveys, multiple investigations, thousands of testimonies all over the world is making evident on a continuing basis.  Clerical power dominates the Catholic culture and its pervasive presence causes devastation, broken lives, pharisaical hypocrisy, and excruciating, personal pain worldwide.  And it is done in the name of Jesus. 

There may be window dressing reforms to address this sex abuse and episcopal cover-up.  Public statements of apology from Popes, bishops and priests.  Pledges to ordain better men.  Attempts to screen priest candidates more thoroughly.  More enlightened training. Some form of accountability.  A zero-tolerance policy.  Any and all of these reforms will help.

But without addressing the clerical power structure that props up the institutional church, there is little chance these changes will sufficiently protect future children and adult victims of sexual assault from power-influenced, forced sex on unwilling and/or unwitting prey of clerical sexual deviants.  And the cover-ups will continue in order to maintain that same power structure.

In short, the Catholic church must include laity, men and women, into the decision-making process on all levels: parish, diocese, national, international and the Vatican.  This shared decision making must represent genuine power, not token advice.  Other denominations have variations on this collaboration and Catholics can learn from them.  A hierarchy can be preserved but it would look much different from the way it now looks. 

The only thing that is preventing this new form of governance is the willingness to do it.  If the Catholic church is serious about changing the Catholic culture in order to deal with this sex abuse and cover-up scandal, this core topic must be addressed openly. 

Lack of Due Process

When a child or adult is a victim of a priest sexual offender, what recourse does the victim (or the parents of a child) have to seek justice for the alleged crime? 

They can and should report the action to a local, law enforcement agency immediately as they would in other presumed criminal behavior.

But what if the offending act took place years ago and the statute of limitations has expired?  Or, what do they do if they want to take the complaint to church authorities in any case?

Many times in recent history that church appeal didn’t go very far.  That’s because the Catholic church did not have a transparent due process procedure, and the Catholic culture does not clearly provide a path to resolution of these cases for the laity. The 2002 Child Protection policy is clearly an improvement but the lingering past culture still infects the system.  The culture has not yet caught up with the policy change.  This virtual lack of due process is another facet of Catholic life that protects clerical sex abusers and cover-up bishops.  Diocesan Review Boards, established about 15 years ago, are an improvement but they need regular updating with an aggressive “best practices” formula and even greater independence from episcopal interference. 

As the Pennesylvia report graphically portrays, credible allegations of sexual abuse were routinely ignored, minimized, or secretly silenced through money payments, threats of public exposure, or shaming parents and critics for damaging the image of the Church.  For the most part, those people who withstood this barrage of cover-up tactics got nowhere moving up the hierarchical ladder with their complaints. Even the Vatican stonewalled a thorough, in-house investigation of these allegations. When some of the abuse and cover-up trickled out into the public, the response was to express some sorrow and the need for an apology and to seek forgiveness.  But little or nothing addressed the systemic, in-bred, structural deficiencies that contribute to the prevailing culture that fosters these atrocities.  The lack of effective due process procedures within the Catholic church is one of these structural deficiencies.  We will see what the February gathering in Rome will produce. But we are clearly at a point where action, and not just words, are mandatory.

For most of my life I worked in the Church in various parish and diocesan positions, but for 10 years I was an employee of American Airlines.  The policy and procedures manual at AA is a full three-inch binder of small print.  It covers almost every conceivable personnel and administrative situation with clear, and just, directions.  Similar manuals, if they existed, in the three dioceses I worked in are not even close to the thoroughness and fairness of the AA manual.  The Church preaches justice to employees, and even promotes unions, but in practice Church employees work at the whim of the pastor or bishop.  There is no due process.  It’s no wonder priest pedophiles and cover-up bishops feel immune from consequences.

The issue of false allegations also cries out for justice.  But a priest is no different from any other public, or private, person accused of a crime.  It is a situation for the civil authorities to navigate.  When a politician or celebrity is accused of a crime, it often becomes a news item.  If the person accused is innocent, that person and his/her legal representative must fight for that innocence in court and in the public arena.  A priest is no different.  Adequate legal defense must be available along with wise guidance regarding public perception and loss of reputation.  A false accusation can do great harm so a vigorous, public defense is required. 

Within the murky waters of a vague, clerically dominated, and porous due process procedure, a de facto pedophile priest and cover-up bishop can find refuge and protection from accountability and discovery.  The spotlight is now shining on this corner of the Catholic culture revealing centuries of dark secrets, extensive sexual abuse, and hierarchical smokescreens.  The time is right to face these issues squarely and honestly.  It is not the time to minimize the public damage, wait it out, make some surface adjustments, pledge to do better, and still maintain structural, institutional and cultural factors that contribute to the damaging presence of clerical sex abusers and cover-up bishops. The greatest threat to any religion is not people of a different faith, or of no professed faith.  The greatest threat are people within that religion who use it for their own personal pleasure or needs.  This time of exposure is the time for genuine structural reform.   Due process restructuring is a crucial piece to that reform.

The Role of the Priest

There is no specific job description for a parish priest.  Since Catholicism is so focused on sacraments, there is a general expectation that priests will preside during Catholic sacramental, ritual actions.  But beyond that, job duties vary immensely.  A priest can be as busy, as involved, as committed as he wants to be.  Or he can be as lazy, as isolated, as detached as he wants to be.  Unless they have another job attached to their priesthood, a job like teaching for example, they can rather easily schedule their day with a lot of free, unsupervised time. 

The point here is that a priest who is also a sexual predator can find the time and space to act out his inclinations, and there is no one who will question where he is or how he spends his time.  Other people with “regular” jobs have scheduled tasks to perform and some kind of work-related accountability usually including an on-site supervisor.  That is not the norm with parish priests. 

Preparation for the priesthood has centered on orthodox doctrine.  The underlying message is that you will be a fine priest if you know the correct answers to questions related to faith and morals.  The skills needed to celebrate the sacraments are minimal, and most of those skills are written out in detail in ritual books anyway.  Unlike other professions like doctor, lawyer, plumber, technician, or engineer, the parish priest has little or no training except in church doctrine.  In effect, his ministry is personality-based rather than skill-based. 

We all have our personality flaws and they will occasionally interfere with our lives and relationships.  And that’s the best case.  A priest may officiate at sacraments perfectly but may be ineffective or even destructive in other aspects of his ministerial life.  His ability to relate positively with people is crucial to his ministry. 

If a priest has a personality disorder, it will affect his relationships.  If that disorder includes his sexual life, that too will impact his relationships.  And if that disorder is severe enough, like pedophilia, his behavior will likely include sex abuse. 

While a more structured work life will not cure major sex abuse inclinations, more work-related accountability may make it harder to act out in a sexually abusive manner.  The built-in freedom that priesthood allows makes it that much easier to indulge these inclinations and the power inherent in the position makes it safer for the abuser to identify and victimize his targets. 

There are many other reasons why priesthood needs restructuring but this one about protection of children and adults from sex abuse is a significant factor.  Included in that restructuring is the need to create realistic and specific job descriptions for priests.  For example, seminaries need to focus more on priestly ministry rather than dogmatic teaching.  What is it that parish priests are expected to do every day?  Specifically.  Priests who will minister in large urban areas will have a very different experience than those who will serve in a rural setting.  A suburban environment varies considerably from both urban or rural.  Train seminarians for these different ministerial responsibilities and the variations of the parishioner profiles in each of these situations.  What issues affect people in these various environments, and how best can the message of Jesus be delivered in these sometimes-conflicting settings? Draw up corresponding job descriptions and provide seminary education and training to prepare priests to minister accordingly.  Include some dogma, of course, but not as the primary, or exclusive, focus as it has been for centuries. 

Provide this revised approach for current priests as well. 

Along with more precise job descriptions for priests, implement more accountable adherence to these specific ministerial responsibilities.  Educate priests in the skills needed to be successful.  Since priesthood is also personality-based, develop tools to help monitor the quality of the relationships that priests experience in their priestly role.  Bishops would be chosen who excel in this area. 

There are multiple benefits from this revision and reemphasis.  One of them would likely be the minimization of sex abuse and the need for cover-up.  In any case, the current Catholic culture and clerical lifestyle does not work well in the 21st century.  The centrality of teaching and preaching correct orthodox doctrine is not the answer.  Combined with other comments in this article on the impact of Catholic culture, this suggested revision of the role of the priest will offer healthier and more genuine leadership that will, at the same time, minimize occurrences of sexual abuse and the need for cover-ups.

Summary and Conclusions

This seven-fold article began as one much 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 over 5,500 words, which I originally judged was too long for the format I planned to use for publication.  I then wrote seven separate columns with a specific theme for each column.  This current article reconnects those seven elements into one piece.

In whatever format, each of these seven 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 article is intended to contribute a little something to the on-going challenge.

The main point here is 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 imbedded in this article 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 why 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 here, 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.

One way or the other, 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 rediscover the spirit of the early church and emphasize the clear message of Jesus of love, forgiveness, compassion, and service.

Author’s Note

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 the seven articles which formed the base for this article, click on Recommended.  Please forward this address to your family, friends and interested organizations, or simply, forward this article to others.

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