Fr. Peter J. Daly
April 1, 2002
The last few weeks have been excruciatingly painful ones for Catholics. The scandal of sexual sin by the clergy has left people feeling betrayed and bewildered. Lots of people have been hurt.
The most serious injury, of course, has been to the young victims of the abuse. Their trust has been violated. Their lives scarred.
A lot of other good people have been hurt. The average Catholic has been wounded by this scandal. Lay people hear their Church mocked and derided in conversations at work or in the media. It causes them pain and grief.
Good priests have been hurt too. Each day has brought a new round of shocking news. It is a real grieving. We feel betrayed by our brothers. We feel ashamed of their actions and yet sorrow for their suffering. Whatever can be said about these offenders, they are not healthy or happy people.
Personally, I feel the embarrassment every day. I go about my duties wondering what people are thinking. Although they are outwardly polite, I know they are aware of the news. Do they wonder about me?
Priests feel injured by a climate of implication and innuendo. One newspaper has listed priests who took a leave of absence from the priesthood. The inference being that they must have done something wrong.
The damage to the Church will be long lasting. People will leave. Some may even loose their faith in God. Our credibility on many social issues will be compromised. It will be harder to recruit priestly vocations.
But I believe that in the long run, some good may yet come of this crisis.
First of all, there will be more research into the causes and cures of pedophilia and other sexual disorders. That will be a good thing for the Church and for our society. We will learn how it should be treated by the Church, the courts, the medical community and the society at large.
Secondly, I think there will be a renewal of the priesthood in holiness and prayer. Priests may learn to rely more on God and God’s grace and less on the judgments and standards of the age.
Thirdly, I think there will be a new willingness to discuss sexual matters in a mature way. This would be a welcome change from the current approach to sex in our culture.
As the Vatican has observed, we live in a “pansexual” culture. That is, our culture is saturated with sexual expression. It is everywhere. It is in all our advertising and entertainment.
But our constant discussion of sex does not mean that we are mature about it. We have an adolescent fascination. Sex is trivialized. We are like children playing with fireworks. We do not recognize that something beautiful can also be something dangerous. Perhaps now we will be able to speak as adults about sex, both within the Church and the society. It is part of life but not the point of life.
Finally, I think the Church can now benefit from a long overdue discussion of the relationship of celibacy to the priesthood. Celibacy is, of course, not the cause of pedophilia or other sexual sins. But celibacy is sometimes indirectly related to them. It can be used to mask sexual immaturity. The priesthood is not a place to hide from any of life’s difficulties, including sexual ones.
The last few weeks have been a true tragedy for our Church. But the tragedy will be compounded if we do not seize this chance to have a truly open discussion about some important issues. Sin is bad. Not learning from our sins is worse.