Saturday, November 28, 2009

In Matters of Sexuality, Has the Roman Catholic Clerical Leadership Lost Its Moral Authority?

Well, according to a scathing commentary by Wayne Besen (right) over at, the answer’s a definite YES - especially when it comes to defining healthy sexual relationships.

And in light of the damning
findings of the latest report to come out of Ireland on the clergy sex abuse scandal, I think Besen is absolutely correct when he says that the clerical leadership of the church has “lost its right to discuss . . . issues [related to sexual morality] and expect thinking people to keep a straight face. . . . The bishops and archbishops have zero credibility to even discuss my healthy [gay] relationship.”

Besen’s commentary made me think of the meaning and purpose of authority and, in particular, Carter Heyward’s insightful thoughts on “genuine authority.” Writes Heyward:

Genuinely creative authority, sacred at its root, is in our hands. It moves us more fully into our bodyselves-in-relation. It touches and often frightens us as it calls us forth to become more fully who we are already: interdependent and mutual participants in this journey we call life.

The word “authority” comes from the Latin verb augere, which means to cause to grow, to augment that which already is. Deriving from augere, the Latin auctor (author) means one who creates or brings into being. Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles defines authority as “that which (or those whom) one has reason to trust.”

In this spirit, I offer a definition of authority as that which calls into being “something” that is already and, for that reason, can be trusted. The reason we can trust the authority of the story or resource or person is that it does not impose an extraneous set of expectations upon us but rather evokes “something” we already know, or have, or are. We need authority precisely for the purpose of helping us discover, recover, empower, and encourage ourselves and one another.

This experience of authority as organic and encouraging to who we are at our best is the antithesis of the more prevalent notions – and experiences – of authority as “force,” “coercion,” or “violence.” In the dominant culture, the imposition of will and judgment by those with power-over has become synonymous with authority. But, as social philosopher Hannah Arendt taught, if it’s coercive, it’s not authority: not real authority, not that which touches us in our souls, the foundational “place” within us in which we meet one another and find ourselves at home.

Force serves always to diminish. That is the purpose of violence. People who have to make us do something through rules, punishment, threats, or intimidation may exercise force in our lives, but they hold no real authority for us. Because authority is that which (or those whom) we can trust to help us become more, not less, ourselves.

Hmm . . . it seems to me that throughout its history, the clerical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church has mistaken force and coercion for authority. Anyway, I invite you to keep Heyward’s thoughts on authority in mind as you read Besen’s commentary, reprinted in its entirety below.


Catholic Church Has Zero “Moral Authority”
to Oppose Same-Sex Marriage

By Wayne Besen
November 27, 2009

Next time a Roman Catholic cleric tries to degrade loving same-sex relationships, stop him mid-sentence and say:

“The Roman Catholic Church has no moral authority to oppose loving gay relationships.”

Keep repeating this until the hypocrite walks away, head bowed in shame.

As far as I know, there has never been a huge, multi-decade scandal of gay activists molesting children. No GLBT community centers raided and shuttered. No billion dollar lawsuits against gay bars for abusing children.

Sure, one can always find a rotten apple, but the GLBT barrel – for the most-part – is stocked with the organic, red, shiny, healthy variety.

The same cannot be said of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to a new report released today that was ordered by Ireland’s government, Catholic leaders in Dublin, in collusion with the police, spent decades protecting and covering up the illegal, sinful behavior of pedophile priests.

What went on – for decades – was so incredibly sick and downright evil, that it borders on satanic. Dublin’s current Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, said he felt deep shame and sorrow for how previous archbishops handled the child abuse.

Today’s 720-page report focused on why church leaders in the Dublin Archdiocese did not tell police about a single abuse complaint against a priest until 1995. Yet, there had been at been at least 100 parish priests who had sexually molested children since 1940. Those files had remained locked in the Dublin archbishop’s private vault.

The investigators also uncovered a paper trail documenting the church’s clandestine insurance policy, taken out in 1987, to cover potential lawsuits. Dublin church leaders publicly denied the existence of the problem for a decade afterward but since the mid-1990s have paid out more than $15 million in settlements.

The report cited documents showing how church officials learned about some cases only when Catholic police received complaints from children or their parents, but handed the investigation back to church leaders so they could engage in cover-ups.

It is hard to believe, but this high level of pious pathology, ethical corruption and sin occurred under the “leadership” of THREE Dublin archbishops: John Charles McQuaid (1940-72), Dermot Ryan (1972-84) and Kevin McNamara (1985-87).

The commission found that these moral luminaries eschewed public scandals by shuffling the abusers from parish to parish and overseas to U.S. churches – where no doubt a few of these heinous hypocrites are still loudly opposing the freedom to marry for gay couples.

Seriously, I refuse to hear lectures on wholesome values and the meaning of family from anyone affiliated with a church that engaged in such shocking and outrageous behavior. The Catholic Church has, indeed, lost its right to discuss such issues and expect thinking people to keep a straight face.

Just to reiterate, the bishops and archbishops have zero credibility to even discuss my healthy relationship. At least my boyfriend isn’t an altar boy.

My advice to these priests is to take their condemnation of my relationship and lock it in a private vault in the Archdiocese, along with the secret records of rampant child abuse.

Finally, I want to make it abundantly clear that this is not an attack on the millions of Catholics who are good people and oppose the handling of these child abuse cases. There are also many Catholics who support equality for all people, including a gay couples’ right to marry. This is not meant for the wonderful, charitable people who have clothed the naked, cared for the sick and fed the hungry.

However, the church hierarchy has surrendered its high ground on moral issues and must work to regain the respectability and trust it has clearly lost. Considering the behavior it has practiced, it certainly has no right to preach to those of us who have obeyed the law.


Interestingly, a priest in Ireland has recently expressed the same sentiments as Besen.

Writing in the November 28 Irish Times, George Jackson reports the following:

A prominent priest in the diocese of Derry has said the Catholic Church in Ireland no longer had any standing, credibility or moral authority following the disclosures in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Fr Michael Canny, spokesman for the Derry Diocese, said he would probably spend the rest of his life as a priest trying to rebuild trust and confidence in the Catholic Church as a result of the inquiry’s finding that the church routinely covered up clerical sex abuse of children.

Describing the abuse as depraved and incomprehensible, he said the reputation of the Catholic Church was “in tatters”, and said people were rightly angry.

“There is no good in saying other than the truth. The church at this state has no credibility, no standing and no moral authority. The issue is now one of trust, and that is why it will take the rest of my lifetime as a priest to build up that trust again, because the trust and confidence in the church has been broken on a fundamental level.

“I must admit I am angry at the way the abuse was handled. I feel betrayed and let down to a terrible extreme,” he continued.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Abuse: Why Did the Vatican Remain Quiet? - John Cooney, Shane Phelan and Lesley-Anne Henry (The Independent, November 27, 2009).
Experts: Catholic Bishops Covered Up Dublin Priests’ Abuse, Shunned Law for Decades - Shawn Pogatchnit (Associated Press, November 26, 2009).
Commission Finds Church Covered Up Church Sex Abuse - Patsy McGarry (Irish Times, November 26, 2009).
Clerical Abuse: The Dublin Cover-Up - Terence Weldon (Queering the Church, November 23, 2009).
In Dublin, a “Perversion of Power” - Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia, November 26, 2009).
Vatican Told Bishops to Cover-Up Sex Abuse - Antony Barnett (The Guardian, August 17, 2003).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Report: Homosexuality No Factor in Abusive Priests
Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Rome Falling


Mareczku said...

This is an excellent article but still it is so difficult for me to understand this. How could the Church in Ireland sacrifice so many children? And I was horrified to read that abusive priests were sometimes shipped to the US. Did these people have consciences? It surely appears that Church hierarchy considered themselves above the law and they were treated that way. The authorities also share a lot of the blame in this for not going after criminals and bringing them to justice. Why in the name of heaven did they let this go on for so long? It seems like the Church in Ireland had lost most of its moral authority.

Joe said...

For my take on this see

TheraP said...

Personally, I think they have forfeited ALL moral authority. Not just some. They lied. They covered up. They abused trust. They betrayed not just the victims but their flocks and their integrity. The did everything to prevent discovery and protect their assets. Tell me what we haven't covered here!

Interesting how many people are thinking about this "moral authority" issue and its evaporation. I wrote on that yesterday myself:

Just as an example, last night we heard on the news that the pope had expressed concern for the welfare of child immigrants being exploited in terms of labor. We looked at each other - with the same thought: Who is he to speak about this, when those orphans shipped to Australia were horrifically abused in the care of Catholic institutions?

Collapse of moral authority. It's happened across the board!

kevin57 said...

I would agree that the Church has lost much, if not all, of its moral authority, which is a shame. Society needs that prophetic voice that speaks up for the oppressed against the systems that victimize them, and yes, a voice against the forces of sexual exploitation and hedonism. There is a vacuum there right now. Sadly, the Church has been wasting whatever capital it has left on fighting abortion and same sex marriage.

Mareczku said...

Kevin, I agree with a lot of what you said. However, I think abortion is an important issue. I go to a site where the people can be unkind but some also talk of how they counsel people at the abortion mills and these people have actually saved lives. I consider abortion to be a death penalty for the unwanted. Every since I was a kid I have always had sympathy for the underdog and an unwanted, unloved child is certainly an underdog. When I was a schoolboy, abortion was illegal and a crime. I realize though that in most states it will never be made illegal because it is a big money making business and money talks.