Thursday, April 24, 2014

Paul Lakeland on How the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal Reveals a Crisis of Leadership

Paul Lakeland, author and director of Fairfield University's Center for Catholic Studies, will be visiting Minnesota at the end of the month to speak on "Pope Francis and the Liberation of the Laity."

I first met Paul at the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's 2010 Synod of the Baptized, "Claiming Our Place at the Table." I was an organizer of this event while Paul was its keynote speaker. His talk at Synod 2010 was entitled "The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission." It was an excellent presentation, the transcript of which can be found here.

Now Paul is returning to Minnesota where he will be speaking on what Pope Francis has to say about the role of the laity in the world and the responsibilities the baptismal priesthood places on each of us who are baptized in Christ’s name. On Wednesday, April 30, Paul will be speaking at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Minneapolis (details here). Then on Friday, May 1, Paul will be at Christ Church Newman Center in St Cloud (details here). Both speaking engagements are free and open to the public.

Along with serving as the director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, Paul Lakeland is active in the American Academy of Religion, the Catholic Theological Society of America, and the Workgroup on Constructive Christian Theology. His two most recent books, both winners of Catholic Press Association awards, are The Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church and Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the Laity Can Save the Church.

Following, with added links, is an excerpt from chapter five of Lakeland's Catholicism at the Crossroads. This excerpt deals with understanding the Catholic church's sex abuse scandal, and I believe it's timely to share given all that is happening in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in relation to this scandal.

Let us be clear. Sex abuse in the church is a scandal, but it is not a crisis. There is no sex-abuse crisis in the church. What the church suffers from is a crisis issuing from the real problem of clerical sexual abuse of minors. Sex abuse itself is a heinous crime and a scandal in the church of the highest magnitude. But it isn't in itself a crisis.

. . . The scandal of sexual abuse revealed a crisis of episcopal leadership. Poor leadership in dealing with the scandal has led to the kind of public scrutiny to which bishops are not accustomed. The precise nature of the crisis is not something that all will agree upon, but its elements are evident. To name them is not to accuse every American bishop of all elements, but to point to systemic problems to which all American bishops must attend. Among the charges that have been made over the past few years are the following: a faulty understanding of what it is to be a leader on the part of those who select bishops, and a consequent lack of good leaders within the episcopacy; bad judgment about how the good name of the church can best be assured; secrecy; isolation, ambition and careerism; poor theology; too centralized an understanding of the church, with a concomitant over-deference to the Roman Curia; excessive bureaucratization of the role of bishop. Some or all of these may be accurate, but not all qualify as systemic issues. Inappropriate ambition, for example, is something that systemic problems can foster, but in itself it is a personal rather than a structural sin.

Beyond the crisis in the episcopate there is a deeper ecclesiological crisis that is at the same time a cultural crisis. Church historians know that structures of government in the church have changed over time and have indeed always been changing, but, what is more important, that these changes have paralleled changes in secular understandings of government. They have usually needed to stress this in the teeth of those who see the first and last word on ecclesiology to be that "the church is not a democracy."

At a major conference just a few years ago, the opening keynote address was given by a distinguished bishop who tried to make the case that Jesus pretty much envisaged the church as it exists today. Either the bishop believed this, which is sheer historical ignorance, or he thought we needed to hear this, which is insulting. And in an action that revealed so much, he then promptly left the meeting and did not hear the impressive array of distinguished Catholic historians, who deal in historical fact, and, entirely unintentionally, made his presentation seem bogus and frankly ridiculous. If only he had stayed to hear Francine Cardman challenge the proponents of what she called "default ecclesiology" to recognize that the church is not monolithic but "a dynamic, evolving, diverse movement," or Brian Tierney explain that "within the Catholic church there have always been these three, Peter, the apostles, and the people of God, but the constitutional relationships between them have been defined differently in different ages," or Marcia Colish point out that while secular governments have continued to change through-out history, becoming constitutional monarchies and then representative democracies with no kings or queens, "the church remained trapped in the absolute monarchy time wrap of the early modern period," or Frank Oakley offering up the conciliarist movement as a phenomenon that has much still to teach us, though it has been consigned to the garbage heap of church history by what Oakley call "an ultramontane politics of oblivion," or John Beal's eloquent call for a canon law that restores the balance between communio and juridic ecclesiologies. Now is surely the time to answer the question with which Oakley ended his paper: "with what confidence, after all, can we Catholics hope to erect a future capable of enduring if, for ideological reasons, we persist in trying to do so on the foundation of a past that never truly was?"

The weight of the historical evidence would strongly suggest that it is quite appropriate to ask how democratic sensibilities might have something important to offer to the church today, and that it is entirely probable that the church will evolve, willy-nilly, to incorporate some genuine role for the voice of the whole community into its structures of governance. It has been so in the church's past, most recently in the American church of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and it could be so again. The lessons of history also teach us, however, that it is exceedingly rare that an elite in any society will freely give up its own hold on power. And this brings us to what may be a yet deeper level of the crisis, namely, an ecclesiology and a polity that gives no formal role to the voice of laypeople in the church to which they belong, buttressed by the sorry history of theological reflection upon the laity. Here is where the discussion of clericalism belongs. Clericalism can be damaging and can be petty. It can be ridiculous and it can be scandalous. It can be sinister as it is in John Gregory Dunne's True Confessions and as comic as it is in J.F. Powers' incomparable stories of the lives of clergy. But in the end it always points to the real issue that for at least three quarters of the church's life the best theological definition the church could offer of the layperson was "not clergy."

Related Off-site Links:
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission – Paul Lakeland (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 19, 2010).
Challenges to Us As Catholics – A 10-part series featuring excerpts from Paul Lakeland's book Church: Living Communion (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 2010).
Synod of the Baptized Uncovers Deep Well of Hope – Paula Ruddy (The Progressive Catholic Voice, September 20, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:

It's Time for Archbishop Nienstedt to Resign
Time for a Fresh Start in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Unravelment Continues
Colleen Kochivar-Baker on the First Anniversary of the Papacy of Francis
Quote of the Day – September 12, 2011
Now We Know
St. Francis of Assisi: The Antithesis of Clericalism and Monarchism
SNAP Responds to Cardinal Bertone
A Clerical Leadership Unresponsive to Voices of Reason

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