Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fr. Thomas Doyle: "There is Something Radically Wrong With the Institutional Catholic Church"

Along with people from all around the world, I’m still trying to fathom the horrendous findings contained in the Irish government’s Report of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse. As I’m sure you’re aware, this report is the result of a nine-year investigation into Catholic church-operated schools and reformatories in Ireland. It covers a 60-year-period from 1936 to the present, and documents how Roman Catholic institutions permitted and fostered climates of sustained abuse - sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual - by priests and nuns.

Following is an excerpt from U.S. Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle’s powerful May 22 National Catholic Reporter commentary, “Irish Abuse Report Demands Decisive Action.” Doyle (pictured at right) is a canon lawyer and advocate for those abused by priests. He calls for nothing less than the fearless examination - and dismantling - of the current institutional component of the Roman Catholic Church.


. . . The vicious sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual devastation inflicted upon these children was not accidental. It was systemic. It was part of the everyday life and indeed deeply ingrained in the very culture of the childcare system in Catholic Ireland.

The intellects and emotions of decent people, of committed Christians and especially of devoted Catholics cannot truly process the unbelievable reality presented in this report. The sadistic world of these institutions is not that of some crazed secular dictatorship. It is not the world of an uncivilized tribal culture that ravaged the weak in ages long past. This report describes a world created and sustained by the Roman Catholic Church. The horrors inflicted on these helpless, trapped children – rapes, beatings, molestation, starvation, isolation – all were inflicted by men and women who had vowed themselves to the service of people in the name of Christ’s love.

The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is not unique though it may well be the most shocking example of the reality of such a culture of evil. In the past two decades over two dozen reports have described physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by Catholic clergy and religious. Among the more shocking have been a series of reports submitted to the Vatican between 1994 and 1998 revealing sexual exploitation of religious women in Africa by African priests. These reports remained largely unknown until they were brought to light by the National Catholic Reporter in 2001. Other reports have opened the doors to the secret world of clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere. The report of the Winter Commission about rampant sexual abuse at Mount Cashel, the Christian Brothers orphanage in Newfoundland and the report of the Philadelphia Grand Jury investigation stand out as examples not only of the depravity but of the institutionalized cover-up.

Revelations of various forms of abuse by Catholic religious and clerics all have common elements. Likewise, they evoke responses from the institutional leadership that are common to all examples of abuse and consistent in their nature. Most disturbing is the certain knowledge that the vicious abuse, in Ireland and elsewhere, is not accidental nor isolated and it is never unknown to Church authorities. The Church’s authorities, from the pope himself down to the local bishops and religious superiors have known about this unbelievable culture of abuse and have done nothing.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan referred to the Church as a “Loving Mother” when he spoke at his installation Mass in New York. In light of the facts disclosed in the Irish report as well as the information revealed about countless other cases of abuse, such a description of the Church is not only absurd, but insulting to the countless people whose belief and trust in the hierarchy and clergy has been betrayed.

The official reaction is predictable. Denial, minimization, blame shifting and finally limited acknowledgment followed by carefully nuanced “apologies” has been the standard fare. At no time has the leadership of any part of the institutional Church ever owned up to any systemic accountability. The standard responses are totally unacceptable because they are devious and irrelevant. Those who still hold to the institutional Church as their source of emotional security may well bray about anti-Catholicism, media sensationalism and exaggeration of what they claim to be an aberration. Such responses are mindless but far worse, they inflict even more pain on the thousands whose lives have been violated.

The Church cannot and will not fix itself. The very reality of the systemic abuse in the Irish institutions (and elsewhere as well) reveals a deep disdain for people by those charged with leading the Church. There has been an abandonment of the fundamental values that are supposed to vivify the Church if indeed these values were ever really internalized by many in positions of power. There is something radically wrong with the institutional Catholic Church. This is painfully obvious because it allows systemic abuse and radical dishonesty to coexist with its self-proclaimed identity as the Kingdom of God on earth.

The institutional Church is defensively changing its approach to the systematic abuse all too slowly and only because it is forced to do so by external forces it cannot control. The Irish government commission is one and the U.S. legal system is another. No amount of bureaucratic programs, pious apologies, rhetorical hand wringing and effusive promises of future change will make the difference. The problem is more than the widespread abuse itself. Punishing the perpetrators is completely missing the forest standing behind the trees. The clerical culture intertwined with the institution needs to be fearlessly examined and dismantled as we know it. It has wrought far too much destruction and murdered too many souls to be tolerated for another generation.

Catholics have a profound obligation in charity and justice to the countless victims of all forms of abuse. They have an obligation to believers of all kinds everywhere. They must ceaselessly do all that can be done to free the Christian/Catholic community from the toxic control of the clericalized institutional structure so that once more the Church will be identified not with an anachronistic and self-serving monarchy but with the Body of Christ.

To read Fr. Thomas Doyle’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
In Ireland, the Abuse of Children - and Power - Mary C. Curtic (Politics Daily, May 21, 2009).
Richard Sipe: Bill Donohue is a Bozo - National Catholic Reporter (May 23, 2009).
On Truth Commissions: Parallels Between Legacy of Torture and Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, May 21, 2009).
Crisis in the Catholic Church - Timothy Lytton (National Sexuality Resource Center, August 1, 2008).
Absolute Power - Tony Hopfinger (Newsweek, January 14, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Archbishop Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia
Rome Falling
It’s Time to Re-think the Basis and Repair the Damage
Hans Küng: “We Are Facing a Structural Problem”
Clearing Away the Debris
Staying on Board
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Genuine Authority


Davis said...

In reading Fr Doyle's remarks and the post of Bishop Weakland, I wonder if no matter whether we're wearing collars, or mitres, or saying the Rosary or even devoutly kneeling to receive our communions - if in our hearts we haven't truly welcomed Christ in all - there is no groundwork or foundation...

Come Lord Jesus.

kevin57 said...

Yes, Davis, I concur; however, "welcoming Christ in all" is more than a pietistic humility. It demands a complete submission to the gospel and its difficult yet consoling demands.

These reports are painful, yet necessary, infuriating, but agents of change. I do wish that Fr. Doyle had offered a couple of concrete proposals for changing the culture of the Church. His clarion call is well worth hearing, but the justified anger that many feel needs to be channeled in a life-giving way.

Davis said...

Yes, Kevin, but I didn't mean simply being sweet - rather taking Christ to heart. That would mean, I think, demolishing much of the structure of the institution to get to the heart of what it means to be the Church.