Our Culture of Abuse

Southern Baptist
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Whether you think it deserving or not, the Catholic Church has largely become a meme of child sexual abuse, as though the two are synonymous or the crime defines the institution. You certainly get that message from the liberal barometer (or lightning rod) that Saturday Night Live is, with comedian Colin Jost cracking on the season finale last week, “There are a growing number of nuns who are joining Tik Tok to show what life in a convent is really like, because when the Catholic Church tries to connect with young people, it always goes well.” Ha ha.

Of course, the Catholic Church is not the only institution that has been scorched and scarred by the sexual abuse committed by its wayward members, but it has received the sexual abuse sticker on its forehead in a way that others certainly haven’t. The Harvey Weinstein scandal and other criminals of the entertainment world like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly didn’t cast all entertainers as a pack of perverts, even with all the rage of the #MeToo movement. 

There is simply a harsher treatment given to the Church, and that is because of its expressed purpose of pastoral care and moral behavior. The irony of the crisis is too much for the hyperbole of humor and derogatory, derivative attitudes, and now Catholics seem to have a kind of monopoly on sexual abuse. In fact, it is the culture we live in that is, in many ways, defined by abuse, and that culture is what has infected the Church.

Though it probably won’t make the news (or SNL) as much as the Catholic Church has and will, Southern Baptists are currently in the midst of their own mounting and massive scandal with an investigative report of sexual abuse and cover-ups spanning years and hundreds of abusive pastors. According to the report, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention allowed predators to move from congregation to congregation and vigorously suppressed calls to cast perpetrators into the light and the reach of legal prosecution. 

But now, a list of ministers accused of sexual misconduct and abuse is set to be released—similar to the John Jay Report and AG reports that revealed abuses and cover-ups within the Catholic Church—hopefully to bring that religious body the scouring that the Church has suffered for years, and hopefully to secure safety and sanctity. The sickness runs deep and wide, and if the Catholic Church is to hold the limelight in this tragedy, it should be as an advocate for victims and a flagship for prevention. And while there is more awareness, and there are more programs and security efforts within the Church and her policies, there is still too much head-hanging, fearful silence, and ideological acceptance of lifestyles and characters that are drawn toward abuse.

Take the recent arrest of Fr. Gregory Loughney here in the Diocese of Scranton. Loughney was caught in a sting operation where he thought he was communicating with a 15-year-old boy online in shocking, explicit terms and went to rendezvous with him seeking sexual activity. Though the bishop has condemned his behavior and such behavior in any priest, which is good, there was still a blindness to this man’s history of embezzling money from the Church to fund lavish European vacations with other men and even accusations of sexual abuse—all signs that point to one that should not be in the care of souls. At a certain point, we must ask when will the bishops learn and open their eyes to the intrusion that continues to happen to this day. 

The Church and her members and ministers will only continue to fail in their duty if they do not acknowledge with steadfast humility the errors that have been committed with grievous result while also acknowledging with steadfast humility the moral code of the Church and natural law. The humility that the episcopal offices should inspire is precisely the virtue that can bring an end to the sex abuse crisis in the Church and beyond, for these corruptions are bred of arrogance. It is in humility that bishops and priests, and men and women, are powerful and can truly protect the Church, even in the darkest times. This is the virtue that Catholics must master and mirror as ones who have been damaged by the betrayal of trust placed in so many abusive priests and enabling bishops. 

Since the authoritative structure of the Church has suffered such invasion and impairment, the bishops especially should work on effecting the needed change by their meekness not so much fundamentally as foundationally. Though the world often voices its expectations that such changes should involve a complete remodeling of the Faith to fit modern paradigms, it is a restoration to traditional principles that the pope and his bishops are called to achieve—even if that means dispensing with some old-fashioned formality and bureaucracy and certainly any new-fangled notions of tolerance. 

Cardinal Bergoglio’s history of gently, or mildly, opposing the homosexual agenda of the Argentinean government, and now, on Pope Francis’ watch, the prolonged tailspin of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the shameful exposé of the USCCB’s Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill, the ongoing scandal of Fr. James Martin, and the recent strike against liturgical tradition, all paint a grim picture regarding the state of affairs of the Church’s pastors, from the bottom of the hierarchy all the way to the top. 

Pope Francis’ brand of humility, unfortunately, is not one that seems calculated toward resolute action. While there may be some academic value in asking, “Who am I to judge?” there are times when judgment—even harsh judgment—is called for, together with humble admission of fault and sin. Without humility, there will be no healing. The Catholic Church is just one of the institutions where sexual abuse has run rampant, and it runs everywhere. As people who cling to the truth of human imperfection and the devastating effects of moral relativism and a sexualized society, it should be up to Catholics to make known the abuse, sexual or otherwise, that rules a self-serving, hedonistic society. 

From the perverse indulgence of pornography, to the egotistic murder of unborn children; from the flagrant use of recreational drugs, to the willful desecration of the sacrament of marriage through divorce and contraception; from the mutilation of the mind and body and law to suit personal sexual or sex preference, to the crass and critical demeanor that is so prevalent, ours is a culture that is immured in the addiction to abuse—addicted to abusing ourselves and others, rapidly making absolutely nothing sacred anymore. Dostoevsky spoke with chilling truth when he wrote that if God does not exist, everything is permitted—and that godless age has dawned and is at high noon.

One glance at the sensationalized ugliness of the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial, for instance, shows a shocking desensitization to abuse in the widespread fascination over it. The media circus over this grotesque affair, broadcasting and livestreaming abuse as entertainment, essentially, is in itself evidence of the abuse all are affected by and many are addicted to. And it is not good for anyone, especially victims of abuse who should expect to find protection and healing, but instead are often only put through different forms of abuse in a seemingly perpetual cycle of indecency, especially in the age of the Internet. Displays like this trial normalize abuse and it is symptomatic of a profound malady.

Human beings are weak and imperfect and will make mistakes, and the admission of this quality of our fallen nature is the first step in securing solutions. Only those humble enough to admit error will ever correct it. The Catholic Church has been in over its head with the error of licentious and lying people, but the conclusion should not be that the Church is composed of sin, but rather that the Church is composed of sinners who confess their sins and resolve to sin no more.

To borrow a Chestertonian phrase, getting into hot water is the best way to get clean; and Catholics should not shy away from admitting and denouncing the evil that slipped past the sleeping (or permissive) guards of the Church. Furthermore, we all know what was said concerning the house divided against itself. If anything will defend against such demolition, it is humility. 

As all with reasoning minds know, sexual abuse is not a “Catholic thing.” But it is a cultural thing, sad to say, and the Catholic Church has been invaded by that culture of self-gratification that will take what it wants and resort more and more to means that consider the good of others less and less. Still, the invasion and ignoring of this vicious lifestyle is a tremendous failing by a Church that stands in the world but not of the world. The Southern Baptists are having their own reckoning, as have many more institutions than make headlines and punchlines. Those humiliations have been especially allotted to the Catholic Church, and only humility can make us worthy of that cross and able to bear it for the sake of the salvation of souls.

Sean Fitzpatrick

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a senior contributor to Crisis and serves on the faculty of Gregory the Great Academy, a Catholic boarding school for boys in Pennsylvania.

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