Monday, November 7, 2011

When spiritual authority becomes a travesty

I've written extensively about the clergy sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, as my regular readers will know. I've done so not in anger, but in tremendous pain and spiritual anguish. As a lifelong Catholic and a former priest, I truly don't have words to describe how much it hurts to see my spiritual home torn apart by the sins of commission and omission of her leaders.

What makes it even worse is that those scandals have gone on, and on, and on. They never seem to come to an end. The latest was reported in Germany on Saturday, according to a report in the Independent newspaper in England.

Germany's biggest Catholic-owned publishing house has been rocked by disclosures that it has been selling thousands of pornographic novels with titles such as Sluts Boarding School and Lawyer's Whore with the full assent of the country's leading bishops.

The revelations made in the publishing-industry newsletter Buchreport concern Weltbild, a company with an annual €1.7bn (£1.5bn) turnover and 6,400 employees. It is Germany's largest bookseller after Amazon and wholly owned by the Catholic Church.

Buchreport revealed that Weltbild's massive assortment of titles available to customers online includes some 2,500 "erotic" books with unmistakably lewd titles including Call Me Slut!, Take Me Here, Take Me Now! and Lawyer's Whore, to name a few. The publisher's website also pictures the titles' lascivious dust jackets that feature colour photographs of scantily clad women in high heels and erotic underwear.

. . .

Catholic bishops responded with a statement claiming that "a filtering system failure" at the publishing house had allowed the books to stray on to the market. "We will put a stop to the distribution of possibly pornographic content in future," they said.

But Bernhard Müller, editor of the Catholic magazine PUR, dismissed the clerics' reaction as grossly hypocritical. He alleged that the pornography scandal at Weltbild had been going on for at least a decade with the Church's full knowledge. Mr Müller said that in 2008, a group of concerned Catholics had sent bishops a 70-page document containing irrefutable evidence that Weltbild published books that promoted pornography, Satanism and magic. They demanded that the publisher withdraw the titles.

But their protests appear to have been completely ignored. Writing in the Die Welt newspaper, Mr Müller said most of the bishops refused to respond to the charges. "The sudden proclaimed astonishment of many church leaders that pornographic material is being distributed by their publishing house, is play acting – bad play acting," Mr Müller said. "Believers have been complaining to their bishops about this for years."

There's more at the link.

There's simply no excuse whatsoever for this scandal. The firm in question is wholly owned by the Church, and under the direct and immediate collective control of the German bishops. Its own Web site states:

The company faces the daily challenge of harmonizing its Christian world view with the requirements of the market in a convincing manner. It focuses strongly on its values. Verlagsgruppe Weltbild’s Shareholders are 12 catholic dioceses in Germany, the Association of German Dioceses as well as the Soldatenseelsorge Berlin.

That being the case, there's no way on earth that such a situation should ever have arisen; and no way on earth that, if it began to arise, it should not have been immediately stopped by the German bishops. This scandal represents nothing more or less than a wilful disregard, and a complete abdication, of their responsibilities by the bishops concerned.

The lists of recent scandals in the Catholic Church are appallingly long, and, as noted above, just keep on growing. I can't for the life of me understand why the Pope hasn't used his authority as the Vicar of Christ to insist that each and every episcopal conference must take immediate action to 'clear the decks'; uncover any and all remaining scandals, punish the guilty, rectify the things that have gone wrong, and restore the Church to the condition of purity that is her birthright. It may be, of course, that he hasn't done so because it simply isn't possible . . . If that's the case, may God have mercy on us all - because we're going to need it.

I'm reminded of a warning delivered at a leadership conference in Rome during 1975: "Days of darkness are coming on the world, days of tribulation ... Buildings that are now standing will not be standing. Supports that are there ... now will not be there." It certainly looks to this observer as if that warning may relate to the enormity of the scandals currently engulfing the Church. They're shaking her to her foundations. More and more, it's becoming clear that the ancient truth that the Church exists in her people, not her structures - whether the latter are physical or institutional - is being proven once again. Perhaps in our generation we, too, will be left with an anawim, a 'poor yet faithful remnant', who will keep the Faith irrespective of what their leaders do - or fail to do.

I fully accept that some individual Bishops are men of outstanding personal holiness and great pastoral ability, and I thank God for them; but it appears that they're in a minority. Furthermore, when the Bishops act collectively rather than individually - i.e. in national or regional episcopal conferences - it seems that something frequently goes terribly wrong. If anyone disagrees with those conclusions, then I invite them to provide an alternate explanation for the ongoing scandals in the five lists linked above. Overwhelmingly, those scandals occurred, and were allowed to grow, because those in authority - individually and/or collectively - neglected their duties, sometimes by default, sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately. The rot may have begun at the bottom, so to speak, but it was allowed to fester and grow and spread by those at the top - those whose responsibility it was to cauterize the infection, heal the wound, and restore the Body of Christ to what it's called to be.

Last year, when I discussed the unfolding of the US clergy sex abuse scandal and how it affected me, I wrote:

I lay awake many nights, my thoughts churning, trying to find a way out of this dilemma. In the end, the problem boiled down to just two fundamental questions.

  • Could I stand up in front of my congregation and assure them, in all honesty and sincerity, that they could trust the collective bishops of the Church to be wise and apostolic guides through this crisis and beyond?
  • Could I honestly advise a young man considering a vocation that he should aspire to be a priest in an organization led by such men, and promise lifelong obedience to them?

I concluded, heartsick and sore, that my answer to both questions could no longer be anything but “No”.

If that was the case, it also became clear that I could no longer in good conscience remain faithful to the promise of obedience I'd made when I was ordained. I therefore withdrew from the ministry. I won't try to describe the immense mental and spiritual anguish that decision cost me. They continue to this day . . . but I couldn't lie to my people, or to myself.

I'm very sad indeed that some of my former priest colleagues are now being forced to confront the same dilemma. In the past, they took a different approach to mine, deciding to stay with their ministry and continue to serve their people in the hope that they could bring enough light to counteract the darkness. Tragically, the ongoing Chinese water torture of scandal, after scandal, after scandal, is wearing them down, too; and their congregations are no longer listening to their attempts to explain the situation in a better light.

I've had more than a few discussions with these former colleagues, all of whom are now a great deal more sympathetic to and understanding of the decision I made. Many of them are now facing the same crisis of conscience I did, and wondering whether they can honestly and honorably continue with their ministry when faced with such dereliction of duty by those in collective authority over them. May God grant them wisdom and insight to find the right answers; and may He have mercy on us all, and on the Church.

I don't know what else to say. My heart and soul are very heavy tonight. When will this insanity end?



Unknown said...

Does it sound callous when I say I believe that serving the church is not the same as serving god, so "why the battle of conscience?" It seems to me that leaving the church has freed you to serve God. Leaving the church would be a tragedy only if the church was all it claimed to be. What angers me is that you, and every other true servant, have been deceived and betrayed.

STxRynn said...

I'd never heard of anawim. Interesting word. Your words and that of Steve Kimes reminded me of an old hymn: Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus. Verse 3:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
Stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you,
Ye dare not trust your own:
Put out the gospel armor,
Each piece put on with pray'r;
Where duty calls, or danger,
Be never wanting there.

The arm of flesh WILL fail you, only the Lord Christ is able "to keep you from falling and present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy."

Once again, it's all about Jesus.

Take heart my friend. The Lord is working here.


Anonymous said...

Corruption of many kinds is not new to the church. I think I can offer a small explanation of why this has occurred for hundreds of years.

The church has allowed itself to obtain power that violates the simple rule of "rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and rendering unto God that which is God's"

By accumulating secular power the church has ventured into areas that allow corruption. Once this door is open, moral corruption is inevitable.

also, the assertion that the church has sole possession of the keys to the gates of heaven for many years allowed a degree of control over the lives of men in secular areas as well as spiritual areas.

The merging of the church with secular power always corrupts the spiritual powers.

Anonymous said...

I am constantly having to put on my Apologetics hat when nastily confronted by the sola scriptura, sola fide Christians and when my auguments cannot be refuted, they then always remind me of the past and present scandals. There is no defense for what the church, though it's bishops, did or failed to do. I believe the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church Christ founded. We are definitely going through the fire of purification. I pray that I can continue as one of the Anawim.

Dad29 said...

Umnnnhhh....the CHURCH did not 'do' these things; Bishops and priests did.

The Church, (de fide) is indefectible and spotless.

Your anguish is shared (albeit to a lesser degree), Peter, by laity who work in the Church, too.

Personally, I went the other way: stayed in, and fighting (sometimes nicely) for what is right.

Rev. Paul said...

This does leave all Christians of conscience heartsick and weary. But God is faithful, and continues to refresh us while we remain turned to Him.

trailbee said...


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

by Emily Dickinson

I am so sorry for your pain.

Anonymous said...

The blogger the Anchoress wonders if we are going to see a smaller but truly spiritual Christianity develop over the next few years. I hope she is right. I have a few disagreements with various church teachings (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox) but Christianity and Judaism are still vital in all senses of the word.

My prayers are with you Peter, and I hope G-d will continue to grant you strength and discernment, and a large dollop of peace to go with it!


Anonymous said...

The scandals will never ever stop, so grow up and get over it........ Your a priest after all!

................G.K. Chesterton once said that the best argument against Christianity is Christians. That is certainly true of Catholicism. Pope John Paul II, putting it politely, says, “The Catholic Church does not forget that many among her members cause God’s plan to be discernible only with difficulty.” (Ut Unum Sint, 11). But is that really an argument against the truth of the faith? I don’t see how. To argue that Catholicism is untrue because it doesn’t transform the lives of those who don’t practice it, is like arguing that aspirin doesn’t work because it doesn’t relieve the headaches of those who don’t take it....

If all you want to find is the negative of Roman Catholism, then that is all you will find.
The following two links speak for themselves.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Clergy Sexual Abuse

Peter said...

@Anonymous on 11/9/2011 at 12.30 p.m.:

I'm afraid you don't get it. Instead of actually reading my article and responding to the points it made, you've assumed I'm attacking Catholicism as untrue. I'm not. You can read any of my articles on the clergy sex abuse crisis, and not one of them contains any such insinuation. You've set up a 'straw man' and responded to it, when in fact it bears no relation to what I said in the first place.

Neither does it help to link to a site highlighting instances of sexual abuse by Protestant and other clergy. Sure, sex abuse is a universal phenomenon. No-one's denying that. However, for the pot to call the kettle black is not an appropriate or helpful response. We have to deal with the sin in our own ranks before we point out the sin in the ranks of other churches. (See Matthew 7:3-5).

Helpful, thoughtful, appropriate comments are always welcome. Knee-jerk responses that aren't related to the point at issue don't help anyone.

On a Wing and a Whim said...


You've completely lost me when you say "Umnnnhhh....the CHURCH did not 'do' these things; Bishops and priests did.

The Church, (de fide) is indefectible and spotless."

What is The Church but the community of believers in Christ? And if the head of the community has people who are rotten in heart and soul, and fleshed out by people who willing turn a blind eye to that rot and willful sin, then what is that church but corrupt?

There can be a shining ideal, abstract and beautiful - but frankly, if you look at the reality, whether it's Communist Russia or the Catholic Church, and see lives, hearts, minds, and souls destroyed - your shining ideal it isn't, and clinging to abstract doctrine and proclaiming it untainted isn't going to undo the harm, or prevent further harm - nor is it going to do much to convince the rest of us out here in the world who judge you by the fruits of your actions.

If the church is supposed to be the body of Christ... do you really see the Church as it has acted for the past thirty years as something that Christ would welcome with open arms and a declaration of "well done, my good and faithful servants"?