I’d like to point you today to a resource Ruth Krall has told me about: as the video at the bottom of the posting indicates, recently, a lecture that Father Tom Doyle gave last month at Gonzaga University has come online in video format. The lecture is entitled “What the Sexual Abuse Phenomenon Has Done to the Catholic Church,” and was presented under the auspices of Gonzaga’s Flannery Lecture series.
Drawing on his thirty-five years of intense involvement with the abuse problems of the Catholic church, Tom Doyle focuses on the ways in which the abuse situation reveals something intently concerning about systemic corruption within the Catholic institution itself. His thesis is that the abuse phenomena are “deeply embedded in the very fiber of the institution itself.”
Here are some excerpts that will, I hope, pique your interest in listening to the lecture in its entirety:
The existence of sexual abuse in truth is a plague and the evidence of a profound contradiction that reaches to the fundamental core of the institutional Catholic church. And the contradiction is this — and it’s something that for the thirty-five years of my involvement, I still find impossible to wrap my brain around it: On the one side, we have the church, described as the mystical body of Christ, the people of God, the source of our earthly happiness, and the gateway to our eternal happiness.
And at the same time, it’s the church that has given us one of history’s most stringent and restrictive codes of sexual conduct, and taught us that even the slightest of violations can result in eternal damnation. This is the message we’ve received from the clerical leaders of the church. And at the same time, this church that has promised us salvation, earthly happiness, and tranquility if we obey the rules, has committed and systematically enabled the commission of acts against the most vulnerable in our midst, acts that are deemed by most if not all societies as the most horrific and disgusting that can be perpetrated on another human being. And I’m referring, as you know, to the sexual violation of children, of minors, and of adults.
But the focus has been on children, who have been the least able to defend themselves, the least able to process and understand this horrific violation, and the ones who have carried the damage and the scars into their adult life, hoping and praying and wondering if there was ever going to be any relief. …
This is the contradiction that we’ve lived with. It’s a chasm between the ideals of the Christian life and the betrayal of these ideals by those whom we’ve been taught to believe are Christ’s visible ministers to us (starts at about 13:15).
The system cannot fix itself. And almost from the beginning, the victims have realized that waiting for the institutional church to respond to them in a compassionate, supportive way, and to look at itself to try to find realistic explanations, have been a waste of time. Unlike any other destructive challenge the institutional church has faced, this time, the victims and the laity have emerged as the leaders and the force for both enlightenment and change. …
The scourge of sexual violation and its systemic enabling, its cover-up, the complex web of untruths, have revealed a harsh reality that has afflicted the people of God for centuries. First, sexual violation and other forms of corruption are deeply entrenched in the clerical culture, a culture that protects the clerics rather than the victims. Who are the clerics? Priests, bishops, cardinals, popes.
Second, the constant obsession of the hierarchy with protecting its image, its stature, its power, at the expense of the victims, has had the opposite effect. And it has, in fact, produced an erosion of the trust and the respect that they have depended on. This reality has revealed a much different church than that of Lumen gentium, of Mystici corporis, of the Catechism, the code of canon law. … You contrast the soaring mystical rhetoric in Lumen gentium or even Mystici corporis of Pius XII with the undeniable behavior of the institution over the past three decades that we have seen, and it’s the contrast that’s impossible to not only swallow but to comprehend.
The history of sexual abuse, denial, and cover-up, has been embedded in the clerical culture that has not only protected but enabled it, and this culture is no longer capable of hiding, controlling, minimizing, or eradicating it. Nor is it capable of continuing to sustain the myth of clerical superiority based on the magical thinking about the nature of sacred orders (starts at about 19:24).
As I listen, I think of a strong parallel between what Tom Doyle is saying here about the abuse horror show as a dark kairotic moment showing us what has really been there all along underneath the high-faulting magisterial rhetoric about the church and its mission, and what we’re now discovering in the U.S. about what our purported democracy has done and has been capable of doing from its inception.
Many of us did not see the underbelly of our democratic society because we inhabit its privileged center. We have been unwilling to listen to the testimony of those for whom our democracy does not function in the same way it functions for us — notably, people of color and other people dwelling on the margins of our society.
In similar fashion, until we began entertaining seriously the testimony of victims of the Catholic clerical system — notably, victims of clerical sexual violation, and also LGBTQ Catholics, and Catholic women — we could be satisfied with the soaring mystical vision of the church and its clerical leaders offered to us by documents like Lumen gentium and Mystici corporis.
For many of us, no longer. The scales have fallen from our eyes.
This video – it’s really worth watching it all – will summarise for you what the SAC sex abuse crisis has done to the RCC.
Tom Doyle is a wonderful man and a true priest.
Had he kept stum he would have gone to the very top. He is a canon lawyer.
But Tom decided not to sell his soul to the devil.
He put victims before personal deferment.
As a result he has suffered rejection, verbal abuse, clerical hatred etc.
But he will go to God with a clean conscience, a pure heart and a non-polutted soul.
I’m sure that Tom has imperfections like all of us.
He is a shepherd who decided not to run with the wolf pack.