Friday, January 25, 2013


Here are clips of actual wording of Roman Catholic Canon law in the matter of sex:  

Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity. . . 
Clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give rise to scandal among the faithful . . .

Neither the Catholic nor the Orthodox tradition considers the rule of clerical celibacy to be an unchangeable dogma, but instead as a rule that could be adjusted if the Church thought it appropriate and to which exceptions are admitted. . . 
From the time of the first ecumenical council the Christian church forbids voluntary physical castration. . .  [ Guilt is a terrible thing.]

While cruising Google, I learned a new word:  
The Council of Nicaea, AD 325, decides in Canon 3:
The great Synod has stringently forbidden any bishop, presbyter, deacon, or any one of the clergy whatever, to have a subintroducta dwelling with him, except only a mother, or sister, or aunt, or such persons only as are beyond all suspicion.  Notice that it is assumed only adult females are a danger and that the taboo on incest is assumed to be effective against them.  The concern is for the clergyperson rather than the “subintroducta.”  But then, that’s the subject.  I don’t know whether there is canon law specifically for “subintroductas.”

The rule of celibacy/continence, conflated together, developed over the same centuries that Protestantism and other forms of dissent were fermenting between 1100 and 1500.  Part of the demand that priests submerge their personal relationships to the larger Roman Catholic Church was to make the priests more Holy, more special, more dedicated.  The Orthodox and Russian Catholic Churches were not so challenged by the pressure of change or European war politics in which the Pope intervened, and therefore the Orthodox and Russian branches went on allowing marriage and children.  

I don’t know whether there is any evidence at all about the 1100 AD abuse of children by religious people, either by violence or sexually.  I suspect children were often victims then, no matter the context. Consider that punishment in those days included burning at the stake for heresy.  The average lifespan was not much longer than needed to create a set of children and get some of them to adolescence.  Luther, of course, married a nun and often spoke of the rewards, saying that when the Devil pursued him, he put his hand between his wife’s legs and thus turned the Devil away.  This is all history and research and not exactly relevant to the fishing in the newspaper ads every day.  

The following is a first brainstorming list of what I think might be relevant, esp. in the case of priests preying on boys.  This is a mixed list so far: forces from history that encourage abuse, forces in today’s church, in the personalities of priests that attract them to the work and possibly twist them once there, in the boys that make them easy prey, in the entire hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic Church as compared to other similar institutions, and maybe some other things.  NOT the essential evil of priests or even the demonization of individuals.  I’m after things that can be changed.

1.  Altar boys, who are chosen because they are “good boys,” are behind the scenes early in the morning (you know about morning “woodies”?), trained to be obedient and to do mysterious things with oil, water, wine and wafers, putting clothes on and off in a private space.  They are simply present and easily intimidated, could even be pulled around or struck without retaliating because one’s parents feel being there is an honor.  This is less true with the addition of altar girls.  

2.  The opportunities for abuse are greater now where churches are understaffed, under-attended.  Priest and child are more likely to be alone together without interruption.  Confession is also a point of vulnerability, although much lessened by getting rid of the wooden “box” and speaking to the priest in plain sight but out of earshot.  (Change IS possible.)  

3.  Our culture defines “sex” as nubile girls having full-frontal vaginal intercourse, completely undressed.  Anything different is not considered sex, even in the mind of the President of the United States.  Boys simply don’t count any more than sheep.

4.  The reward of a priest used to be high status, moral authority, and ability to step onto protected ground, as in an ICU ward, a battleground, a prison, and other places of high seriousness.  This is much diminished.  Not just priests, but also teachers, doctors, lawyers, leaders and so on have lost prestige and privilege.  Professions no longer profess.

5.  Catholic parishes once included everyone in a whole area but now they tend to be much more “gathered” and therefore harder to serve, more exposed to dissenters.  The authority of priests is much less. 

6.  The willingness of the church to punish members by forbidding them access to communion or by defrocking priests is weaker because the church is shrinking which endangers the whole institution, so the peculiar hypocrisy of giving communion to people who are divorced or using contraception seems somehow related to the hypocrisy of covering up priestly misbehavior.  Boundaries are blurred.

7.  Perhaps priests see themselves in boys and perhaps they are angry at themselves, particularly if they are abusing boys (maybe because of trying to resolve early abuse against themselves), but the boys will feel the abuse as anger at themselves, and this will make them feel they’ve done something wrong, so that shame will keep them quiet and compliant.  The shame and guilt on both sides intermesh and perpetuate, festering into fear and hatred.

8.  A subcategory of priests (as in every group of humans) will be grandiose narcissists so preoccupied with their own inner lives that they simply don’t consider any other human beings.  They are in “empathy” with God, their only equal.  This is what drew them into the priesthood and it will keep them there.  They are likely to rise through the hierarchy, if only because it is their goal.  As people become alerted to recognizing toxic narcissism, their power will diminish.

9.  The eroticism of violence is explicit in the lives of saints.  Sexualized torture abounds in the stories and their illustrations.  Using it to educate children can be a big mistake.

10.  Clergy of all kinds develop a kind of subculture in which, like cops or emergency responders, they can relax and let out their real feelings.  The natural result of this bonding is to protect their own, as well as the larger institution.  Men or women who would not tolerate anyone they knew damaging children, will yet be slow to make accusations or investigate.  There may not be a clear or protected way to act.

There is a process called “formation” of clergy readiness and character discernment.  This has become a concern for many denominations and seminaries.  What works, what the goal ought to be, how to balance the survival of individual against the survival of the institution, are not perfected.  Anyway, what is relevant will change as the culture changes.  Therefore it is vital to keep in mind the goal:  the safety of children, because they are also in a process of “formation.”  Sacrificing children will destroy the institution.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although there may be some truth in this post regarding recent psychological and social trends in perception, so much of the post shows a lack of familiarity with the Church of the 50s-70s, that the whole post is called into question. Specifically:
(1) Altar boys are "putting clothes on and off in a private space." If you count taking off hats and coats in cold weather, I suppose that is true. Quickly donning a cassock over everyday clothes, and a surplice over that, doesn't really count as putting clothes on and off. Further, in most urban parish churches (possibly not small rural churches) the priest donned vestments (over everyday clothes) in a separate room on the other side of the altar. I don't recall priests and altar boys vesting themselves in the same room.
(2) "Confession is also a point of vulnerability, although much lessened by getting rid of the wooden "box" and speaking to the priest in plain sight but out of earshot." In the traditional "box" there is only a small screen between the priest and penitent, with only the most shadowy visibility and no possibility of physical contact. It is not that quiet, since many times a person on the other side of the priest (most were two-sided) could be heard, and neither priest nor penitent could tell when someone would enter in the middle of things. Getting rid of the box insures MORE verbal privacy.
(3) Anyone who thinks our culture defines sex purely as nubile girls having full-frontal intercourse is completely ignoring both the Catholic and (even more) the Protestant/YMCA emphasis on avoiding "self-abuse" during the late 19th and the first 60% or so othe 20th century. It received more time and attention by far than attention to females, since a far more frequent and accessible temptation was involved.
(4) The Lives of the Saints and (I presume) Fox's Book of Martyrs appealed to very young boys (don't know about girls) who have a taste for the grotesque and morbid, who liked to sing "the worms go in, the worms go out, the worms play pinochle on your snout," etc Flamboyant martyrdoms were an equal opportunity affair, and any suggested erotic component is a modern conceit derived from Freud. Which is not to say that violence in, say, comic books cannot have an erotic component. But in truth the Lives of the Saints for the young have been replaced by books on dinosaurs, equally grotesque and equally violent, and I am not aware of any erotic components of an addiction to dinosaur stories...