This is the 3rd and final blog in this series dealing with the effort of the state to hold a Roman Catholic bishop legally accountable for failing to follow church procedure in dealing with the sexual misconduct of a clergyman as reported in the NY TIMES on 14 October 2011, Bishop is Indicted; Charge is Failing to Report Abuse. The previous blog is Holding Bishops Accountable for Clergy Misconduct.
A lot of the responsibility for ensuring policy compliance starts with and falls upon the bishops. Our bishops insist that monarchical episcopate puts all power in their hands. So too responsibility for what happens falls upon them, and it appears that the state agrees with this and is going to hold bishops accountable for abuse committed by their clergy. Church leaders failing to follow PSP (even on small issues), being too trusting of the accused and not responding to accusations with urgency are going to find themselves facing criminal charges in America. These are all exact issues which the Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee (SMPAC) has been endeavoring to make our bishops aware of. Bishops according to St. Paul are supposed to be good managers (I Timothy 3:1-4; Titus 1:7-9) – not just the focal points of liturgical events, but good administrators. Canon law even requires that bishops have someone help them manage diocesan finances because the bishop is responsible for overseeing (administering) his diocese. Today, an additional requirement is being asked of them – be effective administrators. These problems have been brought on not by the world invading the Church but by church leadership not doing what they needed to do within the Body of Christ. (see Stanley Fish’s Is Religion Above the Law? for a recent discussion on the complex relationship in America between the church, its doctrines and disciplines and the rights of American citizens).
While some are complaining that society’s interest in clergy sexual misconduct amounts to nothing more than secularism trying to invade the church and destroy it, there is a different reality these folks are ignoring. What we face in clergy sexual misconduct is that people in the church have encountered evil in the church, hidden under the guise of clerical leadership. It is abuse at the hands of clergy and then abuse and lies and cover-up from the institutional leadership. This is a failure of the Church itself. If there is an invasion of the church by the world it comes in the form of clergy who engage in abuse and misconduct. We have for reasons inexplicable embraced secrecy and darkness, the devil’s friends, as the very means and methods of dealing with sin. The world is asking us to lead by allowing light to shine on every operation of the Church. However, truthfully, Christ is asking us to do the same to protect His flock. We in the church shouldn’t need the world to tell us to do what is right. Christ has already told us, but if we don’t listen to Him, He will speak to us through the world.
The Church which is supposed to be a light to the world, which is supposed to convict the world of sin, which is supposed to save people from evil, has shown itself at times not to be a safe place and has shown itself to be very subject to the effects of the Fall. This is a stunning failure for the Church; it is a call to repentance for all who have accepted positions of leadership in the church.
And it is not the world attacking the church – the church is being attacked from within, from its leadership which does not resist its own passions and temptations. People who are or were in the Church and members of the Church have been abused by institutional leadership. This is not the world attacking the church, though perhaps Satan, but we have men in the church who are willing to be agents of evil.
Additionally, part of the sickness we see in the Church is that Church hierarchy declares that the Church is equated to and made co-terminus with the institutional leadership. Thus the leadership no matter how corrupt is the church and so in defending itself and its decisions, the leadership is defending the church (and sinful behavior) against the membership! The people of God no matter how much Christ embraces them as His own and as His own Body become viewed as a threat to the church (= the institutional leadership). And so allegations of abuse are often treated as threats to the church. Rather than the abuse itself being the threat to the church, leadership views the laity making the allegations against the clergy as threatening – as allowing secularism into the church. It really is sad that the church itself cannot distinguish between what is truly evil and what merely exposes the evil.
But people in the church who are victimized by clerical abuse are the Church and those who abuse have placed themselves outside of the Church no matter how many panagias they wear.
The church is not under attack from the world, we are not under attack but rather the attack is from within – shepherds who are wolves and who are intent on defending their institutional power and privileges against the people of God. We are all and each attacked by these offending clergy and bishops; we are not attacked by the victims who expose the crimes. Nor, as a friend added, are we attacked “by the lawyers, investigators, mental health professionals who offer advice on the matter.” All of these people are working to help and heal the victims and to help the church uphold its high moral standards.
The victims find themselves forced to go outside of the church to find healing, to find safety, to find mercy, to find justice. And again, as a friend noted, sometimes “this mercy and justice will take the form of prosecutions and civil suits.”
That is what is so sick about clergy sexual abuse. As St. Paul said when one member of the Body suffers, all suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26). Sexual abuse in the church is a sickness that affects the entire Body. And even if there is but one case of sexual abuse in the Church, the entire Body suffers.
What has been decided by the state in charging the Kansas City Roman Catholic bishop is that “ministerial exception,” which Stanley Fish defines as the case law that “exempts religious associations from complying with neutral, generally applicable laws in some, circumstances”, does not apply when the abuse of children is involved. Ministers, priests, bishops, clergy are not protected from prosecution in pedophilia cases, and now no longer will clergy supervisors, namely our bishops, be protected if in negligently failing to protect children they do not use due diligence in proactively dealing with abusing clergy. Churches are expected to have Policy Standards and Procedures which proactively protect children from abuse. Failure to follow these PSP may now lead to criminal prosecution not only of abusing clergy but of the bishops who have the responsibility to oversee them and compliance to PSP.
We are trying to cure the illness, not just cope with it. We have to work in the Church, as another friend noted, to remove any opportunity for the responsible leadership to make future excuses about what happened. We don’t need excuses. We need to allow the light of Christ to shine into every corner of the Church and into every heart of our church members to expose sin and evil wherever it may be and to perform the healing which is necessary for the church to be the Church.
This blog series can also be read as one PDF: Blog Series (PDF).