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Vol. 15, No. 4, 2016
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[Note: the author's pseudonym does not have any religious connotation or implication.]


Recently a friend asked me what I think of the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church. This prompted me to think about what my opinion actually is, since I have always treated this issue as one of those that I brush under the carpet for the simple reason that I do not need to be concerned. Before you label this as intellectual cowardice or Catholic blindness, I need to say that it's been many years since I made the conscious decision to spend my energy and time only on things that have a direct impact on my life and/or that my life can have an impact on.

At any rate, I believe the issue of the scandal impact on the Catholic universe cannot be addressed properly unless one draws a clear distinction between:

1. Catholicism as a faith
2. The Catholic Church as an organization
3. The misdoings of some members of the Church.

I am saying this because I find these three contexts happily mixed together in anything I read or heard said on this topic, and I think confusing them does not help an objective assessment of the situation. So, here are my 3-Cs.

1. Context #1 must clearly not be affected by context #3. Anybody who would say "I am no longer a Catholic because some priests are pedophiles," or even "because the Church has tolerated and for a long time refused to acknowledge the problem," is in my opinion in the same league of people who would say that they are no longer loyal to their country because the politicians there are corrupt or tolerate corruption. In fact this is a weak analogy: I rank faith much higher in a system of beliefs than nationalism.
I for one go to Church because it is a weekly hour that anchors me to my belief that there is a Superior Dimension, and that anybody can reach it in this life by following Jesus’ teachings: this would warrant the discussion on what Jesus’ teaching is actually about, and while I am only an amateur in this field I venture to say that there's way more to it than what meets the eye of the average Gospel reader. If one cares to find out more, there are plenty of books on the Gnostic Christian tradition. I recommend Maurice Nicoll's The New Man and The Mark amongst many others.

At any rate, my point is that the “allegedly 2% of priests are pedophiles” ought to have no bearing whatsoever to the context of faith.

2. The Catholic Church is a big organization that has been in existence for 2000 years. It has gone through a lot of bad stuff, and yet it is still a huge religious, economic and even political world power. I am not attaching any value to this, just stating a fact. I don't share the view that because of this recent hurdle the Church might never completely recover or even survive in its present form. During the 70 years of the Avignon period (1309-1377), the Papacy was completely dominated by the French king, and for forty years after that until 1417 the Church was in total chaos, with, at one point, four rival Popes competing for power and recognition, each with their share of Kings and Emperors behind them. Nonetheless, at some point all the powers agreed that there had to be only one Pope, which finally came to happen again in 1417.

In the following century the Church situation continued to deteriorate, and by 1517 it was so bad that Martin Luther's public denunciations of Church misdoings (as well as some of its dubious theological positions) gained such a widespread support that it triggered the Protestant diaspora. It took 40 years for the Church to react and re-gather, but by the end of the Council of Trent it had gained back its power base and from there it went on without the Protestant half of Europe, if anything made stronger by the shock.
I need to make it clear that I am not passing a value judgment, I am looking at this from the perspective of the dynamics of history, or the perspective of the effectiveness of the immunological responses of an organization to its diseases.

Today, if you go to a Sunday Mass or just talk to any churchgoer, you will find that:

(a) There are more people going to church now than there were as recently as two years ago, and a noticeable number of them are under 30. I attribute this to the Pope Francis effect and the general push for renewal in the Church. I have no hard statistics here, but in my recent attendances to Mass in different churches in different countries, I observed that the Church was almost packed every time, and the sermons generally capture the congregation's attention much more so than they used to, to the credit of Pope Francis's exhortation to the priests not to be boring.

(b) There is no Mass without a collective (not just the priest's) prayer for the victims of abuse and for forgiveness. In true Christian love spirit there should be also a prayer for the perpetrators, but that I guess would be asking too much of the ordinary Catholic folks and besides, what would the media make of it?

(c) Priests are fully aware that they are under a lot of scrutiny now, and they go out of their way to show impeccable behaviour and honesty of intentions (again, this is my observation).
I think that the scandal has certainly fuelled the spite of non-Catholics and alienated a lot of lukewarm Catholics, but the true believers are considering themselves part of the congregation not less than before, and are responding to the wave of anti-Catholicism by closing the ranks and pushing for a clean up.

3. I truly think that pedophilia, especially in a context of trust, is a hideous crime that should be denounced and severely punished. Like any normal person I am deeply sorry for the victims and selfishly thank my God that none of the people I love has ever been touched by that. And I also think that the alleged 2% of pedophile priests, if true, would make an awfully big number. But when I look at the Mass celebrant, I choose to see one of the other 98%. It's not blindness, it's a deliberate choice to see what the man represents rather than what the man might be. A choice inevitably if not entirely rationally supported by the circumstantial evidence that in my two decades as a Catholic (including ages 3 to 15) and in five years of school run by priests, I have never had any inkling of inappropriate behaviour towards me or the kids around me. I know this is not an objective probatory argument, and I am aware of the high statistical probability that without my knowledge some bad stuff might have been going on, but subjectively it has inevitably become part of my cultural makeup.

One last point: the scandal has also spurred a fierce attack on celibacy as an ‘explanation’ for pedophilia, which is odd because it sounds like a way to excuse those pedophile priests by taking away their responsibility in their acts to put it in the hands of the Catholic Church. I say, if you choose to be a Catholic priest, you choose celibacy, period. The Church does not force you. Don't blame it for people's perversion, weakness or lack of integrity. Blame its hierarchy for condoning it, but not the institution of celibacy for causing it. To say that pedophilia is the consequence of celibacy is like saying that rape is the consequence of miniskirts.



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The difficulty I had with this is that it wasn't mad and angry enough at all the terrible things that the Church didn't want to see. Empathy is having feeling for others even though it didn't happen to you. Not enough in all these positive things you talk about.
A refreshing voice from the wilderness! Tthank you for this, Ravindra.











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