My heart goes out these days to our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. I can’t imagine how challenging it is right now amidst the onslaught of accusations of abuse among the clergy. Pope Benedict XVI finally understood what must be said when he declared, “This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way, that the greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside but is born from the sin in the church.” He has moved from blame to shame. It is a great distance to travel, one that church leaders and members often take. It’s easy to feel overly criticized when you haven’t looked close enough at your own denial.
The Roman Catholic church has a unique understanding of priesthood; ordained for life as persons and not for a particular task. They are part of the whole priesthood, a sort of monolithic body often seen as invulnerable and infallible.
Protecting one another for fear that discredit to one is discredit to all, causes the ranks to tighten up and deny the reality of broken and damaged lives. Some have thought that if you attack one clergy, you attack the church and that even Christ is culpable. It smacks of a closed, rigid faith. it places the institution above people. It strengthens those in power and diminishes those who cannot be heard. All institutions have a tendency for self protection, no less the church. Christ is not the church. We readily fail to make his presence real.
Sexual abuse is about power, not sex. Our culture reveres the powerful, the aggressive, the quick to act, those in positions of authority and wielders of violence. You could say that sexual abuse is very American, part of a power-hungry, macho, control-driven culture.
As Presbyterians we say we are about equality, democratic participation, and providing voice for all. Yet there are personal and corporate tendencies for power and abuse can occur. Wherever there are egos who think they are above others, deserve attention or believe they are an alternative savior, abuse may follow. When sexual abuse is uncovered in the Presbyterian Church we expose it when its discovered, provide healing as much as possible for victims and bring perpetrators to justice, and bring in the legal authorities.
Sometime it is too late, the perpetrator ‘s crimes are 40 years old, the victims struggle in their marriages or suffer from disease. But we don’t hide it, we don’t cover up, we declare that brokenness is among us, lives have been damaged or destroyed, and work for healing where it is possible. We believe that none are perfect and that clergy especially are held accountable. Yet they too are not beyond God’s healing power, by removal, reconciliation or counseling.
I’m glad we have appropriate regard for Presbyterian ministers. There’s even hope for them!