This is the first installment of How Do You Sleep At Night?!: Catholic answers to common objections.
(The title of this series comes from a rather heated exchange I had recently with a fallen-away Catholic on a secular news blog. He was angry that I remain Catholic and defend the Church after learning of the sex abuse scandal. So, his beef is the first topic of this series.)
The sex abuse scandal is probably the most common objection raised against the Church in the United States today. The question seems to be: If Catholic priests can abuse children, how can the Catholic Church be Christ’s Church and how can people stay in it?! Out of sheer Christian charity and honesty, this question must be addressed directly. Here’s my brief answer:
Fact 1: Many people over many years were abused by a very small minority of Catholic priests and leaders.
On a related note: The vast majority of Catholic priests and leaders are, at a minimum, upstanding citizens and, in many cases, striving heroically for holiness. Thus, it is a grave injustice to claim that all or most priests are abusers and to make jokes with that punchline! We do not lump the innocent with the guilty! Abuse is no more rampant in the Church than it is in any other religious group or secular group (teachers, mailmen, plumbers, etc.).
Also, many of the accused priests are dead and are thus unable to defend themselves, and even if they are still alive, they are forced to try to prove, often years later, that they did not do what they are accused of — the burden of proof seems to be on the defendant, not the plaintiff here; this raises the distinct possibility that people wanting to make a fast buck off of the Church at the expense of Catholic parishioners and genuine abuse victims may lie! Additionally, there are many people who hate the Church’s positions on abortion and other issues and would be more than glad to lie to harm the Church’s credibility! Furthermore, some of the accusers “recovered” their memories of abuse through highly suggestive “therapy” that may in fact convince them of the reality of some things that never even happened!
In fact, though abuse did happen, it is likely that the scandal has been inflated for malicious reasons.
Fact 2: In addition to being a violation of civil and criminal law, sex abuse is a grave violation of immortal Catholic teaching — God’s Law — against the abuse of children, homosexuality, abuse of one’s priestly authority, etc. God is the most offended party!
On a related note: The Commandments and Church teaching and law predate the civil and criminal codes — and are firmly opposed to this sort of abuse! The fact is that if the priests in question had followed the Commandments and Church teaching, there would be no sex abuse scandal! There is no problem with Church teaching, then, for it is in place to prevent these evils.
Abuse of even one person is a grave wrong done to him and to God! Sex abuse victims need proper psychological and spiritual care and are also entitled to punative damages (money from the guilty to punish them for their offenses) from those who hurt them.
Furthermore, it is inaccurate to call much of the abuse “child abuse.” In reality, much of the abuse was man-on-man homosexual abuse, with boys almost at adulthood. Here again, if Church laws about celibacy and homosexuality had been followed, there would be no sex abuse scandal!
We all need to strive to eliminate the sin from our lives, then, and follow Church teachings. Those who smugly assert their moral superiority over abusive priests are often turning a blind eye to their own sinfulness and, in some cases, grave sinfulness against God!
Fact 3: Many bishops handled the scandal poorly, attempting to cover it and rehabilitate the offenders within the Church.
On a related note: Many have attributed the basest of motives to the bishops. Their motives may have indeed been bad, or they may have been doing their best to protect the Church from the very outpouring of hate that has materialized! Perhaps they also thought that it was their pastoral duty to try to rehabilitate abusive priests. Though they made mistakes, as all of us do, they are now learning from them and turning accused abusers over to the authorities, even in cases of very flimsy accusations. Who knows how many innocent priests have been ruined by false accusations?!
Furthermore, a number of those involved in groups that accuse the bishops have long had an anti-Church agenda and are less than diligent about weeding-out false abuse accusations. The same can be said about many of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who have at times bragged about their efforts to eliminate the Catholic Church! Attempting to undermine the Church has become a nasty little cottage industry. Who pays the price of this profiteering off of abuse? The real abuse victims, of course, as well as the many good priests subject to public contempt, the Catholic faithful who suffer the loss of parishes and services, and the poor and others served less by the impoverished Church! This is shameful; American justice does not punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty who cannot be made to pay, let alone those whose guilt has not been proven!
The bottom line is that flawed and sinful priests do not make the Church any less Christ’s, as every last person on earth is a sinner. Sin is no “smoking gun”! Priests, though in service of the unblemished Body of Christ, need Christ’s saving power just like everyone else! Catholics, then, are obliged to stay in the Church and honor the priests who bring Christ to them in the sacraments because Christ wills us to be part of His Body! We only punish ourselves by removing ourselves from the avenues of God’s grace out of spite for His Church and priests!