Columnist Maureen Dowd (a Roman Catholic) says that the homilies of the Rev. Percival D’Silva are on the “soporific” side. Obviously, we are in agreement with this characterization because not only are the sermons of priests, ministers, imams, etc. sleep inducing but the entire “institution” of religion is fast asleep.
Realizing this about her own church Dowd wonders if Catholics should “demand that the Vatican, which has been shrugging off the pedophilia crisis and rejecting reforms that could alleviate it, admit its failings and step into the modern world? The comments of Vatican officials reflect the depths of their denial about how many American priests are gay—anywhere from 30 percent to 50 percent by various estimates.” She has unwittingly begun to reveal two things in this column. Not only that the Roman Catholic Church is asleep, but that it engages in denial. If we use our powers of observation, we will all come to realize that all institutions are operating as if mesmerized and that they all engage in denial, lies and secrets, not because the people who operate them are “evil” but because they “know not what they do.”
Specifically, what insights in Dowd’s column support our claims of institutional unconsciousness and the behaviors of lies, denials and secrets? “The vow of celibacy serves as a magnet for men running away from sexual feelings they are ashamed of. And the allegedly celibate society these men enter retards their sexual development, funneling their impulses in inappropriate directions. Vatican officials don’t want to deal with that. Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos recently complained, noting the absence of studies comparing the prevalence of pedophilia in other professions.” Did he mean to say that if pedophilia is prevalent in other institutions the church is off the hook?
Citing a book by her colleague, Frank Bruni, Dowd brings in the male perspective. “‘That ignores the unique sway priests have over children and the extra damage they can do,’ says my New York Times colleague Frank Bruni, an author of the 1993 book A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church. When a man of God abuses you, that’s an awfully devastating wound.’”
When all of the institutions of America are unconscious and, in effect, abusing their citizens, it is more than devastating, it is a descent into an unsustainable disastrous future. In this broader perspective, we are all “perpetrators.”
Dowd’s sense of humor is a weapon that can be wielded as an epee, with light and subtle strokes or as a heavy and brutal sabre. In either case, she gives no quarter. If her glove slaps you across the face you might as well call your undertaker because this is a duel whose outcome is sadly and delightfully certain.
The church is running from its shadow and has forgotten the teaching of one of its most eloquent and poetic writers. St. John of the Cross, where are you when we need you the most. The church needs some guidance on navigating its “dark night of the soul.” Current church leadership is arrogant in its antediluvian thinking. “The pope is infallible, but that does not mean he is always right.”
Continuing her focus on sexual abuse in the Church, Dowd lunges and thrusts: “The few sentences about the pedophilia scandal were more sympathetic to the put-upon priests than the mauled victims. Pope John Paul II has never addressed all those Catholics whose lives have been badly wounded. The wound he cares about most is the wound to the church. The pope cited ‘our brothers’ who had succumbed to ‘the mysterium iniquitatis (the mystery of evil).’ Calling it the mystery vaporizes the problem.” The institutional denial is painfully obvious here. There’s nothing mysterious about pedophilia. It’s a crime.
“Cardinal Hoyos [said that] ‘The pope is worried over peace in the world.’ But that only made the pope sound as trite and irrelevant as a Miss America contestant.” Then the Cardinal engaged in projecting the collective shadow of the church on that out of control American culture. “‘Concerning the problem of sexual abuse cases of pedophilia, I have only one answer,’ the cardinal said. ‘In today’s culture of pansexualism and libertinism created in this world, several priests, being of this culture, have committed the most serious crime of sexual abuse.’”
“Back in the 12th century, celibacy may have provided a priest some extra mystique. Wrapped in purity and secrecy, they became, as one priest puts it ‘sacramental studs.’ But now we have a perp walk of sacramental perverts. It is glaringly clear that mandatory celibacy—stifling God-given urges—draws a disproportionate number of men fleeing confusion about their sexuality.”
“In a weird way, celibacy italicizes sex and installs an obsession with sex at the very heart of the identity of the priesthood. The one place the church needs to go to save itself—shedding its dysfunctional all-male, all-celibate, all-closed-culture—is the one place it’s unwilling to go.”
“Three Hail Marys and two Our Fathers will not be enough.”
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.