Catholic scandal, the power equation, and the need for Reformation

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“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and be drowned in the bottom of the lake. How terrible it is for the world because of the things that cause people to trip and fall into sin! Such things have to happen, but how terrible it is for the person who causes those things to happen!” – Jesus, Matthew 18:5-7

If I were still writing commentary for the newspaper I would have been challenged by now to address the latest abuse revelations rocking the Catholic Church.

  • “You’re our go-to columnist for this sort of thing…”
  • or, “You’re into religion, what do you have to say?”
  • or a strong hint from my editor: “Well?”

The problem with this kind of writing, however, is that it is by definition reactive. The problem with the way the church has dealt with all of this is that it has not been reactive enough.

So I’m going to take a few minutes to respond in the same voice that I would have used in The (now defunct) Tampa Tribune. My newspaper column typically represented a more direct approach – read “less subtle” – than my blog. But understand I believe there are no easy answers, and no such thing as a human being who does not mess up or a human organization that is not flawed or a nuance of sin that has not settled in and taken root in any and every last one of us.

The Church included.

Why So Hard for the Catholics?

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And this is where I have to begin. Beyond everything else it is tradition and the idea of infallibility that makes the situation more thorny for our Catholic friends. The notion that a human institution can be right by virtue of its own declaration stands in direct opposition to the reason Jesus came to begin with. Jesus came because we are all broken, flawed, confused, selfish, prideful, and more – unable to set things right with God because we have and continue to block the space between us with the debris of our unfaithfulness and our sin.

We need Jesus, we need grace, we need to understand both our forgiveness and our need for it – and that applies to me, to you, to every priest and pastor, and to every church too.

The moment any organization sets itself up as intrinsically true or right, and its priests (bishops, cardinals etc.) as beyond question or reproach, then a power situation has been invented that puts every adherent at risk by virtue of a false authority. Give the authority of God to a sinful human being and we are right back in the Garden of Eden where we started, absent God and with an eviction notice in our hands.

Give the authority of God to a sinful human being and we are right back in the Garden of Eden where we started, absent God and with an eviction notice in our hands.

The Power Equation:

Doubtless we all understand the implications of a power equation. This is why there is no such thing as consensual sex between a minor and an adult, between a student and a teacher, between a leader and a subordinate, between a preacher and a parishioner. The leverage of power to obtain sex is always rape without exception (think about that for a moment if you know a preacher who has had an “affair” with someone in the church they are supposed to be serving).

The leverage of power to obtain sex is always rape without exception (think about that for a moment if you know a preacher who has had an “affair” with someone in the church they are supposed to be serving).

This is why abuse is not a situation unique to the Catholic Church. It is, however, such an exceptional juggernaut of evil in Catholicism because of two thousand years of generational indoctrination that leaves so many more people unreasonably controlled and so much more vulnerable.

If our sisters and brothers in the Catholic Church want more trust in both their clergy and the institution, then the Pope, the cardinals, and the bishops need to admit the need for reformation, begin to dismantle their own power, invite women into their ranks, reinvent themselves without assuming divine airs, take their “incontestable control” down a notch or two, decentralize, and move forward in a spirit of humility.

We All Need to Do This:

1-IMG_E5380We all need to do this. There is not a denomination in existence that speaks absolutely for God – we all just accept what Jesus has done to restore the relationship, we all try our best to understand and share the Gospel, we all adopt an organizational structure that mirrors our particular emphases and helps us serve more effectively, and then we move forward – stumbling mostly – in humility and grace.

This is only a quick take on what I see. As I said, we all have room to grow and Jesus is just the one to lead us – DEREK

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