I read recently that the sex abuse scandals are hurting the Roman Catholic (RC) Church outside of the U.S. Ireland and Germany have been especially hard hit. I happened to have been in Ireland when a comprehensive report was released giving the extent of the abuse, much of which took place in orphanages. This heavily Catholic country was in an uproar over the extent of the abuse.
I’ve written about this before but I’d like to say a few things about this subject.
(1) Abusing children is bad enough, but then to continue to appoint these pedophile priests to different parishes is inexcusable. That’s what made these scandals so bad – it’s the cover-up. It reminds me that what ruined President Nixon wasn’t so much the initial crime of a break-in at an office in the Watergate complex, but the subsequent cover-up and lying. Similarly, it wasn’t just the hanky-panky with a young intern that got Bill Clinton in trouble, but the lies told to Congress and investigators (“I did not have sex with that woman.”)
(2) While not nearly as bad, Protestant churches have in the past appointed pastors with problems to different parishes. I used to belong to a church that was the recipient of a troubled minister. This guy had a money problem. He was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and was transferred to the church I was attending (and we weren’t warned about his problem). He did it again, was caught in the annual audit, and was defrocked.
(3) The vast majority of priests and other clergy are decent people dedicated to doing God’s work by serving God’s people in the church or synagogue. We have to be careful not to paint with too broad a brush because of the misbehavior of a relative handful of clergy.
(4) The RC church has a unique problem because of its celibacy rule (priests can’t marry). While many might voluntarily remain celibate, to have such a rule for everybody isn’t appropriate in my opinion. The Apostle Paul wrote on the subject in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (NIV)
(5) We often think of RC priests taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Priests typically don’t take such vows unless they are part of a religious order, but both priests and Protestant ministers essentially promise these:
(a) Poverty: you’ll never make much money, nor should you expect to.
(b) Chastity: RC clergy promise complete celibacy, but in the United Methodist Church and many Protestant churches, we clergy are expected to practice celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.
(c) Obedience: in those denominations that are episcopal (having a bishop) in structure, such as the Episcopal Church (naturally) and the United Methodist Church, we clergy are expected to be obedient to the bishop, especially in matters of appointment.