Yet another abuse and cover-up story surfaced at the weekend, this one concerning the Irish Diocese of Cloyne. But to what extent it can be relied on is another matter, as the comment from Thirsty Gargoyle points out. However, over the past few years, the skeletons have been tumbling out of the cupboard in Ireland. One disastrous consequence is that the once-solid Irish Catholic church is now on the verge of collapse. With the Catholic priesthood so tainted, who would want to be a priest in such a situation?
Although the abuse has been described as "paedophilia", strictly speaking, it is not, since the abuse has mostly been directed against pubescent boys, from which it can be concluded that the priesthood has accepted into its ranks homosexually-orientated men who could not control their inclinations.
A look around the world reveals a mixed picture. The Irish-influenced church in the USA seems to have suffered similarly. In England and Wales, nasty cases have come to light but the problem does not amount to an epidemic. In Germany there have also been a few, and there were strange goings-on at a seminary in Austria. In Spain, Italy and South America, errant priests are more likely to take a mistress than abuse male teenagers. But the misbehaviour does not stop at sexual misconduct. A friend from Salvador was telling me recently how the village priest would hob-nob with the local landowner, whilst ignoring the plight of the poor. All priests - in fact, all of us, need to control our inclinations, whatever they are. Often a potentially harmful inclination, under control, can be positive and rewarding for those involved.
Some people argue that a contributory factor is the liturgical reform of the 1960s and the decline in the practice of regular confession. There is no doubt that regular confession, and the older form of the liturgy encourages a more devotional and indeed holier attitude amongst both clergy and people. In those days the teaching was to avoid what was called "the occasion of sin" - in other words, not to get into a situation where things could happen which ought not to happen.
However, there has been misbehaviour amongst the clergy since the foundation of the church. Although we expect better, that should not be surprising because the priests are mere humans. Of course, abuse can happen in any situation where there is an unequal relationship of power. The fact that people point their finger at the Catholic church is that they have higher expectations. That is in itself an acknowledgement that they recognise the church as a force for good, and the betrayal is for that reason particularly shocking.
The point about the Catholic priesthood is that they have the power of making Christ present as a consequence of the sacrament of ordination they have received. Nevertheless, ordinary Catholics have a right to assume that their children will not be molested by their parish priest. On the other hand, such is the level of suspicion that the clergy themselves are now vulnerable to unjust allegations against which it could be difficult to defend themselves.
The situation is a mess. The very worst aspect of this is that a generation of people will, from a sense of disgust, be deprived of the spiritual goods that the Catholic Church has to offer. Who will believe the truth if they do not trust the messenger? In the light of all this, yesterday's reading was pertinent.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house. His disciples approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man, the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.
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