Few Catholics speak publicly, but privately, everyone I know is waiting to see what changes will result from the Vatican as a result of the revelations of clergy sexual abuse overtaking Europe.
Whether Pope Benedict bends to public pressure and resigns or leads the church out of the crisis, one point is certain: The Roman church is imploding. Fallout will not be eradicated by bishops diminishing the problem, a tactic usually employed by John Paul II bishop-appointees.
Europeans yawned when news of the U.S. abuse broke in 2002. Apparently, Italians are so accustomed to their own philandering clergy that hoopla raised by American Catholics did not resonate. So when he took over, I had serious doubts about Benedict. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he once swatted an investigative TV reporter’s hand for getting too close when the man questioned him about Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, John Paul II’s protected friend and a Vatican cash-cow. Since day one, I have watched Benedict closely. Maciel’s case was a bellwether for me. Free from John Paul II’s shackles, Benedict handled that case remarkably well.
Among Benedict’s advisers is his secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, a 55-year-old, ultra-conservative German who seems savvy. Benedict is a church historian as well as a theologian. I believe that with courageously wise advisers, he can lead the church through this crisis, understanding it is not business as usual. The hierarchy must take a lesson from King David, sitting down humbly before God, searching the scriptures for a Holy Spirit-inspired church structure, then modeling it.
Crystal clear is that candidates for the priesthood are ideally married men. An important role denied Catholic women since 1139 is that of a priest’s wife, and the Roman church is the worse for it. Sanctifying grace is given through familial conflicts that happen between the sexes in marriage. Mandatory celibacy denies priests this God-given grace, allowed them in the Deposit of Faith. Universal Church Tradition is replete with examples of married clergymen. St. Patrick was the grandson of a priest and the son of a deacon.
There is little trust for church leaders. Even nonopinionated Catholics are becoming unwilling to “pray, pay and obey.” The U.S. Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children will not rebuild trust, because it omits adult abuse. Only 6 percent of pedophile-priests molested children under age 13.
In his book “Celibacy in Crisis” (Routledge, 2003), respected former Benedictine A.W. Richard Sipe reports that at any given time, 2 percent of clergy achieve celibacy. Another 8 percent force themselves into continence. But 90 percent of priests and bishops continually or periodically violate their ordination promise to remain celibate, rationalizing their “lapse” as sin. They confess to “brother-priests” and are forgiven, leaving abused and confused lay adults in their wake.
Thirty percent of these clergymen have homosexual orientations, more than in the general population. While mandatory celibacy does not cause pedophilia, it is precisely why Catholics cannot trust church leaders and why change is needed, now.
Ronna Devincenzi is a local member of the Catholic Church.