Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Another Instance of What I was Talking About

In general, I rather like Maureen Dowd's columns in the New York Times. This morning, however, I was saddened to see Maureen column making the same sort of leap I decried in my previous post.

Maureen's brother writes:
Vatican II liberalized rules but left the most outdated one: celibacy. That vow was put in place originally because the church did not want heirs making claims on money and land. But it ended up shrinking the priest pool and producing the wrong kind of candidates — drawing men confused about their sexuality who put our children in harm’s way.
There is the common, if not wholly accurate, belief that clerical celibacy was instituted solely in order to preserve the economic status of the Church. Maureen, by quoting her brotherappears to buy into this this. This is not to say that nepotism was not one area that reformers intended to address with the institution of clerical celibacy. Nevertheless, I don't believe that it is the entirety of the story. John O'Malley, writing in America Magazine, provides a brief-yet-interesting account of the development of clerical celibacy.

O'Malley makes the point that part of the Gregorian reform (named after Pope Gregory VII 1073-85) included an effort to bring "the behavior of the clergy into line with the reformers' interpretation of the ancient canons. To that extent it was a holiness movement." O'Malley continues:

In the wake of the Gregorians’ efforts, the law of celibacy began to emerge in much the form we know it today, that is, as a prohibition against ordaining married men and entering the married state after ordination. The very first of “the Gregorians,” Pope Leo IX (1049-54), for instance, presided along with the German emperor at a synod in Mainz in 1049 that condemned “the evil of clerical marriage”—nefanda sacerdotum coniugia. If this prohibition is to be understood as somehow qualified for those already married before ordination, the limitation is not clear from the text itself.

The focus of the reformers was, however, more in accord with the older tradition in that they insisted on continence—absolutely. Along with other sanctions for incontinent priests, they forbade the laity to assist at the Masses of priests they knew were not conforming to the requirement. They found a good argument for their ideals in Canon 3 of the Council of Nicea (325), which forbade clerics in major orders to have any women in their households except their mothers, sisters or aunts. They interpreted the canon, incorrectly, as a prohibition of marriage.
Now, my point is not whether or not clerical celibacy is a good or a bad thing. Rather, I want to point out that there is another available reading of history, one that is more charitable to the practice of celibacy, yet one seldom mentioned in popular discussion.

One may certainly contest O'Malley's scholarship and reading of history. What one cannot do, however, is claim that there is one simple reason that the Church has the practice of clerical celibacy. Like all issues, it is one that admits of no simple interpretation. O'Malley's contribution may be nothing more than to interrupt the oft-repeated bromide that mandatory celibacy was instituted solely to preserve the Church's money. A more nuanced, and perhaps more historically accurate, examination of history may show the issue to be more complicated.

The second point I should like to make involves Dowd's sweeping judgment on the "wrong kind of candidates." Because she does not qualify her statement, I am forced to assume that she means that even today the pool is limited to men "confused about their sexuality who put our children in harm's way."

First, there is no correlation to instances of sexual abuse with mandatory celibacy. The vast majority of celibate clergy have not molested a child and find the idea horrifying. This is not because they are afraid to molest children but, rather, have an integrated psycho-sexual identity (a healthy sense of their sexuality) and know that molesting children is evil. Pedophilia is a pathology, a deeply-rooted sickness...it is not a matter of sexual confusion. Were pedophilia limited to the celibate Roman Catholic clergy, I would be forced to agree with Maureen. Yet we know from news accounts that this is a problem that goes far beyond the walls of any one church or institution.

Pedophilia is a scandal at anyone's hands: priest, rabbi, minister, teacher, father, family member, doctor, nurse, or coach. The clergy sex abuse scandal is egregious because of institutional complicity, cover-up, and often a lack of pastoral concern for victims. The scandal goes beyond simply that it took place (an atrocity in any instance) and finds amplification in the failure to act always in the best interest of the people.

[I want to note that I say all of this with one caveat: act using the best information and advice available at the time. One thing I see frequently, at least of late, is an anachronistic adjudication of the past based on the standards and information we have today, information that was unavailable 30-60 years ago.]

Sexual abuse is not a problem limited to the Catholic Church. It is, therefore, irresponsible to try to make a 1-to-1 connection between celibacy and acts of abuse. Pedophilia is a scandal wherever it takes place. Adding to the scandal in the case of the Catholic Church, making it cut so much deeper, is that not only were the lives and bodies of innocent victims traumatized but also that the trust placed in the Church has been compromised.

Second, if you read my earlier post today, you will recall that I find a tremendous irony in the silencing of "the Other." In Dowd's piece, "the Other" would be the "men confused about their sexuality who put our children in harm’s way." So in an Op/Ed piece where she is claiming to make her voice heard, a voice she feels that the hierarchy ignores (sadly, she's right on this point), she effectively silences anyone within the ranks of clergy! In her column, by painting "the Other" with the brush of confused sexual identity, she has foreclosed any chance for conversation on the issue. "The Other" is now silenced; she who would see herself as the oppressed can use another to become the oppressor. The monologue continues but with a different voice.

How so? Her sweeping judgment on the current pool of Catholic clergy relegates any member of that pool (myself included) into a suspect group. My vantage point, it would seem, is tainted by the scandal of sex abuse because, by her reckoning, I am to be lumped into a large group of sexually confused individuals. The clergy that will not listen to Maureen, thus painted by her column's brush, finds itself rendered silent because "sexually confused."

As frequent readers know, I bare much of my soul on these virtual pages. As you can see from yesterday, I even posted pictures of me with my niece and nephew: the two children in the world who have helped me to realize how much the heart can grow with love. I am, consequently, horrified and offended that I should be so facilely implicated in a scandal that involves horrific violence against children - like my niece Emma and nephew Quinn - by portraying me, as a member of the clergy, as "putting children in harm's way." This is a scathing and deeply offensive claim...but who can listen to someone who has been entered the clergy as one taken from a pool of "the wrong kind of candidates"?

The silenced uses the words of her brother to become the silencer?

The authors of the article in Der Spiegel and even Maureen Dowd (drawing on her brother) would do well to think upon their own journalistic integrity. Fact-checking, careful scholarship, adequate time-lines: each would aide tremendously in making their cases. By no means am I denying that there is a problem. I am, however, decrying the slash-and-burn, label-and-dismiss, facile arguments and appeals to emotion that seem to be so influential today.


2 comments:

DXM Jack Bentz SJ said...

Ryan- Just found and read your blog. Thanks for the work and esp your take on the top 10 for vocation promotion. Excellent. Peace to you brother, Jack

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your very insightful response to the article.
After printing out your Guide to Ignation meditation, I am trying to find actual Scriptural references [4 Gospels] to use in my meditations.
Thank you very much for your help!
Carol Maloney Reyes
mclaughlinreyes@yahoo.com
[Please erase my address after you have hopefully sent some references.]