Why on earth do we stay in a Church in which clerics commit sexual abuse? The easiest answer is realism. We tell ourselves that some sexual predators are drawn to seminaries, just as paedophiles seek out institutions that work with children, regardless of whether they’re religious or not. Public schools, choirs, scouts: the cancer grows everywhere.
And yet this argument just isn’t good enough, because when a sexual crime occurs in the Church it is 10 times worse. The betrayal is even deeper. Every offence committed by a cleric is a stain not just on the Church’s reputation, with which we can be inordinately obsessed, but the very soul of the institution. The Church asks its followers to confess their sins, but it seems far too slow to admit and atone for its own, and that hypocrisy has driven away thousands, possibly millions.
So, to repeat, why do so many of us remain? I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the wake of reports regarding Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, an
American cleric accused of grooming and abusing young men. My instinct when reading this story was to say: “Thank God I’m a convert.” Some of my cradle friends joke that I’m not a proper Catholic because I wasn’t born into the faith, and they may have a point – I lack their foundation and sense of identity, and sometimes in church I find I simply don’t know what to do. My Latin is rusty. The hymns are unfamiliar. I have nothing to say when the subject of Ireland comes up.
On the other hand, I have been spared from clericalism. I like and respect priests; some of my best friends are priests. But I didn’t meet a Catholic cleric until I was in my 20s, and they don’t quite have the aura of authority for me that I sense they have for those who were born into the Catholic family.
I simply cannot imagine the world that McCarrick was reported to have lived in, in which “Uncle Teddy” would accompany the kids camping and even take one of them to a restaurant in San Francisco, where he put vodka in the drinks – a world in which McCarrick’s word was gospel and any questions raised about his behaviour could be shot down on the grounds, to quote the New York Times, that he was: “so beloved… and considered so holy, that the idea was unfathomable.”
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection