Friday, August 17, 2018

Theological Predisposition

Amanda Marcotte explains

The Catholic Church sex abuse scandals are often talked about as if they are in the past, but this summer has been a reminder that this horror show continues to unspool, 16 years after the Boston Globe's famous "Spotlight" series exposing the cover-up first ran. This week, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report accusing more than 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 children over seven decades. The details are almost incomprehensibly awful, including accusations of repeated rape, child pornography and priests who marked their victims with jewelry to alert other predators that these children had been "groomed" to accept abuse....

The church in Pennsylvania was working simultaneously to shield child abusers while pushing for laws to punish women for consensual sex, so the easy charge to reach for is "hypocrisy." But that's an accusation that barely skims the surface. The far more troubling reality is that the willingness to cover for sexual predators is entirely consistent with advocating for restrictions on women's reproductive rights. Both attitudes are rooted in the same poisonous commitment to putting men in positions of permanent social dominance as well as rejecting the idea that women and children have bodily autonomy and sexual safety rights.

Agreed. Marcotte argues, persuasively I think

Trump and the Christian right are aligned in their true belief, which is that women must be kept in their place.

So there's no real conflict in the Catholic Church covering up sexual abuse while trying to prevent women from accessing legal and safe abortion services. In both situations, it's about using sexuality as a tool to enforce patriarchal hierarchies. In both cases, it's about a group of conservative men conspiring to organize the world so they hold power and everyone else is subject to their whims.

Shame is a major factor here too. The same sexual shame that religious conservatives try to instill with restrictions on reproductive rights is also used to silence victims of sexual abuse. It's difficult for victims to speak up, precisely because so much shame is built up around sexuality. Victims, male and female, are often subject to people digging through their sexual pasts, using their consensual activities as "evidence" that they're dirty and therefore undeserving of protection against abuse.

It's possible that one reason more survivors of abuse are willing to speak out these days is that the pro-choice movement has done so much work in destigmatizing consensual sex. The fear that victims used to experience -- of being outed as someone who has consensual sex and quite likely enjoys it -- no longer has the power it used to have, creating more space to speak out.

Observing "the lesson here is there is no way for religious groups to preserve their traditions of male dominance and sexual shaming while also eradicating sexual abuse," Marcotte logically concludes "the only way to root out the abuse is to root out those patriarchal values."

That would have a major impact. However, rooting out sexual abuse by priests would require two additional steps, one which probably ultimately will be taken by the Church and the other which will not.

Obviously, allowing women to become priests would reduce the sexual perversion (with no quote marks necessary). At some point, that is likely to occur.

Nevertheless, the other step which would be helpful is one the Roman Catholic Church never will take because it would undermine the indispensable, all-encompassing role of the priest. 

Although origin of the concept is shrouded in mystery, the "priesthood of all believers" is a fundamental precept of Protestantism which emerged from the Reformation. The rationale may be described as

Old Testament priests were chosen by God, not self-appointed; and they were chosen for a purpose: to serve God with their lives by offering up sacrifices. The priesthood served as a picture or "type" of the coming ministry of Jesus Christ--a picture that was then no longer needed once His sacrifice on the cross was completed. When the thick temple veil that covered the doorway to the Holy of Holies was torn in two by God at the time of Christ's death (Matthew 27:51), God was indicating that the Old Testament priesthood was no longer necessary. Now people could come directly to God through the great High Priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). There are now no earthly mediators between God and man as existed in the Old Testament priesthood (1 Timothy 2:5).

Confession- a less formal ritual in Protestantism than in Catholicism- and prayer are undertaken directly to God, rather than mediated through a priest or any other mortal individual. "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the mana Christ Jesus," wrote Paul.

The Reformers' perspective was not superior, some will argue, and your mileage will vary. Additionally, belief in the priesthood of all believers does not guarantee that there will be fewer acts of sexual abuse committed upon children by Roman Catholic clergy than by Protestant clergy.

There are other factors, and not only the ones pointed out by Marcotte. Members of the clergy in many independent congregations are subjected to a process less scholarly and formal than have clergy in either mainline Protestant denominations (e.g., Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, some Baptist) or in Catholicism. Further, there typically will be less vetting of the ministerial candidate.

Nonetheless, the role of the Catholic priest is one which exalts him to a remarkable level, in which he plays a part in the transmission of confession and prayer to the Almighty. It will affect the perception of the clergyman in the eyes of many young people, even in the West and in our most sophisticated of times.

There may be powerful biblical or otherwise theological rationale for eschewing the notion of the priesthood of believers. However, its role in sexual abuse of children should not be completely ignored.

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