Systemic Failure

(December 21, 2002)


Recently, in the face of the clerical sex scandals within the Roman Catholic Church, the question is increasing being asked if there is not something seriously wrong within the system.

Up until now, the official line of response, as well as that of more conservative critics, is that what we have here is the accumulation of decades of individual moral failings, and at most, a more or less pervasive policy of sweeping these failures under the ecclesiastical rug. In other words, if there is anything that might be described here as "systematic", it is a policy of denial of just how serious the problem really is.

This is why it is so very hard to get any real information from official sources. What we have is, at best, some educated "guesstimates", some of which range from suggestions that true pedophiliacs (those who sexually abuse minors) are about only half as common among Catholic priests as among the male population in general, to estimates that somewhere between 20-50% of priests are homosexuals, but only a minority of these (at most 20%) prey on adolescent boys. Richard Sipe (a widely quoted authority on the subject) also claims that over 50% of the Catholic clergy, whether "straight" or "gay", is sexually active that is, failing to live up to their obligations to live a celibate life, and that most of these, when honestly confronted, state frankly that they do not intend to do so.

If these figures are anywhere near accurate or even accurate by half then clearly there is no longer just a situation where individual failures to live according to an ideal have become alarmingly common, but rather that we have a situation where there is a widespread breakdown of the whole celibate structure of the Roman Catholic clerical system itself. This conclusion is doubly inescapable when it has become obvious that even when faced with these figures, the authorities decide to bar those they deem most liable to failure (homosexuals) even while insisting on the discipline (celibacy) which seems to attract them, apparently oblivious to the fact that overworked, isolated and lonely heterosexual priests will be more liable to fail as well. Apparently these authorities feel that they can also detect those heterosexuals who are most likely to fail years, even decades, before such failures are most likely to happen certainly a good trick if one can pull it off (or else a true act of faith).

While no one ever said that everything about religious beliefs and practices have to make perfect sense indeed, part of the pitch has been in it making no sense unless God exists still, one would think that at least some concession to common sense would help. Apparently the bishops are too preoccupied with their own self-preservation to figure that out.