What the Pope Should Do: A Program for Reform
In the face of all the scandals that have been revealed within the Roman Catholic Church, bold and decisive action is required. I would suggest, in accordance with Sacred Scripture, the lessons of church history, sad experience, and common sense, that the following steps need to be carried out.
First: Pope Benedict needs to make a full confession of the church’s failures in these matters, not just admitting, in a general way, the sins of some of its clergy and religious order members and employees, but most specifically the failure of its hierarchy to be honest about these failures and to have instituted various forms of concealment of these failures out of a mistaken notion of “the good of the church.” In those specific instances where bishops have failed to comply with civil law, knowingly transferred offending clergy, or have evaded their responsibilities to care for the victims of such crimes, the resignations of these bishops (even if he be the Bishop of Rome) shall be required. Furthermore, the names of all those, still living, of whatever rank within the clergy or vowed members of religious orders and congregations, against whom credible accusations of sexual abuse against minors have been made, as well as those members of the hierarchy who have knowingly assigned such persons to work involving contact with minors, shall be made public, both for the purpose of making restitution to the victims as well as to serve as a deterrence against the repetition of such crimes.
Second: According to the penitential and disciplinary traditions of that same church, there can be no forgiveness, even after the confession of sin, without there being a firm purpose of amendment. This means not just a resolution to do better, but effective steps being taken to remedy the situation, among them being steps to minimize or avoid what are known to be occasions of sin or failure. Accordingly, I would suggest the following legislative measures:
A: Heeding St. Paul’s warning that “it is better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9) all “secular” or diocesan priests (with the exception of those who chose option B below),should be required, within eighteen months of the enactment of such a law, to become married or engaged to be married within another year’s time. Likewise, in the future, only those who are at least thirty-five years of age and who are already married shall be ordained to the rank of presbyter (“elder” or “priest”). While these requirements may seem excessive, they are made in accordance with the requirements given in the New Testament that candidates for the other ranks of clergy (deaconate and episcopacy) be “married but once” and have successfully raised children (see Timothy 3:2 and Titus 2:6) and the present requirement in Canon Law that candidates for ordination to the married deaconate also must be at least thirty-five years of age. Although in past history, marriage generally came first (before ordination), such an exceptional move would be necessary at this point in time if the church is to restore what had been, from the earliest times, the Apostolic Tradition.
B: Those priests or other members of the clergy (including bishops and deacons) who wish to remain unmarried “for the sake of the kingdom” or other personal reasons (see Matthew 19:12) should be required to either join one of the established religious orders or congregations whose members take the traditional life-long vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, or else join or form clerical “confraternities” or associations observing a similar discipline. Either way, celibates would be required to live in community under the direction of a superior who is charged with the supervision of the personal life of each member, and who in turn would be required to report on a monthly basis on the conduct of his charges to the local bishop or, in the case of a religious order, to the designated religious superior.
C: All bishops (including the Bishop of Rome) and religious superiors, in turn, are to be elected (as was the general custom in the early church) by those whom they are expected to govern, but in the light of increased longevity and in the spirit of renewal, must be reelected to serve for terms limited to six years.
D: In the spirit of reform and as a sign of repentance, the wearing of clerical garb is to be discontinued and the use of special vestments at worship services is to be restricted to the “stole” (or ceremonial sash) to designate whoever is in charge.
E: Those priests or clerics who are seventy years of age or beyond, and retired from pastoral service, would be the only exceptions allowed to the above rules. Those who refuse to comply are to be dismissed from the clerical state and will lose the legal right to any future monetary benefits from the church.
PS: While I am not naïve enough to believe that the above measures will solve all of the Church’s present problems
(any woman crazy enough to marry some priests I know could turn out to be an even bigger problem!), but on the whole, I believe that in the face of the repeated failure of the present church order, such a radical reform in the direction of restoring the church’s earliest traditions, is long overdue.