Not since the 16th century, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, has the Catholic Church faced such a crisis as the one that currently envelopes the American priesthood. Then, as now, the crisis involved widespread corruption among clerics. And if the Catholic Church cannot deal with this current crisis, it will end as the earlier one did -- with massive defections from the Church.
One can hardly imagine a more horrifying scandal: Priests, who are revered and trusted figures in their communities, preying on young boys for sex. The news media has treated this story as if it were exclusively about pedophilia -- but it is more complicated than that. Most of the victims were not young children, but older boys, and many of the priests involved were homosexual men. The media, by and large, have chosen not to delve into this aspect of the story for fear of being labeled homophobic.
Two books, one already out and the other about to be published, deal with the increasing homosexual presence in the priesthood, the Rev. Donald Cozzens' "The Changing Face of the Priesthood," and Michael S. Rose's "Goodbye! Good Men." Both authors acknowledge that homosexuals have become a significant faction within the Roman Catholic clergy.
National Review magazine's Rod Dreher has written about both books. Rose's book, according to Dreher, who has reviewed a pre-publication copy, "reveals a seminary underworld in which homosexual promiscuity and sexual harassment is rampant, in which straight men are marginalized and demoralized, and seminarians who support the Church's teachings on sexuality and the priesthood are persecuted, even to the point of being sent off, Soviet-style, for psychological evaluations."
Many critics of the Catholic Church have blamed the Church's position on celibacy for the current scandal. Some within the Church are even using the scandal to re-open the debate on allowing women to be priests. But if Dreher is right -- and he has been one of the leading journalists in exposing this scandal to a national audience -- such discussions will only muddy the waters further, without dealing with what is clearly a serious problem for the Church.
As the Rev. Andrew Greeley has said, "The laity, I suspect, would say it is one thing to accept a homosexual priest and quite another to accept a substantially homosexual clergy, many of whom are blatantly part of the gay subculture."
So far, at least, the Vatican has chosen to ignore this aspect of the scandal. Last week, the Pope finally spoke out about the sexual misconduct of so many priests, calling it a grievous evil. But he has not acted expeditiously to investigate the American Church -- and the Boston archdiocese, in particular, where some 80 priests have been charged with sexually abusing young boys.
The Church's teaching on homosexuality is clear. Homosexuals, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."
But the Church also teaches "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." The Church's prescribes chastity -- the denial of all sexual activity -- for homosexuals as the only route to "Christian perfection." Some Catholic homosexuals may indeed be drawn to the priesthood in the first place hoping that their vow of celibacy will keep them chaste.
While many non-Catholics, and even some observant Catholics, may not like the Church's position, the Catholic Church has never purported to be a democratic institution or one that follows popular opinion.
Furthermore, the Vatican cannot afford to adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy with respect to homosexual priests. And lifting the ban on celibacy would only exacerbate the problem, not eliminate it.
The Vatican's reluctance may stem from the dramatic decline in priestly vocations over the last 50 years, which has reached crisis proportions in recent years. But who is to say that the culture that apparently pervades many seminaries in the United States and elsewhere does not share the blame for the drop in vocations?
The Catholic Church survived its last major crisis -- the Protestant Reformation -- only by launching its own Counter-Reformation. The Catholic Church won't survive the current crisis by abandoning its moral principles and teachings -- no matter how much pressure the secular world brings to bear. It's time for another reformation, this one led by the Pope himself.
COPYRIGHT 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.