Abuse as a gender issue?

Two unrelated comments on the causes of the abuse crisis caught my eye today. One from an emeritus bishop, the other from a religious sister and teacher. The reason these two people’s comments caught my eye was that they both say similar things. Similar dubious things.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney in Australia, blamed the absence of women in the Church, in an interview. “If the feminine had been given greater importance and a much larger voice, the church would not have seen anything like the same level of abuse and would most certainly have responded far better.” Nice claims, but is there any proof? Can sexual abuse be limited to a mere gender issue? What about the claims from people who say they were abused by religious sisters? Robinson’s quote is a good soundbite, but I wonder about the validity.

He also claims that some priests guilty of sexual abuse of minors were unaware they broke their vow of celibacy. “That’s what the vow of celibacy refers to, being married. If it’s not an adult woman, then somehow they’re not breaking their vow.” I find that frankly unbelievable. Celibacy is about being married, yes, but since the Church upholds that active sexuality belongs within marriage, I don’t see how any sexual act, let alone sexual abuse, can not be  considered a violation of the priest’s vow.

Robinson thinks that the Church needs another ecumenical council to review the teachings about celibacy, sexuality and women. Please, we’re still trying to find our bearings following the previous council…

Belgian Sister Monica van Kerrebroeck also sees the crisis as a gender issue. “I am convinced that this would not happen as often with more women in the church and in important positions. In the first place it is statistically proven that women are far less than men prone to pedophilia and secondly, I think that women respond far more radical to these things. That what I do, at least.”

Would the secrecy of offenders and those around them suddenly be any less if more women would occupy high positions in the Church? Because that is often a major issue: offenders keep their crimes secret and victims are too afraid to step forward (see the Kröber interview I posted earlier). Women may be less prone to pedophilia, I don’t know. But even so, unless one actively replaces men with women, the total level of prospective offenders would remain the same, and that won’t change unless one tackles the true root: faulty formation and preparation.

Sister Monica went on: “We must thoroughly consider the automatic and mandatory coupling of celibacy and priesthood, and the laity must be taken much more serious. The Church did originally not start with ordained priests [Ahem… tell that to the Twelve…], but with experienced laymen, who were given a natural authority [You mean, like ordination?]. That’s what we must return to. To me the Church is not the pope and the bishops [Are they not exclusively the Church, or not at all? An important distinction]. The Church is the people [But most of all Christ, right?].”

 Sister Monica confuses the issue with all kinds of unrelated things. What is she concerned about? Abuse, celibacy, priesthood, the form of the Church, the role of the laity, the role of the bishops, authority? Wanting to return to the old Church of the first centuries can only be a good thing if one completely forgets the past 2,000 years of Tradition. The Church developed and grew, not just because it could, but because, as Christ promised, the Holy Spirit guided her. Suddenly saying, “Oh well, this is no good, let’s start over”, is denying the work of not just countless men and women, but also of God Himself.

Does that mean we can’t change anything? Of course not. The Church must constantly develop and change, but that does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Considering the abuse crisis as a gender issue is like trying to solve a crossword by filling in a Sudoku. The problem (or confusing mess of problems) does not fit the alleged solution.

Finally, I don’t think that an increased feminine influence in the Church is bad. Neither do I think that an increased male influence is bad. What we need is real men and real women, so to speak: clarity. The genders, after all, complement each other, but the one should not try to be the other. It’s something that goes back as far as Genesis.

Source for the Robinson comments.
Source for the comments by Sr. Monica


Dates from Deetman

Yesterday the Dutch bishops announced that on 7 May Dr. Wim Deetman will present his advice about the independent investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands. Deetman was appointed to assemble a committee for the investigation and to establish how the investigation would proceed.

On 11 May the bishops and the Conference of Dutch religious will come with a joint statement about their reaction to Deetman’s advice. Until that date they will not respond on the content.

It’s all a bit later than expected (Deetman originally expected to be done before the end of this month), but it’s good to see it’s going ahead with only a minor delay. The investigation will be an independent one, which, I assume, is one of the reason that a non-Catholic was appointed to form the committee and give the advice.

Catholic new media, or, Fr. Roderick meets a fellow in white

Last week, the Italian bishops hosted a conference on new media, called Digital Witnesses: Faces and Languages in the Cross-Media Age. It was a national event, but some international speakers were also there. One of those was my friend Fr. Roderick Vonhögen; with his SQPN media network he is at the forefront of Catholic new media, and that has been noticed in Italy too. To the left he is pictured Pope Benedict XVI at the end of the conference. You can hear Fr. Roderick’s own account of that unexpected meeting in the latest episode of The Break.

The pope didn’t just show up to shake hands with podcasting priests. He also had one or two things to say. Thanks to Zenit his address is now available in English. Keep an eye on this post for the Dutch version, coming soon.

As Father Z would say: “To arms!”

An impression of the future chapel. A bit of a postmodern monstrosity, but still...

The website of the friends of the Jeroen Bosch hospital in ‘s Hertogenbosch has a poll. They are asking the public to vote for one of ten projects, some of  which they are looking to realise. Ultimately, they say, this will result in a  top 5 of projects they will try to find funding for. The last project in the list is the creation of a chapel. It’s in second place now, with 3050 votes. In first place is the furnishing of a Muslim prayer centre. That has 3148 votes.  

Hospitals are fine and necessary institutions, but people, especially in sickness and pain, are more than just their body. A chapel, a place to find silence and so God, is more than a luxury. It is a necessity.  

You know what to do. Go, vote for the chapel.

“It’s exciting!”

As Scotty said in last year’s Star Trek: “I like this ship! You know, it’s exciting!” Replace ‘ship’ with ‘Church’ and you’ve arrived at the point I want to make in this post.  

In various blogs I’ve been reading defenses of orthodoxy and explanations of why young people would feel attracted to that. These comments are responses to the more liberal quarters of the Church (in many ways still a majority in the Dutch Church) and their apparent surprise at these young people and their choices: if they choose to go to Church, they often choose the more orthodox parishes and communities, whereas the worldly ones should, by all logic, be more appealing.  

The aforementioned blogs mention the spiritual emptiness of the liberal camp and their hostility towards people who look for honest and through catechesis. I think another good point is that the orthodox position is not only more honest and true to the Church, but it is also challenging. Young people, and I use that term broadly, are not attracted to sedate coziness and empty warmth. That can be fun, but it is hardly a goal in life. Young people are intelligent, well-educated and want to be challenged accordingly.  

'The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew' by Caravaggio (1603-1606)

“Because you do not belong to the world, because my choice of you has drawn you out of the world, that is why the world hates you” (John 15: 19).   

If we do not belong to the world, although we live in it, we can’t let the world dictate our lives. Jesus dictates our lives. He asks us to leave the world behind, to not let it hold us back:  

“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16: 24-25).  

In return, He says, we will find life. But we are alive already, right? Certainly, but that will end. Christ promises us not only eternal life, but also the fulfillment of our lives here.  

“Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much, and also inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).  

These are challenges, they are difficult, but they come with one important benefit: we have the best coach anyone can hope for.  

“Blessed are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, look!-your reward will be great in heaven” (Luke 6: 22-23a).  

How does this fit a faith community which is solely founded on human needs, focussing on community, on being warm, open, welcoming? Sure, openness and warmth are good. We need the support and brotherhood we find in our parishes and communities. But Christ never took that as the point of His ministry? He took it as read. He callled the Twelve to accompany Him, and later He sent the disciples off in pairs, to spread the Good News. Not alone, but with company. But did he call a group of men, and did he sent pairs off, so they could have some nice conversation, so that they could feel part of a group? No. He called and sent them to become men of God and to make others men of God, to spread the Good News of the incarnation and to follow Him.  

And that is the challenge we have been given. Jesus asks us to work, to give ourselves, to suffer and to hurt sometimes, but we know why we do it: for Him and for eternal life in God. Nothing less than that. And that is the challenge that should be appealing to many: our work, our effort, with the oh-so-necessary guidance and support from the Father through His Son, is how we can and must achieve it. That is a faith that challenges, that promises and to achieve that we must live life to the fullest. That is orthodoxy: not giving up when it seems difficult, keeping your eye on the prize, and not allowing yourself to be distracted by what is temporary.  

Numbers, numbers, numbers…

In a nice little bit of not-really-important-news-but-still-news: The Vatican announces the publication of the Statistical Yearbook of the Church for 2008. Compiling these things takes time, so they’re always a year or so behind. Statistical yearbooks, unsurprisingly, are chockfull of numbers. Numbers about all aspects of Church activity. It’s great for people who are fond of making lists and comparing numerical developments.

Of course, in the age of Wikipedia and other comparable Internet resources, some of this data is a bit superfluous. Websites like Catholic Hierarchy and Giga-Catholic Information offer lots of numbers too, and sometimes more up to date than a yearbook can. But they’re not necessarily as complete or attractive as a big fat book, it has to be said.

So, when we talk about the Catholic Church, here is some of what we mean:

1,166,000,000 Catholics

5002 bishops
409,166 priests, of which
274,007 diocesan priests
135,159 regular (or religious) priests

54,641 non-ordained male religious
740,000 female religious

117,024 students at seminaries (both religious and diocesan

Nice numbers, generally indicating an increase, except in Europe and when it comes to male and female religious. But all the rest is steadily going up, and that’s reason for some optimism.

The Kröber interview, now available in Dutch

Early this month I wrote about an interview with German forensic psychiatrist Hans-Ludwig Kröber about the alleged relation between celibacy and pedophilia. Now, thanks to Taquoriaan, that interview is also available in Dutch. An interesting read with some very thought-provoking conclusion from a man who knows what he’s talking about.

The interview is now also available in English.

A Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation?

I’ve been reading reports about the establishment of a Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation in the near future, under te leadership of Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who now heads the Pontifical Academy for Life. It is said to take over some of the responsibility from the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, and concern itself with evangelisation in areas where the Catholic faith is in decline, most specifically Europe and North America.

It’s not confirmed by any source in the Vatican, of course, but it is believable and interesting. Whereas the Church in Africa and Italy is flourishing, in western countries she is in a crisis. To create a specific Council, which is a department within the Vatican, for the purpose of re-evangelising those areas makes sense. After all, the entire situation is totally different from other continents, and up till now the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples had to balance their responsibilities in both these areas.

The term ‘New Evangelisation’ dates from the early years of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, and it has been something that Pope Benedict XVI has concerned himself with as well. Creating a Pontifical Council is not something he ahs done before, but perhaps it can be seen as yet another step in the pope’s slow but steady overhaul of certain aspects of the Vatican and the Church.

I’m curious to see how this’ll take shape.

Bishop Slattery’s homily on suffering and obedience

One of the most difficult questions that we are posed on a regular basis is. “If God loves us so much, why is there so much suffering in the world?” Especially when the person asking it is someone who has experienced serious suffering him-  or herself, it is virtually impossible to give a satisfactory answer. Not because there isn’t one, but because from a suffering human perspective it is almost impossible to take a step back and consider suffering objectively. At moments like that, faith truly becomes a matter of ‘faith in’, of trust in God.

On Saturday, Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa addressed this very topic in a homily in Washington, a homily picked up by a number of blogs and heralded as a great piece of work. Bishop Slattery shines a light on suffering as the ultimate way in which Christ makes Himself present in our lives. Suffering strips away a lot, our comforts and sometimes our humanity, but in Christ it becomes nothing more (or less) than Christ revealed. From this, the bishop continues on to some good points about obedience, points worth prayerfully reflecting upon.

Father Z has a transcript with his usual emphases. He also offers an audio recording.

I also have the homily available in Dutch here.

A recommended read (or listen)!

An armchair thinker about integralism

Artist Jan Toorop's portrait, made in 1907, is probably the best known depiction of Fr. Ariëns.

I’ve been reading part of a biography of Fr. Alphonse Ariëns, titled ‘Er zijn weinig heilige priesters’ (‘There are few holy priests’) by H. Lohman ofm. I have reached the chapters that discuss the difficulties that Fr. Ariëns encountered from certain Catholic circles because of his work for better living standards for workers and the rights of women. A significant amount of that criticism, which seriously affected Fr. Ariëns, came from a small but vocal orthodox circle around the priest Marie Thompson. They were proponent of integralism, a reactionary movement opposed to modernism, which to them also included the separation of church and state, ecumenism and women’s right to vote. Fr. Ariëns was in favour of those, but without denying a shred of his Catholic identity. That was mostly visible in his willingness to work with other Christians in the unions and anti-alcoholism movement and the importance he attached to education for women. He was very active in both those fields. 

What struck me most in those chapters was not so much the opinions and position of the integralists. I think they’re incorrect and so did Pope Benedict XV, who wrote the encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum in 1914. He confirmed there that modernism was “the synthesis of all heresies” (25), but also condemned integralism as a serious excess of anti-modernist criticism. 

The striking thing about Fr. Ariëns and the integralists, as Lohman describes it, was the intensely personal nature of the criticism. Thompson, in various daily and weekly magazines, was keen to condemn any person, layman, priest or bishop, who was not Catholic enough in his opinion. He even stooped to outright lies, which took quite a lot of work from Fr. Ariëns and several other priests to correct. Thompson’s main point seems to have been that any approach towards other Christians or any gesture that was not solidly supported by an almost literal reading of the Bible or the application of Tradition, took away some part of the ‘Catholicity’ of the person making the gesture or the approach. And sicne that person was then, in the opinion of the integralists, ‘less of a Catholic’, he was a suitable target for slander and lies. After all, he was perceived as a threat. 

Lohman’s words about these events , despite that fact that they happened a century ago, were not unfamiliar. Integralism is not dead. We see it in certain circles within and without the Church, and it has found its way into the Internet as well. Perhaps that’s a specific environment where it can flourish. Even a shallow sampling of the Catholic blogosphere will turn up one or more examples of the Thompson variant of integralism, complete with personal attacks and slander. 

It’s something to be watchful about. Integralism, as I understand it following an admittedly limited reading on the subject, is a negative theory. It speaks about what we should not be, what we should not do. Christianity is the polar opposite of that. Jesus Christ teaches us every day anew what we should do and be. His angle of attack, so to speak, allows for a human, no, more than human approach to the problems we face, Rather than attacking our (perceived) opponents and staring blindly at what (we think) they did wrong, Christ teaches us to lead by example. To show and share our own qualities and His gifts through faith. Ultimately that will have a far more lasting effect than rubbing people’s noses in their mistakes.