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