212. Clerical Sex Scandals: Christ Stands with the Victims

The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote;
14 so I will again do
    amazing things with this people,
    shocking and amazing.
The wisdom of their wise shall perish,
    and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden.[Isaiah 29:12-13, NRSV]

Scourging at the Pillar by Jason Jenicke

The current spate of horrendous disclosures in clerical sex scandals once again places the Catholic Church under intense and unpleasant scrutiny. Many Catholics, severely troubled by all this, have spoken to us on different aspects of this never-ending and torturous saga.

This time round, the new wave of revelations include the infamous Cardinal McCarrick and an American archbishop’s insolent call for the resignation of Pope Francis, the Philadelphia Report, the Australian Report, two Chilean bishops defrocked by Pope Francis for “overwhelming evidence” of sex abuse of minors, and the promise of more serious and imminent bad news to come.

While this post is on clerical sex scandals, however, its focus is narrow and specific: it relates to events happening in our local faith community, the Archdiocese of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. We write upon the requests of some parishioners who are deeply troubled by the preaching of a young local priest on those scandals which they found seriously “unacceptable”.

We begin this reflection in, we must say, a current context of rather delightful signs of positive and pro-active steps taken by bishops across the globe to help the church move forward. In regards to this, it is consoling to observe a rather positive attitude from the ordained leadership around the world. We find it consoling because:

  • what we see is an attitude that shows a desire to do right by the victims and their families;
  • we see a sign of willingness to stand with the Lord who always stands with the victims; and that through all this,  
  • we see, at long last, a display of genuine determination on the part of the Catholic episcopacy to return to the Gospels, to be obedient servants of the Word and not its rebels.

The colossal clerical sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church have had a noisy run since 2002 when the “big bang” of it all exploded in an event-changing disclosure in Boston, USA. Since then, the institutional church has gradually learned, almost against its natural inclination and no doubt painfully compelled in most cases, to begin to face the truth, to speak the truth, and to join Christ who always stands with the victims. Before that, the default-response of the ordained clergy was to fiercely deny all wrongdoing, regardless. All told, it was nothing but an ugly modus operandi in an ugly clerical culture that seeks to “blame the victim”, to assume a belligerent posture against them and their families, even treating them as enemies of the Church, and shifting pedophile-priests around different parishes, all for the protection of the imaginary “good name” of the ordained priesthood. Such a public-relation strategy, loaded with “intrinsic evil” one might add, is now largely gone, or at least noticeably muffled. Instead, there are now refreshingly positive signs aplenty; samples as follows:

  • Pope Francis, obviously infuriated by all this, has reportedly condemned corruption and cover up within the church as “caca” – which is Spanish for “shit”, but diplomatically translated as “filth in the toilet”.
  • John Allen, the veteran reporter of all things Vatican, has observed in 2001 that after his reviewing the files sent to them, Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) and his staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith went through a “conversion experience” and repented of their denial. He then began to talk openly about the pedophile priests as “filth” in the church, and his staff became far more energetic about prosecuting abusers.
  • In “Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God,” 20 August 2018, the Holy Father writes:  “It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable’. God stands on the side of the victims, the little ones whom the clergy-run institutional church had abandoned, and whose hushed pain and untold suffering the clergy had ignored.”
  • In a reflection of Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM, of Philadelphia, offered in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, found on the website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia August 17, 2018, and entitled “On anger, grief, and the future”, he observes: “But the substance of the report is brutally graphic and profoundly disturbing as a chronicle of evil inflicted on hundreds of innocents. The only acceptable responses are grief and support for the victims, and comprehensive efforts to ensure that such things never recur.”
  • Pope Francis has defrocked 2 Chilean bishops for crimes of pedophilia.
  • Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has spent much time naming “clericalism” as a major evil in the Church. (The Australian Report also names “clericalism” as an important factor that contributed to the commission and cover up of Catholic clerical sex abuses of minors.)
  • Closer home, in his “Pastoral Message on the Recent Clerical Sex Abuse Scandals Abroad,” Archbishop William Goh of Singapore refers to the scandals abroad as a wake-up call. He points to the Professional Standards Office (PSO) as the instrument by which the Singapore Church deals with sex abuse complaints. “Staffed by lay professionals, its investigations are conducted at arm’s length from the Archbishop. This is to ensure total impartiality and non-interference from the Archbishop’s Office.” He refers to Luke 8:17 – “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.”
  • Similarly, Archbishop Simon Poh of the Archdiocese of Kuching has made very positive and conspicuous contribution at the recent Synod on the Youth. Refusing to sit back on an attitude of complacency, thinking all these clerical sex scandals are European or American, he advocates a proactive work-ethic on the part of the local church in handling and reporting all cases.
  • Resonating with all this positive spirituality, a young Jesuit priest serving in Kuching delighted the congregation recently when he openly preached at Mass against the evil committed by clerical sex-offenders and put his finger on the sick clerical mentality in cover-ups. Like his confrere the Jesuit Pope, this young Jesuit puts the blame squarely where it belongs, on the ordained priests who at the same time are sex offenders.

Now, in stark contrast to all those positive signs we have briefly detailed above, it is as shocking as it is distasteful to hear tirades from another young priest running a city church in Kuching who, instead of condemning the clerical sex offenders, blatantly chose to place the blame for the crimes/sins of pedophile priests on the laity! Take a look at the following, and judge for yourselves.

In one homily, he referred to the current spate of news of clerical sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church that has gone viral in social media. He chose to refer to it all as an evil attack against the church. The ordained priesthood, he insisted, is holy and sacred. Scandals of this kind against the ordained clergy are nothing but a frontal and evil attack against what is holy and sacred in the church, he would have the congregation know. But, observe carefully what was not said:

  • Never once was reference made to the evil committed by the perpetrators who are ordained clerics.
  • Never once was any reference made to what the two Holy Fathers (Benedict and now Francis) have said when they referred to the clerical sex offenders as “caca” and “fifth in the church”, let alone to accept the truth that the evil did not come from outside; the evil is inside the church, embodied in the ordained priests and perpetrated by the “holy and sacred” ordained priests.
  • Never once was there any indication of regret for the irreparable harm committed by clerical sex offenders to the moral integrity of the Church.
  • Never once was there any sign of any pain and grief for the irreparable harm committed by clerical sex offenders against the innocent young of Christ.
  • Never once was there even a whisper of solidarity with the young innocent victims for their life-eclipsing suffering in the hands of clerical sex offenders.

So do you see what we see? This is another insidious attempt at “cover up” all over. It is as naked as any of yet another lame attempt by priests with this kind of operative mentality to fool the laity into continuing to hold the Catholic clerics as holy and sacred regardless. The underlying agenda, of course, remains constant, which is to socialize the “unthinking” Catholic laity into an unthinking acceptance of the Catholic clergy as being “chosen”, “set apart” and “ontologically different” from the rest of humanity, and thus worthy of the people’s continued adoration and elevated esteem, if not worship.

An element of real tragedy in all this is, of course, that such an agenda is a great deal more transparent to the “unthinking” masses than they are given credit for. They talk about it outside of the liturgical celebration, at home, at coffee shops, in offices, on social media, and in friendly gatherings: the king, really, is not wearing any clothes.

In his ministry, Pope Francis warms hearts and grows faith amongst Catholics around the world who have become increasingly despondent in the face of waves of shocking revelations of clerical sex crimes against minors. Do you not find it lamentable, as we do, that while God has raised up a new prophetic figure in Pope Francis, as God always does in critical junctures in human history, Francis’s wholesome spirituality, after three years in office, is still roundly thwarted in our local church?

In another homily, this young priest drew intense ire, causing a family to announce to us that they have now had enough of “this kind of preaching” and “shall look for another church to attend Mass.” What has he preached? Referring to the Synod on the Youth, he spoke of Pope Francis’ emphasis on family education and values. From there, he quickly transited to his blame-game, shooting tirades against the parents for all those clerical sex scandals happening around the globe:

  • Those scandals happened, he announced, because parents have failed to guide their young children properly.
  • Parental failure has resulted in young children coming to church and causing the priests to commit those sins!!!(1)

Do you hear what we hear? Is this not phenomenal idiocy? Is this not blaming the victims? Is this not as ugly as it gets in a clericalist mentality which Pope Francis is spending much of his pontificate trying to eradicate? Is this not a wholly unacceptable preaching from the pulpit that must be condemned? Is it any wonder that thinking Catholics at the congregation where this man presides are contemplating an imminent exodus?

What, in your view, is causing this badly skewed understanding and practice of the ordained ministry? Well, one profitable entry point for analysis may well be from what the venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen has once said, “The more there is of the ego, the less there is of Christ.” From there, one sees a basic failure in this young priest’s comprehension of “strength” vs. “power”, a fundamental collapse in his “Christ consciousness”, and a crucial need for him to return to what Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels is teaching throughout his earthly ministry, that is, beware of “value discrepancy” in Christian living.

Aiming for a more positive and less stressful piece than this post, our reflection shall continue in the next post, scheduled for 1 December 2018.

(1) See further, ” An Italian priest loses parish post after blaming children for sexual abuse” at https://www.ncronline.org/news/people/italian-priest-loses-parish-post-after-blaming-children-sexual-abuse.

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, November 2018. All rights reserved.

You are most welcome to respond to this post. Email your comments to jeffangiegoh@gmail.com. You can also be dialogue partners in this Ephphatha Coffee-Corner Ministry by sending us questions for discussion.