Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Catholic Church - Celibacy, Sex Scandals & Satan

The Catholic Church is contracting in the West for a variety of reasons - from the war on Christianity led by the secular left to unpopular stands on birth control to a series of scandals involving the Church, boys, male prostitutes and allegations of Vatican cover-up. The Church is deeply in need of change. One priest's ideas for change are far reaching indeed. On the other hand, for his part, the Church's Chief Excorist sees the devil's hand at work.

The Catholic Church is going through yet another series of self-created series of scandals. A scandal much like what occurred in the U.S. - accusation of decades old sexual abuse of minors and an initial Vatican cover-up - is now breaking in Germany. At least one Jesuit has admitted to sexual abuse. The scandal in Germany seems limited to about thirty claims of decades old abuse, far less than involved in the similar scandal that recently unfolded in Ireland. There have also been some recent high profile claims involving the brother of the Pope, Bishop Georg Ratzinger.

An allegation of an act of sexual abuse has surfaced in regards to a famous German boys choir that Bishop Ratzinger took over in 1964 and ran it until 1994. The alleged abuse occurred in the years before his tenure and the Bishop has denied any knowledge of the act. There have also been allegations of brutality as regards the choir, to which the Bishop admits knowing at least something about:

There have . . . been reports of severe beatings by administrators at two primary feeder schools for the choir, one in Etterzhausen and one in Peilenhofen. One director, identified as Johann M., who headed the Etterzhausen school from 1953-1992, has been cited in several allegations as being particularly abusive.

Ratzinger said boys would open up to him about being mistreated in Etterzhausen.

"But I did not have the feeling at the time that I should do something about it. Had I known with what exaggerated fierceness he was acting, I would have said something," he was quoted as saying by the German paper.

"Of course, today one condemns such actions," Ratzinger said. "I do as well. At the same time, I ask the victims for pardon."

He said he had administered corporal punishment himself.

"At the beginning I also repeatedly administered a slap in the face, but always had a bad conscience about it," Ratzinger said, adding that he was happy when corporal punishment was made illegal in 1980.

Ratzinger said a slap in the face was the easiest reaction to a failure to perform or a poor performance. How hard it was varied greatly, depending on who administered it. . . .

A slap in the face of a child in the 1960's was not uncommon. That is not any sort of scandal. It does, however, come on the heels of another high profile sex scandal, this one occuring inside the Vatican itself:

The Vatican was today rocked by a sex scandal reaching into Pope Benedict's household after a chorister was sacked for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a papal gentleman-in-waiting.

Angelo Balducci, a Gentleman of His Holiness, was caught by police on a wiretap allegedly negotiating with Thomas Chinedu Ehiem, a 29-year-old Vatican chorister, over the specific physical details of men he wanted brought to him. Transcripts in the possession of the Guardian suggest that numerous men may have been procured for Balducci, at least one of whom was studying for the priesthood.

The explosive claims about Balducci's private life have caused grave embarrassment to the Vatican, which has yet to publicly comment on the affair.

While Catholicism does not condemn homosexuality outright, its teaching is that homosexual acts "are intrinsically disordered". The Catechism of the Catholic church states unequivocally: "Under no circumstances can they be approved." . . .

The seemingly never ending string of sex scandals, the declining membership in the Catholic Church in the West, and the decline in people choosing the priesthood as their life's calling have led a papist rebel, Father Kung, to challenge several of the better known dogma of the modern Catholic Church. This from the Times:

A leading Roman Catholic theologian has linked clerical sex abuse with priestly celibacy, blaming the Church’s “uptight” views on sex for child abuse scandals in Germany, Ireland and the US.

Father Hans Kung, President of the Global Ethic Foundation and professor emeritus at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said that the Church’s attitude was also revealed in its opposition to birth control.

The German church rejected any suggestion that abuse was linked to celibacy, homosexuality or church teaching.

Last week the Regensburg Diocese in Germany revealed that a former chorister claimed he was abused while a member of its choir, which was led for three decades by Father Georg Ratzinger, brother of Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy See said that it backed the diocese’s attempts to investigate the scandal by analysing “the painful question in a decisive and open way”. Also last week, in the Holy See, an adult chorister was sacked for allegedly procuring male prostitutes for a Papal usher.

Robert Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg and head of the German bishops’ conference, branded clerical abuse “outrageous” and begged forgiveness from the victims but denied any link between abuse and celibacy.

Writing in The Tablet, Father Kung, who in 1979 was stripped of his licence to teach Catholic theology after he rejected the doctrine of Papal infallibility, welcomed the apology but described the denials of any link between abuse, celibacy and other teaching as “erroneous”.

He said that it was the case that abuse was found also in families, schools and other churches. But he asked: “Why is it so prevalent in the Catholic Church under celibate leadership?” He said that celibacy was not the only cause of the misconduct but described it as “the most important and structurally the most decisive” expression of the Church’s uptight attitude to sex.

Citing the New Testament, he says that Jesus and St Paul practised celibacy but “allowed full freedom in this matter to each individual”. St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians wrote: “Because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Peter and the apostles were married and their ministries did not suffer, he said, pointing out that thousands of priests protested when the new law was introduced as late as the 11th century.

Father Kung said: “Compulsory celibacy is the principal reason for today’s catastrophic shortage of priests, for the fatal neglect of eucharistic celebration, and for the tragic breakdown of personal pastoral ministry in many places.”

He argues that there are two simple solutions to the shortage of priests: “Abolition of the celibacy rule, the root of all these evils, and the admission of women to ordination. The bishops know this, but they do not have the courage to say it in public.”

I concur on all counts with Father Kung. Indeed, the rules on celibacy in the Catholic Church only date back a millenium, while the the doctrine of Papal infallibility only dates to the 19th century. Neither is explicitly supported by biblical text. For that matter, neither is the Church prohibition on all but natural means birth control. I think changes to all - plus the ordination of women - are not antithetical to anything in the Bible and are ultimately necessary to reinvigorate the Catholic Church in the Western world.

That said, others in the Church see alternate origins of their problems. This from the Times:

Sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church are proof that that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican", according to the Holy See's chief exorcist.

Father Gabriele Amorth, 85, who has been the Vatican's chief exorcist for 25 years and says he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession, said that the consequences of satanic infiltration included power struggles at the Vatican as well as "cardinals who do not believe in Jesus, and bishops who are linked to the Demon".

He added: "When one speaks of 'the smoke of Satan' [a phrase coined by Pope Paul VI in 1972] in the holy rooms, it is all true – including these latest stories of violence and paedophilia."

He claimed that another example of satanic behaviour was the Vatican "cover-up" over the deaths in 1998 of Alois Estermann, the then commander of the Swiss Guard, his wife and Corporal Cedric Tornay, a Swiss Guard, who were all found shot dead. "They covered up everything immediately," he said. "Here one sees the rot". . . .

A remarkably swift Vatican investigation concluded that Corporal Tornay had shot the commander and his wife and then turned his gun on himself after being passed over for a medal. However Tornay's relatives have challenged this. There have been unconfirmed reports of a homosexual background to the tragedy and the involvement of a fourth person who was never identfied.

Father Amorth, who has just published Memoirs of an Exorcist, a series of interviews with the Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, said that the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in 1981 had been the work of the Devil, as had an incident last Christmas when a mentally disturbed woman threw herself at Pope Benedict XVI at the start of Midnight Mass, pulling him to the ground.

Father José Antonio Fortea Cucurull, a Rome-based exorcist, said that Father Amorth had "gone well beyond the evidence" in claiming that Satan had infiltrated the Vatican corridors.

"Cardinals might be better or worse, but all have upright intentions and seek the glory of God," he said. Some Vatican officials were more pious than others, "but from there to affirm that some cardinals are members of satanic sects is an unacceptable distance."

Father Amorth told La Repubblica that the devil was "pure spirit, invisible. But he manifests himself with blasphemies and afflictions in the person he possesses. He can remain hidden, or speak in different languages, transform himself or appear to be agreeable. At times he makes fun of me."

He said it sometimes took six or seven of his assistants to to hold down a possessed person. Those possessed often yelled and screamed and spat out nails or pieces of glass, which he kept in a bag. "Anything can come out of their mouths – finger-length pieces of iron, but also rose petals."

He said that hoped every diocese would eventually have a resident exorcist. Under Church Canon Law any priest can perform exorcisms, but in practice they are carried out by a chosen few trained in the rites. . . .

Before increasing exponentially the number of exorcists in the Church, I'd be inclined to give Father Kung's suggestions a try.


cdor said...

I get it... "The Devil made them do it."

If it weren't so damn disgusting, one would have to laugh.

suek said...

Hmmm. I wouldn't laugh at the notion. Although I think most of us don't need the Devil to make us do whatever we shouldn't. We accomplish that pretty well on our own.

Somewhere in the dim far past, I read that it takes a great saint to be a great sinner. I don't remember where I saw it. I've given it a lot of thought and basically have concluded it's probably true - so to find the presence of the devil in such surroundings wouldn't be such a surprise. In fact, it makes sense.

I sense an underlying premise that there are those who don't believe that the devil actually exists... That's a different issue, but it does connect.

GW said...

I am adding this from an e-mail I received on this post:

Dear Wolf,

I must respectfully disagree with your inclination that the Catholic Church should try Fr. Kung’s suggestions. He has not merely been a rebel against the pope, as you note, but a rebel against numerous teachings of the Church. When I read his On Being a Christian many years ago, my reaction was, “My, what a fine Protestant theologian.”

The decline in Church membership in the West is precisely that … “in the West.” Meanwhile, those of us Catholics who are interested in such things have been aware for some years now that the future of the Church is in the Global south where membership and vocations have been growing rapidly. In the cultures of the Global south, adapting Fr. Kung’s suggestions would throttle this growth. Further, under the leadership of John Paul II and Benedict XI vocations have begun to revive in the United States, particularly in those religious orders and dioceses where the Church’s traditional teaching on – among other things – celibacy and ordination to the priesthood is strongly affirmed.

Yours truly,

Jim Ross

GW said...

While I believe in evil and in the bible, and thus satan in some form, my belief is that much of what we see in terms of horrible acts are a function of free will. That said, my mind is always open.

As to Mr. Ross, my e-mail response to him was:

Thank you for the articulate response. I have transferred it to the comments section to add to the issue.. I don't discount anything that you say. That said, while I have read that the Church is growing in the Southern hemisphere, I've seen nothing though to support the argument that allowing ordination of married priests or women would detract from that. If you can cite to any authority, I would be happy to read it.

suek said... a woman married for a _very_ long time, I'll answer it - with a question.

In the name of simple justice, how can a man devote his entire being to both being a priest and being a husband and father? It almost requires that the wife also be a minister...and then...what about the children? In other words, it seems to me that being a priest and minister is a full time job, and so is being a husband and father. No man can serve two masters etc.

With regard to women as priests... same problem only double. There's also a factor I can't really of patriarchy which is an underlying philosophy within the Judeo-Christian ethic, and which I think is part of why that ethic has been successful, and why in recent years we've seen that with the rise of feminism we have lost the maturation of males within society. In other words, those who bear the responsibility of leadership in a society _become_ the leaders, and the rest become less responsible. The ideal, of course, is for all to be responsible, and that is probably best achieved when each has a limited defined sphere of responsibility - a notion that is entirely out of style at the moment.

I haven't stated my position very well - it's a "gut" feeling that I haven't defined. It isn't a question of morality so much as it is one of human nature.

I've thought that maybe there should be a possibility of a celibate priesthood for a period of the young man's life, after which he "retired" from the "assertive" or "missionary" function of the priesthood to become a pastor, allowed to marry, and assuming the responsibility of carrying on the direction of the physical parish. Sort of a reverse order...instead of being a deacon who might then become a priest, be a priest first, and then become the mature deacon. Or something of that ilk.

GW said...

Posted from an e-mail:

Dear Wolf,

Thanks for responding. Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you sooner, but things got busy Friday.

To some extent I’ve inferred the attitudes of the global south from their position in the controversies in the Anglican Church over the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson, the gay, non-celibate clergyman in New Hampshire. There were numerous references in the press articles about the controversy that referred to the ‘conservatism’ of Anglican dioceses in the southern hemisphere, particularly Africa. Some of them also mentioned the all male Anglican clergy in that region.

However, here are some other sources that are more explicit. First, the website has a lot of information on Christian demographics, some specifically Catholic, some not. Look particularly at Topic 4.4.2. An Example from Catholicism, for a statement that supports my position. If you explore this website, you’ll eventually notice references to Phillip Jenkins’ 2002 book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. I haven’t read it yet, but I did read a fairly extensive review and discussion about it – I think in the journal First Things – which also made the point. You can find a good interview with Phillip Jenkins, “Christianity’s New Center,” at Speaking of First Things, Richard John Neuhaus before his death last year always wrote the monthly comments in The Public Square section of the journal and would make the similar points about the global south every other issue or so.

I should acknowledge that in some places in Africa there has been an opinion of some within the Church in favor of married clergy, and also in favor of polygamy. I don’t know of any in favor of women priests. I think there will always be a few who hold such opinions regardless of geography.

Best wishes,


OBloodyHell said...

Referring to Gene Robinson as "Anglican
is seriously in error. He is Episcopalian. Historically there has been a strong connection between the two, with Episcopalian being the "American arm of Anglicanism", but with this there has been a serious divergence. In fact, membership in Anglican, as opposed to Episcopal, churches in the USA has exploded. Many members of Episcopal churches have left the Episcopal church, including whole congregations, to join or create an Anglican branch. I am loosely associated with one of those, which involved several hundred former Episcopalians, and their married priest, leaving the Episcopal church to create an Anglican congregation.

I think there is a serious distinction under Christianity between allowing a gay priest/minister/preacher and a married or non-celibate male.

There are clear and undeniably negative biblical proscriptions against homosexuality. The marriage proscription is, as GW has noted, a much more recent event dating from around the first millenium, and thus is not a matter of biblical directive.

I'm not certain offhand if there are any specific biblical scriptures which would argue for a male-only clergy, and this can and should be treated as a second, alternate issue to be debated independent of the married/celibate matter.

I do believe the Catholic church needs to more carefully examine the question of why it is that it seems to attract a lot of pedophiles, however, since I'm not aware of an unavoidable connection between homosexuality and pedophilia itself. Certainly that does appear to be a stronger connection than it does among heterosexuals, it does seem as though MOST of the homosexuals who wind up in the Catholic church are ALSO pedophiles.