SEX AND THE SINGLE PRIEST
Clerical misconduct, both admitted and alleged, haunts the Church.
THE MESSAGE THUNDERED OUT OF THE VATICAN with the force of the Gospel from which it was taken: “ For him who gives scandal, it would be better to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” After years in which its leaders downplayed the sex scandals that have plagued the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S., Pope John Paul II thus publicly acknowledged the enormity of the problem.
Indeed, the American bishops, who had long petitioned Rome for special discip-linary powers to deal with the crisis, were deeply aware of its dimensions. For
starters, the hierarchy in June, 1993, suffered the embarrassment of having to
elect a new national secretary to replace Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe,
New Mexico, who resigned from his see amid revelations that he had conducted
affairs with three young women.
The report disclosed that at least 21 students of the school, St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, said they had been accosted by members of the order. In November, 1993, the California Franciscans revealed that sexual abuse had taken place at St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara for more than 20 years. A year-long investigation commissioned by the order uncovered proof that at least 34 boys were molested by 11 friars from 1964 to 1987. Prosecutions were not expected, however, since the six-year statute of limitations on sex crimes had run out. Earlier in the year 1993, New York’s John Cardinal O’Connor had summoned all his 1,200 priests to closed-door meetings to discuss how to handle child- molestation cases. The archdiocese faced two civil suits over misdeeds of clerics, and O’Connor warned that “a grenade could explode at any time, and another and another.”
Before 1993 was out, just such a grenade rocked Chicago. John Cardinal Bernardin, one of U.S. Catholicism’s most influential leaders and a pioneer in efforts to root out sexual abuse by the clergy, was himself accused of having molested a teenager in the mid-1970s. The accuser, now a 34-year-old man who said he began recall- ing the incident after therapy, filed a $10 million lawsuit against Bernardin and the church. The Cardinal immediately denied the charges and referred the matter to a church review board, but the questionable allegation drew further unwanted attention to the embarrassing problem.
The scandals forced the American clergy—and, ever so reluctantly, the Vatican— to reexamine the nature and traditions of the priesthood. For some advocates of change, the key to reform was dropping the 870-year-old tradition of priestly celibacy. In June, 1993, the National Office of Black Catholics, a Washington- based advocacy group, issued a plea to the Pope to make celibacy optional, thus helping to alleviate the shortage of priests and discourage further scandals.
The Pope remained committed to a celibate clergy. He urged the American bishops “not to lose heart,” but they faced suits for many millions of dollars filed by victims who felt that the church did not act as quickly as it should have in the face of its errant clergymen. As for the sinners among the ranks who gave scandal, many church officials felt that they should not be denied forgiveness. The men, women and children who suffered from their transgressions, however, believed that any forgiveness must be preceded by some healing penance—on the part of the church as well as the transgressors.
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Church of the Science of God
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© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993