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New York Times on Rome’s Coupling of Clerical Pedophilia and Women’s Ordination: Inept Posturing

This is a brief addendum to what I published yesterday about the document released by the Vatican this week, which couples clerical abuse of minors with women’s ordination.  I’d like to note, as a postscript to what I published yesterday, that today’s New York Times has an editorial addressing the document. The Times critique of the Vatican document runs along channels similar to my critique.

The editorial notes,

There was not much to like in the Vatican’s news conference this week about its pedophilia scandal, but among all the defensive posturing and inept statements, there was one real stunner: The citing of the movement for the ordination of women as a “grave crime” that Rome deems as offensive as the scandal of priests who sexually assault children.

Calls for ending the ban on women priests are only a blip on the ecclesiastical radar screen. Yet Vatican officials gratuitously raised them at the news conference, while they offered limited antidotes to the crimes of sexual abuse and the long history of bishops dithering and covering up these crimes.

And then it concludes, “Red herrings about female priests only display the tone-deafness of the Vatican’s dominant male hierarchy.”

Sadly, because this critique is appearing in a secular newspaper that defensive apologists for the status quo want (ludicrously) to dismiss as an anti-Catholic publication, we will now hear the usual hue and cry from those apologists, who seem as tone-deaf as is the Vatican itself to the serious challenges facing the church they claim to love.  As theologian Mary Hunt notes in her recent essay to which my posting yesterday links, the leaders of our church look ever more out of touch with what rank-and-file Catholics think and believe about these matters.

And with people of good will outside the church, as well.  We must move beyond the defensive, reality-denying posture if we sincerely want the church to live through the crisis in which it now finds itself.  As public opinion, both inside and outside the church, increasingly rejects the red-herring excuses by which the hierarchy tries to distance itself from responsibility for this crisis, those who love the church–who really love the church–need to stop assisting our pastoral leaders in avoiding responsibility, and call them to responsibility.

And to the servant leadership to which they’ve been called.


34 Responses

  1. The above comment is correct. The two issues deal with different matters – one is a moral issue, the other is a sacramental issue.

    It is not that they are equal. It is that both come under the jurisdiction of the Congregation of the Faith.

  2. That’s correct, they are not equal. For the moral crime, the perpetrators are threatened with possible ‘laicisation, for the sacramental crime they are threatened with automatic excommunication. Judging by the disparity in punishments, ordaining women to the priesthood is a far more serious crime than sexually abusing children.

  3. Jayden,

    The establishment of a new relationship, especially if it is voluntary, hardly constitutes a “punishment”. The attempt to link the two is a red herring in itself.

    When an ordinator voluntarily, and in open defiance of the authorities, ordinates someone who, according to the authorities, lacks the credentials to be a priest that person cannot be said to be acting as a Catholic. That person removes himself or herself from the Catholic fold. It’s not a punishment; it is a recognition of the ordinator’s desire to sever the relationship.

    A priest who commits sexual abuse of a minor would also be excommunicated if the abuser holds firm to the position that he hasn’t committed a moral sin.

    I ask you this: what would you do differently? If you were in the Vatican, would you simply look the other way when there is an open defiance?

  4. But David, quite obviously they have been linked – by inclusion in he same document, and press release.

    It’s quite correct that the issues are distinct – and they should have been treated entirely independently.

    • Terence,

      If they had been treatly independently, do you think the Vatican should have attached the same consequences?

      • I can’t really answer this David, because I believe the whole fuss about preventing women’s ordination was misguided and mishandled in the first place. Given their implacable position, I don’t see they have any choice, as within that frame of reference, the issue is not one of women’s ordination, but one of unordained people celebrating Mass.

        I believe their fundamental mistake is in not opening up the women issue for open discussion. It is this total dismissal of women, and the refusal to even discuss it, that has led these women to move ahead unilaterally as a matter of conscience. And as Joseph Ratzinger himself has said, “Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.”
        See “Joseph Ratzinger on Obedience and Dissent

      • Terence,

        I don’t understand the fuss about ordination of women, either. But, some consequences are necessary for violating the rules.

        • David, you say, “But, some consequences are necessary for violating the rules.”

          Sort of like the consequences Cardinal Law had to face after years of hiding and transferring priests abusing minors, do you mean, David? Or the penalties that all the bishops who have engaged in such behavior have incurred?

          Or the automatic excommunication incurred by a priest found to have sexually abused a minor?

        • Bill,

          Sorry, I didn’t see your earlier comment. Now that I have, I don’t understand it. Are you trying to draw a parallel between the abuse of children and ordaining women?

          • Thanks for your reply and your question, David.

            No, I don’t need to draw that parallel, since the Vatican document has already done so by lumping the two together in one document.

            I was responding to your observation, vis-a-vis bishops who ordain women, that “[b]ut, some consequences are necessary for violating the rules.”

            And, of course, what has many people of good will around the world incensed, along with many Catholics around the world, is that Rome is quick to dole out punishments for women who are ordained and bishops who ordain them. But Rome has been very slow to hand out any punishments at all to bishops and even higher church officials who have, for many years, protected priests who sexually abuse minors.

            As it has been very slow to hand out any punishments at all to priests who sexually abuse minors.

            I can’t imagine how our church could function if the two-thirds of U.S. bishops who have protected and moved abusive priests around incurred automatic excommunication for that action–as any women who is ordained does.

          • Bill,

            The document doesn’t draw a parallel between the two actions. Rather, the document addresses the types of actions that fall outside of the jurisdiction of the bishops.

            On one hand, you fault the Vatican, for not being more aggressive against the bishops in dealing with the sexual abuse issues. Yet, you fault the Vatican for enforcing their authority in dealing with unauthorized ordination.

            It’s a red herring of your own production. The only connection between the two types of prohibited behavior is that the Vatican claims that they come under the Vatican’s authority. The consequences (not punishments) are a separate matter. Many people of good will are incensed. But, they would be incensed no matter what the Vatican did unless it fit within their own narrow definitions of how the Vatican should act.

            What do you think should happen to bishops who engage in unauthorized ordinations? Should the Vatican just look the other way? What if the bishop supported abortion as a means of birth control? Look the other way? What if a bishop proclaimed that God is not 3 persons? Look the other way? What would you have the Vatican do? Should it consult with every David Ludescher and Bill Lindsey? Take a vote?

          • David, one document discusses two actions in the context of providing penalties for the two actions.

            That’s a fact. That’s what has happened. That’s what the document says and what it does.

            The coupling of these two actions in a single document providing penalties for infractions of church laws has people around the world outraged. Rightly so.

            The decision to couple these two actions in a single document that is about punishing infractions of church laws is beyond insensitive.

            You and other apologists may parse all you wish. But the parsing won’t change what the document does and says, and the beyond-insensitive decision to couple these two actions in a single document about punishment for infractions of church laws. Nor will it change the outrage.

            And as I have noted, the outrage many people feel as they read about this document has much to do with the very different way in which church leaders have chosen to treat priests abusing children, bishops who protect and reassign these priests, and women.

            You haven’t addressed the substance of that particular observation, which I made in response to your statement that wrongful actions ought to incur penalties.

          • Bill,

            The document does say what it says. There is no reason to read more into it.

            It’s your choice to be offended; it was not the Vatican’s decision to offend. From a scholarly point of view, who is the offense against?

            Does it minimize the wrong against the abused? Does it suggest an inappropriate consequence against the women who are ordained? No, neither.

            It was politically unwise to put the two offenses in the same document. But, offensive? Hardly. To claim that something is offensive is not an intellectual response; it is a emotional response lacking in intellectual clarity and honesty.

            To say that people are offended is an empty statement, especially when the people allegedly “offended” don’t have an emotional interest in the argument. People were “offended” that Jesus ate with sinners. So what does that prove?

          • David, this is another of those debates in which I don’t think we’ll ever see eye to eye, since we begin with very different starting points.

            The fact that huge numbers of people are around the world are offended by the Vatican’s choice to couple penalties for clerical pedophilia with penalties for ordaining women is undeniable. I would respectfully request that you’d read the abundant responses around the world that demonstrate this–as I read the literature you’re citing, trying to deny or diminish the offense.

            I am at a loss to understand what you mean when you argue that “[t]o claim that something is offensive is not an intellectual response.” This statement seems to me to rest on a very defective anthropology and epistemology, one that divorces emotive reactions to ideas from intellectual reactions.

            I start from a very different anthropological and epistemological starting point, in which affective responses are part and parcel of how we think, how we receive and internalize ideas, how we evaluate them and put them into perspective.

            I would find it impossible to tell my friends who happen to be people of color, for instance, that when they are offended by a grossly racist remark, they are not responding intellectually to the remark. From what I have observed in many years of growing up with, interacting with, and working with people of color, the emotive response of offense, when one is confronted with racism, is the “engine” for intellectual reflection about racism and its effects.

            We come from different places. And we arrive at different conclusions.

          • Bill,

            I don’t really care if people say that they are offended. My bigger concern is whether offense is warranted.

            In this case, no offense is warranted. Priests abusing kids should receive some discipline; bishops attempting to ordain women should also receive some discpline. The fact that you and some other folks have chosen to either be offended or pretend to be offended for others doesn’t help me discern whether the Vatican’s statement lacks merit.

            The real red herring is suggesting that the Vatican is offending people by equating the offenses of women ordination and sex abuse. There are plenty of legitimate complaints that can be made against the Vatican. You don’t have to invent new ones, especially if you are a scholar.

          • David, I confess I’m simply unable to see your point here.

            This discussion began with your stating that there ought to be penalties for those who ordain women.

            I then pointed out to you that, obviously, millions of Catholics and people of good will around the world find it highly offensive that the church punishes women who are ordained with alacrity, but has done little or nothing to punish bishops who shelter and transfer sexually abusive clerics, or those clerics themselves.

            Women who are ordained are automatically excommunicated, as are those who ordain them. Priests found to have abused children for years are permitted to continue saying Mass.

            Something is wrong with this picture. And the defensive, see-no-evil apologetics of the few defenders of the Vatican left (on the political-religious right) who continue to offer us their tired old song and dance about obedience is not going to stop people around the world from seeing what’s wrong with the picture.

            I continue to insist that those who engage in these apologetic tactics aren’t doing the church any service at all. It’s very clear to increasing numbers of people that something is radically wrong and has to change, if the church is going to thrive in this millennium.

            I’m sorry we don’t see eye to eye on this matter, and can’t see eye to eye, it appears. We are obviously shaped by very different experiences, different cultural environments, and different loyalties.

          • Bill,

            When you force the two different issues together, there is an apparent discord. But, the problem is of your making, not the Vatican’s.

            Let’s assume your premises are accurate for the sake of the discussion. If the Vatican should have acted to stop the sex abuse scandal, and if it didn’t because it wanted to protect the hierarchy and those within the priestly ranks, what conclusions can be drawn?

            Of all the conclusions that can be drawn, none of the conclusions would suggest that the Vatican doesn’t have authority to enforce its own rules. None of the conclusions would suggest that all Catholics are free to do whatever they want because the Vatican made a mistake earlier.

            In fact, if one accepts your premises as true, then the conclusion to be drawn is that the Vatican took the right step by quick action on the unauthorized ordinations. Whether the Vatican should permit women to be ordained is a separate question from whether consequences are appropriate for people who violate the rules.

            I sincerely doubt that the Catholic Church is going to “thrive” in this millenium. It may be because something is radically wrong with the Church or it may that the Western mind and character no longer desire what the Church has to offer. If Protestant churches are any indication, the lack of vitality has more to do with the latter than the former. Even churches that are essentially secular, corporate shells without a formal creed, sacraments, or morality are not thriving.

          • Again, a completely baffling observation, David. No one has “forced” these two issues together except the Vatican itself, by putting them simultaneously in one document whose ostensible purpose is to lay down penalties for abuse of minors by clerics.

            And your initial comment, to which I replied, defends the imposition of penalties for the “attempt” to ordain a woman, while remaining completely silent about the lack of penalties, for years now, for bishops protecting abusive clerics, and for those clerics themselves.

            I submit that the disproportionate emphasis represented by the Vatican’s harsh, immediate punishment of women who are ordained, and the the lack of any punishment at all for said bishops and priests, is what is eliciting one negative commentary after another around the world, about this document.

            That you can’t see why this is happening and what it portends puzzles me. I frankly see no path to healing of our church until we look honestly and humbly at what we’ve done, and what a few of us continue to excuse and defend.

            A persistent theme of your comments on these threads is that it’s unfair to say that church leaders have not acted expeditiously and effectively to deal with abusive priests and bishops protecting them. And so, when a document from Rome couples penalties for “attempting” to ordain a woman with penalties for clerics abusing minors, you defend the former penalty and continue to remain silent about the latter?

            Something’s very wrong with this picture.

          • Bill,

            As you noted in the title, it was “inept posturing” by the Vatican. (I would refer to it as “politically naive”.)

            Either way, there isn’t a serious conclusion to be drawn from the fact that the two issues are included in the same document. It seems to me that folks who pretend to be offended by the two being included in the same document are just posturing themselves. I include you in this group.

            I am not attempting to excuse or defend what the Church has done in the past (although I do think that the sex abuse scandal has been made to appear much worse than it is by those wishing to crucify the Church.). It is just not particularly relevant to what it should do in the future. Just because the Vatican went light on sex abusers does not mean that it should go light on every “penalty”.

            The fundamental question, and the one that you haven’t answered, nor have the critics answered is, “And what you do think the Vatican should do about priests or bishops attempting to ordain women?”.

          • “Either way, there isn’t a serious conclusion to be drawn from the fact that the two issues are included in the same document.”

            But don’t you recognize it’s inconsistent to say this, David, and in the same breath to admit that this document is an example of either inept posturing or political naivete? Those are serious conclusions to draw about pastoral leaders. And they have serious implications.

            If our pastoral leaders are trying to deal with immensely problematic challenges facing the church right now by inept posturing, then they’re abdicating their responsibility as pastoral leaders.

            And that’s serious.

            Or if they’re so politically naive that they imagine they could promulgate a document that lumps women’s ordination together with clerical pedophilia and not create an uproar (a well-deserved, well-grounded, ethically sound uproar), then they’re hardly fit pastoral leaders.

            And that’s serious. Because one of the primary role of pastoral leaders is to heal and unite, not divide. And that takes a level of sensitivity that can only be called political awareness.

            You continue to defend pastoral leadership that not only I, but millions of other Catholics and people of good will, now see as abysmal.

            I wonder why. And I wonder what good it does to the church to defend such seriously defective pastoral leadership, rather than admitting that it’s seriously defective and calling in every way possible for authentic pastoral leadership.

            P.S. The church is definitely being crucified today. I agree with you there. But it’s not the pastoral leaders of the church who are being crucified, nor are they the church. Sad to say, the church is being crucified by its own pastoral leaders to a great degree.

        • Bill,

          I remember when Benedict gave his lecture at Regensberg (sp?). There was an uproar over the fact that he quoted some 12th or 13th century author on Mohammed. Very little was made of the substance of his lecture.

          You are taking the same approach here.

          What should matter is what the document actually says, not how it appears to the outside world. You and I both know that there is nothing incongruous about addressing both issues in the same document.

          • I see, David.

            So Benedict should have made utterly insensitive remarks about our Islamic brothers and sisters, and we ought to defend him to the hilt for making that very bad pastoral decision.

            You appear to be missing some very important points about what pastoral leadership is all about. It’s about healing the wounds of the world, not making them deeper.

            It’s utterly insensitive–I’d say it’s even evil–to dismiss people’s well-grounded pain when they’re treated like objects by pastoral leaders by claiming that they’re posturing, and that they have no right to be offended.

            I can’t begin to understand where pastoral leaders who can be so callous to the pain caused by their lack of politesse (and respect) are coming from. Nothing I read in the gospels prepares me to see these pastoral leaders as models walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

            Nor can I begin to understand the callousness of those defending such pastoral leaders, who accuse brothers and sisters wounded by pastoral insensitivity of posturing and of being falsely offended–since they have no right to their sense of outrage at being stepped on by pastoral leaders.

            I can only repeat the point I’ve been making over and over: the path to healing of our church, a path that will once again permit the church to be a sign of healing in the world, does not begin with defending such indefensible behavior.

            And the tables have turned significantly in the past few years, for those who claim to be Catholics in a unilateral, unique, exclusive sense, and who keep taunting their brothers and sisters who call for authentic pastoral leadership as defective Catholics. You stand with a waning minority of apologists. And increasingly, even the secular media is asking if those you stand with are really all about representing Catholicism well in postmodern society, and about healing the church.

            The taunts aren’t very effective any more. Time to give them up, I’d propose, and start listening–listening seriously–to people outside the echo chamber of EWTN, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic League, and others of that ilk.

          • Bill,

            I have been trying to do some serious listening. That is why I read this website. I disagree with most of the commentators, especially as it regards the Vatican. Nevertheless, I think it is important to understand the point of view of others.

            But, I don’t place much stock in arguments that begin with “I’m offended”. And, from intellectuals, I find such statements odd. I can’t imagine two scientists arguing about who is offended more as a basis for who is right.

            Benedict is not a particularly sensitive person. Most of that comes from his intellectual training. He didn’t say that he agreed with the author he quoted; he was just making an intellectual conclusion. To suppress intellectual conclusions in favor of the tyranny of political correctness is to do a disservice to both the speaker and the listener.

          • David, since we unfortunately seem to have gotten nowhere with the exchange on this thread (we begin from first principles and life experiences that appear to point in opposite directions, though we share one Catholic faith), I’ve begun a new thread responding to your question about women’s ordination.

    • I mean the same consequences that it did in the joint document.

  5. I go back to the Gospels and find there is no justification for the Vatican’s stance on excommunication of those involved in ordaining a woman. Jesus actually rebuked the Apostles when they whined to Jesus about non disciples casting out demons in His name. The old “those who are with us are not against us” kind of thing. The fact non disciples were able to cast out demons in Jesus’s name is quite an observation about the extent of the spiritual authority of Jesus. It didn’t depend on any formal recognition from His community of followers, only on the recognition of His own person.

    On the other hand He had plenty of condemnation for those who harmed children. That was one certain way of ‘excommunicating’ oneself from His kingdom.

    I understand the logic of behind these norms, and have no problem with the Vatican justifying itself on the basis of their own sacramental logic. I also happen to think it’s flat wrong and not supported by the Gospels.

    • Colkoch,

      You make an astute observation about the limits of excommunicating. Excommunication is not necessarily a comment on the rightness or wrongness of the action; it is a comment on the relationship with the Church.

      Pedophiles generally aren’t excommunicated because they generally want to maintain their relationship with the Church. To do so, they must acknowledge the wrongness of their actions. On the other hand, if the Church says that only men can offer the sacraments, and a person openly defies the Church, the underlying action may be right or justified, but the defiance may still be deserving of ex-communication. If ordaining women is that important as a central tenet of the faith that the authorities have to be defied, then it might be better to belong to another faith community until such time as the Church changes.

      I understood the main point of the Vatican’s announcement to be one of announcing jurisdictional boundaries. For both sex offenders and for the ordination of women, the Vatican intends to take the matter out of the hands of the bishops. Whether anyone ever gets excommunicated is different matter.

      • On the other hand the same document made it much easier for local bishops to excommunicate for shism, heresy, and apostasy. They no longer need direct Vatican approval for these kinds of proceedings. The Vatican becomes a source of appeal but not approval.

        This one actually bothers me more than any of the rest because it essentially means a local bishop could get very political with such decisions and the Vatican can maintain it’s distance. Don’t like this one at all.

      • Colkoch,

        I don’t like the idea that any decisions in the Church should be political. How to handle sexual offenders and how to handle unauthorized ordinations are two completely different issues. Making a political issue out of the fact that they are in the same document strikes me as an effort to put the Vatican in a bad light – for political gain. The red herring is the author’s, not the Vatican’s.

        The Gospel requirements of how to handle sexual offenders is too clear to be a subject of serious debate.

        Hence, how to treat the issue of unordained priests or priestess has to rise and fall on its own merits. And, frankly the issue is not as straightforward as one might think given the significant tradition of not allowing women for so many years.

  6. David here’s one reason I no longer buy intot he significance of tradition, at least in terms of length. The sum total of mankind’s knowledge is doubling every five years. It may even be much quicker now.

    In the past there have been hundreds of years and dozens of generations between really significant changes in world view, but eventually the Church always changed it’s understanding to reflect those changes.

    The change in world view which traditional Catholicism now faces is perhaps the most challenging Catholicism has ever faced. This is our understanding of our biological expressions as quantum fields entangled with a meta quantum field. Plus there is the additional fact that human consciousness impacts the expression of both of those fields. Fundamentally mankind is not a Newtonian dualistic reality, but a coherent quantum biological field. We are literally one with each other, just as Jesus said.

    Any theology or sacramental system which emphasises separation at the expense of unity is fundamentally flawed in it’s sacramental world view–no matter how long it’s tradition.

  7. Colkcoch,

    The changes in world views presents challenges for Catholicism. But, it also presents challenges for Christianity in general.

    In many respects, the predominant world-view is changing to reflect a God-less society and a God-less existence. Many of the “hot button” Catholic issues – ordination of women and homosexual marriage – are primarily secular concerns being thrust upon the Church. The issues are important symbolically, but many of the issues are not that important when considered in the context of the Gospel concerns.

    The increase in information and information availability has led to an unjustified faith in man and man’s ability to know and understand his world without God. The changing world-view that science, or reason, or history, or psychology, or government, or any other man-made institution can lead us to the Promised Land is a false promise. It will always be a false promise.

    Focusing the Church’s attention on adapting to these changing world-views runs significant dangers.

  8. David, I’m not talking about social changes so much as I am fundamental changes in our understanding of the reality of the material world.

    The social consciousness will eventually reflect these changes. As more and more people begin to understand what the quantum physicists are saying, society is sort of unconsciously working to reflect that changed understanding. The issues of women’s ordination and gay acceptance can be understood as a move towards inclusion and unity for all, and movement away from dualism and dualistic categories. While the Newtonian expression of material reality may appear dualistic, it is not ultimately based in a concrete dualistic reality. It is based in a fluid reality of probabilities in which matter fluctuates between wave and particle and which particular state we observe depends on the observer. Which means consciousness influences the expression of our reality. On a very fundamental level our reality is all about our choice and it’s our responsibility to make good effective choices which Jesus said had to include everyone.

    When the Church teaches do it our way or the highway, they are working to dominate and control reality, not work in balance with it. Nature on the other hand teaches that when we refuse to work in balance we face our own extermination. A given species may dominate for awhile, but eventually destroys itself through the imbalance that creates in it’s environment. Cancer certainly shows that truth. Maybe that’s why we can’t get a handle on cancer. It’s a message about our collective reality and it’s potential for destruction.

    • Colkoch,

      Lots of people tell me that the Church teaches my way or the highway. But, frankly, I don’t see that.

      For people who are in positions of authority, and who are entrusted with carrying out the Church’s mission, the Church does exert itself. But, for lay Catholics, obedience is entirely voluntary. The Church used to teach that you had to be Catholic to get to heaven; now, it teaches that even non-Christians can get to heaven.

      I see my relationship to the Church as being more of a mother-child relationship then a master-servant relationship. The Church teaches out of love for the person. In fact, that is one of her primary missions – to educate people about the faith.

      While it appears that there has been a dramatic change in the world, in reality not much has changed. If you look at the concepts of sin, forgiveness, and love, the same problems face us today that faced the people in Jesus’ time.

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