Absurdities and Atrocities

PA Grand Jury victims

In August of 2018, a grand-jury in Pennsylvania published a report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen in six dioceses in the state. (The other two PA dioceses had been covered by earlier reports.)

The report scandalized the world, as most of us remember.

Mr. Andrew Seidel, of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote an essay about the grand-jury report. A clerical sex-abuse-survivor friend of mine recently shared that essay with me. I think we can gain some insight by considering some of Mr. Seidel’s points.

Seidel titled his essay, “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church.” He writes:

If you stand by the Catholic Church, if you donate time and money to this organization, you are complicit. There is no way around it. You are complicit in the rape of children and its cover-up. If you think that is too harsh, start thinking about the victims instead.

wwjd braceletsThinking about the victims: that definitely counts as WWJD. Conscientious Catholics agree on that, anyway. So we need to pay attention here.

Seidel goes on to write:

The consistent theme underlying the PA Grand Jury’s analysis is authority. Unquestionable, unassailable authority. Divine authority.

The victims are taught that their tormentors are divine. They are representatives of god on earth. they are not to be questioned and certainly not disobeyed. Under Catholic canon law, adherents are required to give a ‘religious submission of the intellect and will’ to their church.

The abuse is so bad because it is a church. The evil is boundless because of the power of religion. Men who claim absolute, unquestionable power over others will abuse the power and the innocents under their sway.

The sheer brazenness of many of the assaults, as detailed in the report, is likewise probably attributable to the religious power structure.

Seidel offers us a helpful psychological insight here. I think we all have experienced the truth of his point, one way or another. Unbounded authority over other human beings produces moral monsters.

Trinity ShieldBut the question is: What precisely is the religious submission required of a Catholic? Has Seidel correctly identified it?

Seidel goes on to write:

The Church’s power structure and theology are also critical to the Church’s ability to cover up the vast abuse. Adherents are already primed to accept absurdities such as wine becoming blood or crackers becoming human flesh if a few choice words are recited, or that three is really one and one is really three.

The popular paraphrase of Voltaire is spot on: ‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.’ Atrocities such as succumbing to the idea that harming the public image of the Church is worse than destroying the innocence of a child.

Seidel makes important points here, points that will help us. But he misidentifies the “absurdities” that have caused the complicity that he rightly attacks.

As we know, we students of Book IV of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles: Our faith in the divine tri-unity and in the Real Presence is neither blind nor absurd.

st-thomas-aqRather, we start with Jesus Christ, and we take it from there.

Only a gift from heaven can help a human being believe that Jesus is true God, as well as being true man; no one can prove that He is God. But if you start with the premise that it’s true–that He is true God and true man, God incarnate–then the divine tri-unity and the mystery of the Holy Mass follow, with no inherent contradiction of any known facts.

Seidel writes as an avowed atheist. But there is certainly nothing more reasonable in atheism than there is in our basic human experience of our relationship with our Creator. This human experience of religion leads to our desire to know God, to love Him, and to live in friendship with Him. This requires submitting. To Him.

The always-greater mystery of the loving heavenly Father revealed by Jesus Christ: We submit to Him. In doing so, we find our true selves; we find true love; we find a path to lasting happiness.

Our complicity with sex abuse–for which Seidel rightly chastises us Catholics–it actually involves a failure of religion, rather than our Christian religion itself.

Every human society has to have an authority structure of some kind. The Church has a fundamental structure that Jesus Himself established.

But no true source of our religion teaches us that any given deacon, priest, bishop, or even pope will get everything right. No true teaching tells us that an ordained man simply cannot commit crimes for which he deserves jail time, or that successors of the Apostles cannot conspire in a criminal enterprise.

The “absurdity” is to think that the divinely-instituted structure of the Church means that the clerical hierarchy deserves to have unchecked authority over our human community. That does not, in fact, follow.

In Germany, some church officials responded to the clerical sex-abuse crisis by agreeing to examine this point. Unfortunately, that enterprise (the so-called ‘synodal path’) has largely been hijacked by agendas that have nothing to do with responding to victim-survivors of sexual abuse.

As one prominent priest-participant in the ‘synodal path’ put it:

Structures that encourage sexual abuse of children and young people must be eliminated, otherwise the church cannot have a future. However, one must question whether the themes on which the participants’ exchange is fixed [eg. women’s ordination or questions of sexual morality] are really causally and genuinely related to abuse.

One can get the impression that the abuse scandal is being instrumentalized by many actors in order to take up the well-known inner-church controversial topics anew.

Leave it to complicit Catholics to eclipse the victim survivors with self-serving nonsense yet again! It happens over and over–this endless, pointless feud among ‘professional Catholics’–with the mitered mafia gleefully looking on, secure in their abuses of power.

memento-mori

Let’s try to start from here. Every Christian participates in the communal life of the Church from this point-of-view: I owe God a death. Let me go to that death with a clear conscience, with the help of Christ’s grace.

We do not belong to the Catholic Church because She has brave and big-hearted officials at this point in history. She pretty clearly does not. Our human community has been run like a criminal enterprise for at least a couple generations, if not much longer. There is no need to deny that rather-evident fact.

Rather, we belong to our Church because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ.

And–because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ–we stand with the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in our Church. We thank them. They have suffered with Christ, and they have proclaimed the Gospel to us by living to tell the tale.

7 thoughts on “Absurdities and Atrocities

  1. Thank you for caring for the victims. As a survivor of priest sex abuse, it means a lot that someone in the Church cares about us. What was done to us is soul murder, truly, and few of us are left with any belief that the Church cares enough to stop the carnage.

  2. “And–because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ–we stand with the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in our Church. We thank them. They have suffered with Christ, and they have proclaimed the Gospel to us by living to tell the tale.”

    funny how this god doesn’t lift a finger to help the abused. Of course someone will whine “free will” but this god had no problem in killing those who even thought of a bad thing per your bible. Why does this god allow them to think it and then strike them down? Then free will is preserved and no child has to be raped by Christians. Like JC says, the thought is as important as the deed.

    of course there is no god and Christians are no different from anyone else. They just convince themselves that some magical being agrees with them.

    “And–because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ–we stand with the survivors of clerical sexual abuse in our Church. We thank them. They have suffered with Christ, and they have proclaimed the Gospel to us by living to tell the tale.”

    such sanctimonious nonsense. No one had to suffer if this god is what you claim. It’s like when the bible insists that slaves should remain slaves so they can suffer like Christ.

  3. Church authority says priests don’t have sex. But in fact at any given time many priests are having sex with women and many priests are having sex with men. Church authority allows all this sex to be kept secret. Is it any surprise that some priests have sex with children—and that the church has done its very best to keep that sex secret, too?
    Ann White

  4. ~ “We do not belong to the Catholic Church because She has brave and big-hearted officials at this point in history. She pretty clearly does not. Our human community has been run like a criminal enterprise for over a generation. There is no need to deny that rather-evident fact.

    Rather, we belong to our Church because we love God and believe in Jesus Christ. ~”

    For all those who do not believe in God – just consider this – what if we are wrong? What harm is done? We have lived lives with the hope of doing good and making the world a better place. If this is all there is – when we die – so what?

    If you are wrong and when you die you realize your mistake – it is too late to repair the damage and neglect you have done to your own eternity.

    I believe and hope in the goodness of God – I will keep that belief. Perhaps you should reconsider – just in case.

  5. If you believe and love Jesus, all well and good. But how do you support a body, like the Catholic Church that repeatedly sweeps such horrible things under the rug? Abusive priests have been practicing for years. Places like the Magdelaine houses have been operating horrible institutions with help from the church. To support your church now, gives tacit approval to its deviancy. Love Jesus, but not the church.

  6. I don’t agree with Seidel saying that if you donate time and money to this organization, you are complicit. The faithful Israelites bringing sacrifices to Shiloh weren’t blamed for feeding the corruption of the sons of Eli, when in fact they literally WERE feeding them. And the poor widow was praised by Jesus for her mites, not indicted for supporting the leaven of the Pharisees and all the other corruption going on. These examples show that God separates the righteous act of monetary offerings to Him from the evil acts of what religious authorities do with the money.

    Nor do I agree with Mr. Club Schadenfreude’s analysis, which omits any due consideration of the dire reality of hell. God doesn’t strike down these priests Onan-style due to His abundance of mercy, hoping that none will be lost and that even these wretches will repent and be saved. There will be plenty of time for punishment and millstones later.

    But a big part of their repentance and salvation is getting an understanding, while they still yet live, of 1) just how many sins were committed and by who, and 2) how many other victims are out there to whom the Church needs to reach out in order to make sure any understandable lack of faith on their part can be addressed so it won’t be held against the perpetrators on Judgment Day. Therefore it’s so frustrating and unfortunate to see a priest like Fr. Mark, who is working precisely towards these two ends with his efforts, and who is actually embodying God’s mercy for these horrible priests, have his very own bishop set so stubbornly against him as if HE is the horrible priest, when that bishop should be helping Fr. Mark towards his goal.

  7. It is a very strong testimony to father’s courage and intellectual integrity that he would publish the thoughts of FFRF’s Seidel.

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