Catholic Academics on the Abuse Crisis

Normally, academics are way ahead of popular movements. For example, nearly all economists advocate some form of carbon tax to reduce the threat of climate change, but politicians and voters generally reject it. Almost all medical experts recommend vaccines against childhood diseases, while much of the public rejects them. You would think that Catholic specialists in clerical child abuse would have important proposals. But you’d be wrong.

From NCR: “University panels ask how church should emerge from abuse crisis.” The members of the panel were academics with one exception - Justice Anne Burke of the Illinois Supreme Court, and former chair of the U.S. Bishops' Review Board. None of the academics had any specific proposals for attacking the problem.

There was a general sense that laymen need to be more involved. For example, Jesuit Fr. Jerry McGlone said “there is a need for parents to be at the table when decisions are made about church personnel. Changes in canon law need to be undertaken, he said, to create opportunities for lay people to have an impact on parish life.” But there were few specifics.

Erica Lizza, president of Catholic Women at Georgetown, said "Don't be afraid to be a troublemaker." She wants women to be more involved, but had no specific recommendations. At present, women have no seat at the table, and Ms. Lizza had no proposal for seating them. She just urged women to picket loudly.

When the panelists noted that the civil authorities were becoming far more active than in the past, Fr. Bryan Massingale, professor of theology at Fordham, said “Every reform that has happened is the result of outside forces.” But he and his colleagues had no proposals for insider reforms.

Justice Burke was the most specific, isolating the source of the problem- the Church hierarchy: “There is no accountability… I can't look at a bishop or a cardinal and not wonder. I can't say about any bishop or cardinal that he didn't know.” However, she offered no proposals for either the Church or for civil authorities.

The general consensus seemed to support Father Massingale’s proposal: “We need to have a new infusion of courage in our church. We need a new Pentecost.” We need another miracle. Let us pray.


 The panel noted that we are in the third generation of the crisis, which has lasted well over 30 years. It seems apparent that those in charge of fixing the problem – the institutional Church – are not going to get the job done. Even their advisors seem bereft of ideas. I suppose if enough laws are changed, and enough bishops are locked up, this might provoke a meaningful reform process. Alternatively, the laity, who have the power of the purse strings, might revolt and force major changes. But neither prospect seems likely in the near term.

While the Church may keep shrinking, it is not going to simply wither away. Perhaps the best hope for the future is that the traditional supply of seminary students continues to dry up, and they start exporting priests from Africa and Asia. This might shift the problem away from homosexual child abuse towards adult heterosexual abuse, as in other churches and religions. It would be a major improvement.


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