d) The Church’s Sins, Scandals, and Shame

stop child abuse (image from btls dot com)

“I loved the Church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal for me. Romano Guardini said that the Church is the Cross on which Christ was crucified; one could not separate Christ from His Cross, and one must live in a state of permanent dissatisfaction with the Church.”

— Dorothy Day, in her book ‘The Long Loneliness’ p.149-150 (as referenced in the Introduction to her book ‘On Pilgrimage‘, page 14 of the 1999 edition by T&T Clark, Edinburgh)

“All human families and organisations are dysfunctional, it merely a question of degree. An old Protestant axiom has it: ‘It is not a question of whether you are a sinner or not, but only of–what is your sin?’…. Is God really to be found in an organisation that slaughtered so many innocent people in the Crusades, that used the Inquisition as a divine tool, that sanctioned racism and sexism for centuries…. Is God really to be found in an organisation that numbers some paedophiles among its ministers? …


The Church has betrayed the gospel and it continues to do so today. It has never done very well. Conversely, however, nobody should deny the good the Church has done either. It has carried grace, produced saints, morally challenged the planet, and made, however imperfectly, a house for God to dwell in on this earth. To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murders, adulterers, and hypocrites of every description. It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul within every time, country, race, and gender.”

— Fr Ronald Rolheiser, in his book ‘Seeking Spirituality,’ chapter 6, of the 1998 Hodder & Stoughton (London) edition
“Here I wish to bring up an important issue. Some may rightly say, ‘When the Pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the Church’. I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM, the Council of Latin American Bishops, has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church – I repeat what he said – ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters’.
I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.
Together with this request for forgiveness and in order to be just, I also would like us to remember the thousands of priests and bishops who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the Cross. There was sin, a great deal of it, for which we did not ask pardon. So for this, we ask forgiveness, I ask forgiveness. But here also, where there was sin, great sin, grace abounded through the men and women who defended the rights of indigenous peoples.”
— Pope Francis, in section 3.2 of his Address to the “Second World Meeting of Popular Movements” in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, 9th July 1015

“Catholic Church abuse scandals

  • Germany – A priest, named only as Andreas L, admitted in 2012 to 280 counts of sexual abuse involving three boys over a decade
  • United States – Revelations about abuses in the 1990s by two Boston priests, Paul Shanley and John Geoghan, caused public outrage
  • Belgium – The bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned in April 2010 after admitting that he had sexually abused a boy for years
  • Italy – The Catholic Church in Italy admitted in 2010 that about 100 cases of paedophile priests had been reported over 10 years
  • Ireland – A report in 2009 found that sexual and psychological abuse was “endemic” in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages for most of the 20th century”
— Summary on a BBC News webpage, 5th March 2014
huge anger at church child abuse scandals
Reports re the Abuse
  • Ireland: The Ryan Report in full (May 2009) or just its conclusions (it primarily investigated abuse at sixty residential “Reformatory and Industrial Schools”, operated by various Catholic Church orders but mostly by the ‘Christian Brothers’, all funded and supervised by the Department of Education).
  • Ireland: The Murphy Report (of Dublin, November 2009) in full (it records the manner in which complaints were dealt with by Church and State authorities in Dublin from 1975 to 2004)
  • USA: bishop-accountability.org’s Timeline of Events, Documents, Reporting, and Commentary
“I ask for forgiveness for the harm they (some priests) have done for having sexually abused children. The Church is aware of this damage. It is a personal, moral damage carried out by men of the Church, and we will not take one step backward concerning the treatment of this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed.”
— Pope Francis in an address to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau, April 11th, 2014
“Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.
… the gravity of these offences, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country
… in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.
… there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations.
… Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.
… It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning. “
—Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland, 2010

Clericalism:… “The temptation to clericalism, which greatly harms the Church in Latin America, is an obstacle to the development of Christian maturity and responsibility in a large section of the laity. Clericalism involves a self-referential attitude, implying a group mentality that weakens the impetus directed at an encounter with the Lord.”

—Pope Francis in a video message from Rome to pilgrims in Mexico City, 16th November 2013
The Dis-graceful ‘Legion of Christ’… The shame of the “brain-washing” power-hungry cult-like ‘Legion of Christ’ ‘order’/sect (described both as an order and like a sect by Fr Peter Cronin in this 1996 public email re-published in 2009 by the light-shining investigative website and organisation Dialogue Ireland; Fr Cronin had been a member for 20 years before leaving to become a priest in a diocese, namely the Archdiocese of Washington), which was led by the drug-addict and sexual-abusing Fr Marcial Maciel Degollado, of whom in the 2000s it became clear, as the NY Times reported, “Father Maciel had fathered several children, abused seminarians, and misappropriated funds”. Other Catholic Orders and Dioceses had long been wary of it—even Dublin’s notoriously conservative Archbishop John Charles McQuaid “concluded in a letter in 1970 that ‘there is a creepiness and secrecy about this whole group that is a constant worry to me.’ McQuaid’s successor, Archbishop Ryan banned them from recruiting in Dublin because of their  ‘lack of freedom of conscience, alienation from parents, and undue pressure.'”
“Many say that they are disillusioned with the Church but still wish to follow the path of Jesus.  But where do you find the key to that path? We cannot create it on our own; otherwise we run the risk of creating a God of our own…. Turn to the authentic source of that message, which is the Word of God and especially the Gospels. All of us have to take up the Gospels again and read them, rather than surmise that we know them and understand them.
We have to observe how Jesus taught and lived.  We have to find the time, the space and the silence to allow Jesus’ revelation of God’s love to heal and renew all of us and to heal and renew the Church.”
—Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, in his homily Sunday 17th February 2013 at the Rite of Chrisitian Initiation of Adults in St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral, as posted on the dublindiocese.ie website
“… the church did set up the Inquisition and kill more of its own than were martyred in the early church; the church did give us popes who sold ecclesial favours and were sexually licentious; the churches, despite their catholicity and holiness, have perennially been narrow and elitist and never been fully free of self-interest; and the sexual abuse scandal did happen.
But the pure mystery of Jesus, of Christ, and of the Church somehow shine through in spite of all of this and, ironically, because of all of this. Like a hidden seed, God’s grace works, even through people like us and churches like ours, revealing divinity despite most everything. And the God who wrote the original Christmas with crooked lines also writes the sequence with crooked lines, and some of those lines are our own lives.
— Fr Ronald Rolheiser, in his weekly column (60 newspapers worldwide) 15th December 2013, ‘Christmas–its chequered origins and chequered sequence

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