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Michael Matt

Opinion,

Blaming Catholic abuse crisis on ‘clericalism’ is, in fact, an act of clericalism

Michael Matt

Editor's note: An international group of lay Catholics held a public demonstration in Rome yesterday just outside the Vatican, demanding that Pope Francis and the world’s bishops address homosexuality during the upcoming abuse summit as the major cause of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The following statement was made by Michael Matt of The Remnant during a press conference at the event. Read all statements here

February 20, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Catholics in my country were disappointed in the August 20, 2018 “Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God,” in which the Pontiff attaches blame for the clerical sexual abuse  crisis to what he calls “clericalism”. 

Our first concern is that this is a term that still lacks a universally accepted definition. Clericalism can mean a disordered attitude toward clergy whereby lay Catholics make a general assumption of their moral superiority.  Pope Francis contends that it’s when “Clerics feel they are superior, [and when] they are far from the people.” 

But the Pope notes that clericalism can be “fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons”. The “people of God” can fall into clericalism, too, by giving too much power over their everyday lives to their priests. So if the Church is to address the crisis, will she start with the people guilty of clericalism or the priests? 

Already, the sheep are confused by this lack of clarity. 

Certainly in one sense, “clericalism” appears to be that in which the Vatican itself is engaging when, in the face of this crisis even the Pope himself is using his power as head of the Church to discredit Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano who at this moment is in hiding and whose relevant testimony will not be granted a hearing at this Summit Meeting. 

In addition, key ecclesial figures personally involved in abuse and cover-up have been rehabilitated and even promoted by Pope Francis in the past—from the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels who was caught on tape attempting to cover up years of abuse and yet appeared on the logia when Francis was selected to become the next pope and later chosen by the Pope to attend the Synod on the Family. 

Again, this seems like clericalism at the highest levels. 

The other concern with Francis’s citing of “clericalism” is that in its essence it seems designed to avoid addressing the root cause of the crisis, which is homosexuality in the priesthood. 

From the John Jay report, we know that 81-percent of the victims of clerical sexual abuse are males between the ages of 14 to 17. This is a male-on-male crime, with the most high-profile cases involving bishops sexual abusing seminarians and young priests. 

Two words were conspicuous by their absence from the Pope’s August 20th Letter: “Homosexuality” and “Bishop”. 

The people of God cannot end the crisis in the priesthood. The people of God cannot stop the cover-up. American Catholics agree with Cardinal Burke who on two separate occasions has insisted that only the Pope can address the negligence and misconduct of bishops: 

“It is the Roman Pontiff, the Holy Father, who has the responsibility to discipline these situations and it is he who needs to take action following the procedures that are given in the Church’s discipline. This is what will address the situation effectively.”

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