An excellent article from the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.
“We live in a culture that celebrates progressive liberation from sexual taboos and constraints. The sexual transgressions of days gone by have been rapidly refashioned into the conventional sexualities of today; even more risqué sexualities like sadomasochism and polyamory are well on their way to becoming packaged and mainstreamed for popular consumption. But there are glaring exceptions to this trend, particularly when sexual relations involve abuse or exploitation. More to the point, contemporary culture now displays acutely heightened moral indignation toward one area of sexual transgression, the abuse and exploitation of children.
“In Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America, historian Philip Jenkins documents a veritable “revolution” in our moral response to child sexual abuse. There was a time when child molesters were brushed off with dismissive smirks and tawdry jokes. However, today, moral horror, not condescending humor, marks the public response to child abuse. Furthermore, in sharp contrast to more traditional patterns of concealment and strict confidentiality, recent social developments have created a climate more disposed to the disclosure of abuse. Jenkins seems to view this growing public indignation with a certain amount of intellectual cynicism, but our heightened moral sensitivity does resonate with what we now know of the deep harm experienced by victims of abuse.
“In the midst of these moral realignments, the Catholic Church appears to be caught in a deadly cultural cross-fire. The Church is widely mocked for its attempts to resist the ongoing liberalization of sexuality. At the same time, the Church has become the focus for intense public outrage insofar as it is perceived to be the showcase for the one form of sexual transgression that contemporary culture, with all its free-wheeling sexual transgressiveness, decisively condemns as beyond the moral pale.
“Some maintain the sense of “crisis” is largely manufactured, a product of a media frenzy that taps into deep strains of anti-Catholicism within modern culture. In “How Pedophilia Lost Its Cool,” Mary Eberstadt suggests that our hot indignation over pedophilia only began to truly flare up when this long-standing deviance became publicly associated with, and contaminated by, the bad name of “Catholicism.” In order to fuel their “hate-fest on the Catholic Church,” Eberstadt argues, liberal elites were forced to take up the cause of pedophilia bashing.
“There can be no doubt that various forms of anti-Catholicism eagerly consume the ongoing revelations of clerical sex abuse. But an all-too-generous flow of transgressions has been feeding these prejudices. The crisis, with its twin chasms of clerical abuse and episcopal cover-up, now seems to be expanding to global proportions. Recently, the Irish Church was shaken by two major reports documenting histories of criminal sexual abuse, complicity and concealment. Allegations of abuse are breaking out across Europe. In his pastoral letter to Irish Catholics Pope Benedict XVI concluded that the current crisis has “obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing”—a stunning assessment of the depth of the ecclesial devastation caused by clerical abuse.
“The growing distress over the ecclesial proportions of this crisis may even obscure attention to its dark roots. To some extent, labels like “child abuse” or “clerical abuse” do not adequately communicate the bitter evil inflicted on children. In the Irish Times, Mary Raftery opened her coverage of the “Dublin Report” with brutal images of the brew of sex, sadism and sacrilege that goes under the name of “child abuse” which are too horrific to be repeated. Graphic depictions of abuse shock and horrify, but, like images of genocide, they do force us to confront the actual trauma endured by victims. Whether wielding a sacred object, or in persona Christi, clerical abuse defiles the most profound boundaries of faith, trust, love and intimacy in a child’s life. What is the message of the crucified Christ in the face of such desecrations?
“The Church’s response to this evolving crisis has been, at least, disturbing. John Allen argues persuasively that we are in the midst of a major course correction with the papacy of Benedict XVI. On numerous fronts Benedict has pressed for a far more aggressive response to the abuse crisis than his predecessor. In his pastoral letter to Irish Catholics Benedict XVI argues that a post-Vatican II ecclesial culture of lax spirituality, misplaced concern for scandal and reputation, and poor canonical enforcement undermined traditional moral and juridical disciplines (art. 4). He lays blame at the feet of the Irish bishops for “grave errors of judgment” and grievous failures “to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse” (art. 11). However, the initial response to the letter by victims and commentators has been mixed. Nagging concerns continue to be raised about the Vatican’s role in contributing to a culture of concealment, the minimal outreach to victims of abuse, and an over-reliance on the internal disciplines of canon law.”