It is a little-known fact that the Roman Catholic Church is opposed to the sexual exploitation of children by her priests. Or at least, it would be a little-known fact if our only sources of information were the mainstream media.
Elsewhere in society you must be someone big—the governor of an American state, a presidential candidate, a prominent filmmaker, or the host of a late-night talk show—to merit exhaustive media coverage of your failure to obey the Sixth Commandment (or the Seventh, in the enumeration of certain Protestant congregations, the Greek Orthodox, and the Jews—let’s stay on the same hymn page here). This is the one against “adultery,” which, when finally understood, embraces all sexual activity outside the holy estate of matrimony, admits no exceptions before, during, or after marriage, and thus applies with perfect equality to, e.g., homosexuals and all Catholic priests.
Now there was a time, so recent in history that I can remember it myself, when there was general agreement that all forms of “sexual impurity” were sinful. And not only sinful, but wrong. The expression, “living in sin,” which survives today as a drollery, once conveyed disapprobation, even among the sort of people one thought of then as liberals.
This did not mean the Commandment was universally observed, and in some sections of society there was probably always some degree of winking. Secretive hypocrisy also (probably always) flourished in other sections. But the normative value of the Commandment was such that the hell gates were never opened on what, in my lifetime, we learned to call “the sexual revolution.”
And while today’s sermon is not on that sexual revolution, per se, it must be understood as the background condition for all post-modern hypocrisy. This is because, once we have lost the nearly universal societal assent to what constitutes unlawful behaviour—and I don’t mean “unlawful” in the bureaucratic sense of contrary to some pettifogging written law, but rather in the profound sense of contrary to the moral law to be discovered by humble logical enquiry into cause and consequence within nature herself—we have truly opened the hell gates.
And it is in the nature of hell gates that you cannot open them just a tiny little bit. For if I may speak in a way that my reader may take metaphorically, even if the writer is inclined to take it literally, the devil makes it his business to present plausible arguments for the opening of hell gates just a tiny little bit—in the knowledge that the great floodwaters stored behind them will force the rest of the opening.
One cannot understand the phenomena of priestly abuse without understanding the condition of the whole society in which a priest must somehow try to function. Sworn to celibacy, with all the gravity of a holy vow, yet (at least in principle) inexperienced in the ways of the world, he is subjected quite possibly to more temptation than anyone not so sworn can imagine. And everywhere he turns he is confronted with the allurements of that sexual revolution.
But I am not the puling, “compassionate” type, and I offer this extenuation of the behaviour of Raymond Lahey—the former bishop of Antigonish, charged with possession of child pornography (i.e. pictures on his laptop) two Fridays ago, and removed from his office by the Pope the next day—only belatedly in the court of public opinion, where he has already been tried and convicted.
To the question of what was privately alleged against him 20 years ago (i.e. pictures allegedly glimpsed on the wall of his bedroom), and what his Church superiors did about it then, I know little more than the journalists who have presented themselves as great experts in the hypocrisy of the whole Catholic Church, and therefore will not comment.
What I do know is that the Church in North America is paying grievously today for her concessions to “liberal” pressure in past decades, and especially for having bought into the hippie-trip idea that a man who has shown tendencies to child molestation can be “cured” by psychological counselling. For that was the “compassionate” idiocy behind the quiet re-assignments of problem priests in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
The idea that the Church should solve her problems today by taking the latest advice from the Zeitgeist is beyond the fatuous. What she has in fact been learning, the hard way, is not to make accommodations to the ways of the world. Instead she must stand rigidly by both letter and spirit of her own inhuman (because divinely appointed) tradition and laws.
That every Catholic will feel shame in the exposure of a failed priest could go without saying; perhaps it has now been said too much. The sins of our Fathers are identical with the sins that are epidemic throughout our society, and let me estimate that there are, as I write, more than a million laptops in North America with child pornography saved to folders. It does not follow that the Catholic Church alone needs cleaning up.