A Three-day Meeting in Rome to Do What?

Pope Francis will meet on February 21, 2019, with the bishops’ conferences of the world on protecting minors from clergy sexual abuse. But what is the problem they will be addressing? Is the problem pedophilia, homosexuality, rogue clericalism, or all of the above?

Father Hans Zollner, a member of the committee organizing this meeting, told the Vatican News on December 27 that the meeting should produce “a clarification of procedures, which aren’t so clear,” regarding the responsibility and accountability of bishops and religious superiors throughout the entire world.

Professor Ernesto Caffo, a member of the pope’s Commission for the Protection of Minors, said “the conference would focus on training bishops to spot abuse, hold one another accountable and to intervene. They will also be taught to listen to victims.” It seems, the three days will be spent educating and training bishops in psychological, social, and criminal detection skills related to clerical sexual abuse.

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It has also been suggested by former members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors that the three days be spent “revaluating the structure of the group in order to make it more effective in pursuing policy reforms.” The three-day meeting should be spent examining “its purpose, its powers, its future,” and why “it has failed to live up to the hope” that was placed in it.

These suggestions seem to be aimed at fixing problems and damage control after the abuse has happened. They do not address the cause of the sexual abuse itself.

The problem of clergy sexual abuse is so serious, entrenched and widespread that it must somehow be related to a misunderstanding—or rejection—of something fundamental to the Catholic Faith itself. This is not primarily an administrative or educational problem. It is fundamentally a spiritual and pastoral problem.

Bishop Edward B Scharfenberger of the Albany diocese stated the problem best to his clergy on July 29, 2018. In order to explain today’s crisis in clergy sexual abuse, he said: “I cannot see how we can avoid what is really at the root of this crisis: sin and a retreat from holiness, specifically the holiness of an integral, truly human sexuality.”

In light of this, what would be a more effective “plan of action” for the February 21 meeting?

I would suggest that in anticipation of the February 21 meeting, the pope and bishops should at least prayerfully study the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). They should come to the meeting with citations from Sacred Scripture, Dei Verbum, and Lumen Gentium enabling them to debate how the interpretation of the teachings in Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church on adultery and homosexuality are to be applied in “pastoral practice” today.

Why do I suggest this?

Anyone who has followed the Catholic news media for the past 50 years knows that the problems with accepting the Church teachings on human sexuality began with the dissent from Paul VI’s 1968 teachings in Humanae Vitae. Catholic theologians teaching at Catholic universities throughout the world dissented from the Church’s teaching that contraception is evil. Various Catholic magazines and newspapers promoted the argument of these theologians to relax the Church’s teachings on human sexuality.

However, the teachings of the Church on human sexuality are “integral.” They are connected with one another. You can’t alter one without affecting the rest. After all, the same scriptural and Church authority which is behind the Church teaching on the evil of contraception is also behind the scriptural and Church teaching on the evil of adultery and homosexual acts. The authority that makes the one true also makes the others true. You cannot deliberately doubt one of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality found in Sacred Scripture without causing a doubt regarding the authority of the teacher and the rest of the Church’s teachings on human sexuality.

Thus, it is difficult to believe that this widespread and continual public doubting of the Church’s teaching on contraception by theologians, universities, and the Catholic media over the past 50 years did not in some way relax the prohibition against adultery, homosexuality, and pedophilia in the minds of those bishops and priests who later engaged in these acts. Surely, they secretly thought that the Church would someday change all of these teachings on human sexuality to keep up with the times.

They were not so far off. There are those today who are trying to do just that.

Today the disciples of these same theologians and universities, along with up-to-date electronic publications of these same magazines and newspapers, are now calling for a further loosening of the Church’s teaching on adultery (i.e., to legitimize invalid marriages) and sodomy (i.e., to normalize homosexual unions) especially in reference to receiving Holy Communion. Was this their intention in 1968?

A number of cardinals and bishops throughout the world now sow the message that Amoris Laetitia promotes “welcoming” invalidly married couples and same-sex married couples to communion. Some of these members of the hierarchy claim that the teachings of the Church are one thing but “pastoral practice” is another. They still hold that adultery is evil but that some couples should be permitted to come back to full acceptance in the Church out of mercy and compassion without changing their lifestyle. Others claim that “conscience” is the final judge—not Scripture and Church doctrine—and therefore it is the individual person’s decision whether to come back to communion with the Church in all cases. The response to Amoris Laetitia revealed that throughout the world there is a serious disagreement among bishops and theologians over whether adultery and homosexuality are “intrinsically disordered” acts.

All of these champions of loosening the teachings of the Church on human sexuality seem to think that Jesus came to relax the laws governing human sexuality. This is why finding a solution to the clergy sexual abuse of minors is so difficult: bishops and clergy still think Jesus came to relax the Divine Law.

But this vision of Jesus’s teachings is incorrect. Not only did Jesus not loosen up God’s teachings on human sexuality, but he raised the bar in the area of human sexuality to a height never known before: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt. 5:27-28).

Other sins of impurity follow upon this deliberate entertaining of impure thoughts. And they follow in a progressive descending order of depravity: pornography, masturbation, contraception; fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. The Catholic Church has always taught that each of these is an “intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”

And we must not ignore bestiality, which is the last stage and furthest extreme of depravity, as if no bishop would ever say that people who practice bestiality should also be “welcomed” to Holy Communion. At one time Catholics shivered at the thought of practicing homosexuals being accepted in the Church and given Holy Communion. Now this is being encouraged daily.

Bestiality, which was condemned by the Church at the Council of Ancyra in 314 AD, is once again raising its ugly head as society plunges deeper into depravity. When the Apostle Jude warned the early Christians that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were punished by God because they “went after strange flesh,” he was not speaking of food and dieting but of homosexuality and bestiality (Jude 1:7, original Latin Vulgate). God help us when the “strange” becomes familiar. Human society today is in a progressive plunge to the depths of depravity and the pendulum will not all of a sudden swing the other way. It has purchased a one-way ticket to the bottom of the abyss and it will crash at the bottom unless the Church stops it.

What should be the plan of action? Sins of impurity, especially adultery and homosexuality, have already been thoroughly condemned in Sacred Scripture. The Church cannot make these teachings stronger than they already are. The real problem is a fundamental disbelief in Divine Revelation itself, particularly Sacred Scripture. It is almost laughable to think that a three-day meeting would be enough to solve a clergy sex abuse problem that has been growing since Vatican II and the 1968 publication of Humanae Vitae. This long-standing problem will not be overcome until Church leaders resolve to face squarely the fundamental causes of our moral failings.

Editor’s note: Pictured above, Pope Francis meets with cardinals and bishops at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on January 24, 2018. (Photo credit: Daniel Ibáñez / CNA) 


  • Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap

    Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M.Cap., is spiritual director and chaplain for Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity in Denver, as well as being one of the spiritual directors for the Missionaries of Charity in the western United States. He was director of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, from 1999 to 2010; a chaplain for Missionaries of Charity at their now-closed AIDS hospice, Seton House, and at Gift of Mary homeless shelter for women in Denver from 1989 to 2008. His articles have been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Faith, Soul Magazine, Pastoral Life, and The Priest. He has also made three series for Mother Angelica’s EWTN: “Crucial Questions,” “Catholic Answers,” and “What Did Vatican II Really Teach?”

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