Response to a Response: The Sex Scandal of the Catholic Clergy

Part of a response from a former classmate to my post “How Death Makes Babies”:

One wonders how responsible the repression of sex has been for [the sexual abuse of children by some Catholic priests]. God’s ‘too worthy’ have crippled scores of human lives for millennia through the most proximate act of sex they could engage in.

One also wonders at the logic of creating a species, dependent on sex for its survival, and then asking (demanding) it to not engage in sex; are all the humans who died before the founding of Christianity going to have less fun at the after-party?

I suppose there was no good time for me to enter into the jump ropes; I have wanted to for the last week, but I was busy and put it off. My motivation lies in that you and I knew each other, were brought up in the same religion, same schools, and we both are pursuing the same career. However, when I explored my faith, I found myself squarely and stridently in the other camp. I still explore faith daily; I have found it to be an inexhaustible and stimulating field of research. Yet, I could not have had a more opposite reaction to the one you are having.

I do not want this to come across as aggressive; I just think there is evidence to the contrary of what you wrote. You look great and it appears you are having a smashing good life. I hope to hear back from you.”

This guy (who I went to high school with and really like and respect) gets bonus points for saying I look great. He is the first person to compliment my looks in over a decade.

What fantastic points. How do two intelligent, rational people have such similar experiences and end up in two opposite “camps”? What, after all the flowery language about weddings and rehearsals, are we to do about the startling reality of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church? What about all the Catholics who disagree with the Church’s teachings on sex in general?

First, let me state this: the sexual abuse of minors, or anyone else for that matter, by members of the Catholic clergy is disgusting, inexcusable, and truly saddening. It should have never happened. It should never have been hidden. As a Catholic man, I apologize sincerely and deeply to all those hurt by those members of the clergy. It pains me that any members of my Church would hurt someone in this way, much less a clergyman. Would that we never had to have this conversation. But as it is, now there are uncomfortable questions that need answering.

Let me respond to the points made one by one. I would have to start by saying that the first sentence actually contradicts what I said in the post. Christ (and, by extension, His Church) never asks anyone to repress their sexuality, and the use of that word at the beginning seems to be indicative of the attitude many have that, despite everything the Church wants to say about “dying to oneself” and other such nonsense, it’s really the same as repression.

No, it’s not.

If I am hungry, I could eat and respond to my desire for food. Quite often, people don’t eat when they are hungry. There are a variety of reasons why they might not. Some people have an eating disorder: they are anorexic and are repressing their hunger (repression meaning, in my mind, ignoring a reality and believing a falsehood in its stead) because of their warped self-image and even more warped concept of what food and eating mean. Others have medical reasons: they need to lose weight, lower their cholesterol, they have surgery the next day, etc. And then there are those in the Church (actually, those in almost all of the major religions) who fast with an understanding that their suffering can perfect them or bring them closer to God or help ease the suffering of someone they love. These are three situations that have the same end: not eating. But it is precisely the reason they refrain that makes one a sickness, the other a prudent decision, and the last a participation in the supernatural. No one would say those fasting for religious reasons are repressing their hunger, because they aren’t acting like the hunger doesn’t exist; they are choosing to give it up, choosing to consciously bear its burden, for some reason outside of themselves.

Or perhaps a more vivid comparison is needed. In suicide and in martyrdom, a person is essentially choosing death: but surely these aren’t the same? So it is with sex. If it is a conscious choice made with a full understanding of the realities at hand, then it is a sacrifice of a good and beautiful gift for a higher cause (as is martyrdom), not some symptom or indication of mental illness (as is suicide).

Those clergy who performed those acts were not dying to themselves. They were abstaining from sex, but abstaining as an anorexic person refrains from eating, not as Christ fasted during the forty days in the desert. They either were sick men or were acting as sick men do. So they were not, in fact, doing anything similar to what I spoke of in my post. They were not doing what they should do as Catholic men, and above all as Catholic priests. They, in their free will, chose not to live out the Church’s teachings. But that doesn’t mean the teachings are flawed. Let me point out that it was not the “repression” that caused the abuse: if that were true, then the rates of sexual abuse among the celibate clergy would be higher than the rates in the non-celibate general population, which they are not, nor are they significantly higher in the Catholic Church than clergy in other denominations and faiths, including those that allow their clergy to marry. I hesitate to even mention “rates” lest it sound as if a certain number is acceptable or to be expected; certainly this is not the case. But it was not the call of celibacy that was the cause of the disgrace; it was their own selfishness and misdirected desires.

The second point made was wonderful. Why would we be created in order to have sex, and then be told not to? On the surface, this does not make sense, but if some other points are agreed upon, then this too falls into place.

What the Catholic Church teaches about history goes something like this: God creates the universe and man (and before anyone goes crazy, yes, evolution almost certainly played its part in that); when God creates man, He gives him free will; man uses his free will to turn away from God, which breaks down the union and life we were meant for; God comes to save us from the damnation our acts deserve; every person spends their life choosing God or choosing their sin.

Now, if this is true, then a few things follow.

1)   It wasn’t meant to be this way. God did not create death. God did not create suffering. God did not create pain. Nor did He create us for those ends. God created us for love, His love, and if we had never turned away from that then there would be no need for these “rules”. Rules are meant to protect people from hurting each other; it’s why we have speed limits and why lifeguards tell kids to stop running by the pool. But let’s remember that speed limits didn’t always exist; it wasn’t until cars were invented and were capable of hurting others that the rules were put in place. Before the first sin, there was nothing to be protected from. But when sin entered the equation, it changed something; people could no longer be “naked without shame”, because they could no longer trust each other to always do what was best for the other. So no, God didn’t create us to abstain from sex, but now that we are, all of us, changed into something not completely trustworthy, our sexuality must be protected by these rules.

2)   So if something is not right with our sexuality, we must set it right before moving forward. When something has gone wrong in a math problem, we cannot forge forward and hope to get the right answer; we must first go back to where the mistake was, erase everything after that point, and start over. Otherwise, even if we do everything else correctly, we will still end up with the wrong answer. We must let our sexuality die so that we can be created anew in Christ. It’s not just one or two behaviors that we have to stop doing: it’s a whole new life, a whole new worldview. We cannot take this on without giving up our old ideas and habits and desires. And that is what I mean by the death of sex; not a repression of what we have, for all that we have and know about sex is tainted with sin. We must recognize our sexuality, our desires and identity as sexual beings, and consciously choose to give them to God. When we do, Christ gives us something new: sexuality as it was meant to be.

The next point I will make quickly: the abuse scandal is not a reason to leave the Church. The actions of the believers are not what make the beliefs true. Politicians are often corrupt; are we to throw out democracy because of that? Judges and juries make terrible mistakes; is the justice system to be scrapped? Of course not. Catholics screw up all the time; I am Exhibit A. But that doesn’t mean the Church is wrong; as a matter of fact, one of the basic tenets of Catholicism is that all men fall, and we are all in need of a Savior. It’s just unfortunate that this particular tenet of the Church is so blatantly and obviously true. Also, the fact that the responder put the words “too worthy” in quotations seems to imply that this is a silly way to describe our clergy, but I would have to say that the outrage regarding this issue shows exactly how right I am that they are “too worthy”. We are dumbfounded that men who are in such an office would act in such a way. They are supposed to be something special; they are supposed to be highly regarded and given special honor. That’s why it hurts so much that they acted this way. There are not droves of people abandoning the faith because of the sins of the laity: it is the clergy who causes the greatest scandal with their sin, because they have the highest call.

And my last point: I encourage you not to approach the question of Christianity as “an inexhaustible and stimulating field of research”. It is far more than that. Of course, it is important for the intellect to be on board with the matters of the heart, for our faith must not contradict our logic, but much more important than that is meeting the Present Christ. The audacity of Christianity is the belief that the Infinite Creator of the Universe made Himself one of us, and, what is more incredible, left Himself present after his Ascension. Go before the Eucharist and pray about these questions. Ask Christ if He is there, and then listen. You will probably not feel anything; yes Boston, it is “more than a feeling”. It’s a knowledge, a connection, a something-that-human-words-cannot-fully-express. It’s communion with the Infinite in our terribly finite lives. It is love, present. It is life, fully. It is what you are really seeking; the answer to your questions, but more; the Lover for your broken heart.

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2 Responses to Response to a Response: The Sex Scandal of the Catholic Clergy

  1. Vicki says:

    Dang, Papa Rapp, your writing amazes me. Thanks for sharing the Truth! You have a gift!

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