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A Just and Lasting Reform: A Response to Ed Peters

My proposal is that any national commission must first be concerned with the civil, non-consensual, crimes of child abuse and sexual harassment.

(Image: jessica kille | Unsplash.com)

My thanks to Ed Peters for responding to my recent article on the necessary steps forward for the Church as she emerges from this recent scandal. He offers some very instructive and important historical lessons. Nonetheless, I think his comments (by challenging one point) fail to represent clearly my fundamental line of reasoning.

For the sake of clarity, let us briefly review my argument: Despite the corruption that we see in the case of Cardinal (now Archbishop) McCarrick—a disease which has rightly outraged large sectors of the church—a panicked response to recent events must at all costs be avoided.

A hysterical response by the American episcopacy is what led the bishops to adopt the Charter for the Protection of Young People (Dallas Charter) in 2002. This document undermines both natural justice and the theology of sacred orders, as theologians of the caliber of Cardinal Avery Dulles relentlessly pointed out. But the American bishops, intimidated by the media and by advocacy groups—and under the advice of lawyers and PR flacks—have refused to convene a commission of theologians and canonists to review and revise their document. Today, the Charter is the principal reason why many priests hold bishops in low esteem—precisely because they know bishops are not committed to protecting either their ministry or their good names.

I go on to argue that the recent episcopal scandals offer the Church a providential opportunity—a God-given chance to junk the defective Charter and to establish a new policy, one covering all clergy: bishops, priests and deacons. What is essential in any new policy is a strong, firm, but theologically measured response.

To that end, I proposed that a national commission be established—composed of all the estates of the Church—bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity—to serve as a reporting station for the crimes of child abuse and sexual harassment allegedly committed by clergymen. A “mixed commission” (not exclusively bishops and not exclusively laity as others have proposed) will well represent the Church of Christ and command the respect of the entire People of God. I offered various ways in which the commission could implement allegations against bishops, priests and deacons.

I further specified that I was not talking about the adult consensual relationships into which clergymen at times enter because, while these are serious sins, they are not civil crimes (which was the concern of the piece). Ed Peters has objected—it seems to me that (along with the historical point) this is the gravamen of his critique—that I did not include homosexual acts among the crimes under the jurisdiction of the proposed national commission. Precisely these acts, he adds, are at the root of the current crisis.

To which I reply: While homosexual acts constitute serious infractions against divine truth, should these kinds of canonical crimes fall under the jurisdiction of a national commission? As Peters himself points out, the 1983 Code blurred the canonical criminalization of homosexual acts. And there remain good reasons to debate whether such acts should be re-criminalized in any future edition of the Code.

But, whatever the exact canonical penalties to be levied against homosexual acts, my proposal is that any national commission must first be concerned with the civil, non-consensual, crimes of child abuse and sexual harassment. These are the very crimes that have plunged sectors of the Church into moral turpitude—and the ones that should occupy the energies of a national commission. On the other hand, there exist many other ways in which sexual malfeasance by the clergy (not civilly criminal) can be reported to ecclesiastical superiors and be salutarily remedied.

I share with Peters his lively concern that corruption be rooted out of the Church. And I have long appreciated the precision he brings to canonical questions, including this one. But, at this critical moment in the Church’s life, I encourage fellow Catholics to support a policy which is firm, but carefully measured by the Church’s rich theological tradition.

About Msgr. Thomas G. Guarino 3 Articles
Rev. Msgr. Thomas G Guarino is professor of theology at Seton Hall University. His book The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II (Eerdmans) is due out in October, 2018.

39 Comments

  1. I trust men like Edward Peters.

    And Governor Frank Keating.

    And a few Bishops like Bishop Chaput.

    Certainly not most Bishops, and not Msgr. Guarino, and NOT business as usual.

    And I do not trust “appeals to tradition” coming out of Seton Hall or the diocese of Newark.

  2. But, whatever the exact canonical penalties to be levied against homosexual acts, my proposal is that any national commission must first be concerned with the civil, non-consensual, crimes of child abuse and sexual harassment. These are the very crimes that have plunged sectors of the Church into moral turpitude—and the ones that should occupy the energies of a national commission. On the other hand, there exist many other ways in which sexual malfeasance by the clergy (not civilly criminal) can be reported to ecclesiastical superiors and be salutarily remedied.

    Sexual malfeasance on the part of bishops and priests that is not a civil crime, still leaves them open to being blackmailed/extorted into silence about and toleration of civilly criminal behavior on the part of other bishops and priests, or, absent that, leaves them desensitized to the gravity of civilly criminal sexual malfeasance on the part of bishops and priests.

  3. This Monsignor just wants to blow smoke in the laity’s faces with such clerical-ese and church-bureaucratic blather. If he has “good reasons” for condoning sexual sin among bishops and priests as he says, let him state them. That will give him ample room to show what can only be a disordered grasp of the “Church’s rich theological tradition”.

    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them.” Matt 15-16

    • Where did he say that he “condones sexual sin among bishops and priests”? This is an outrageous assertion, contrary to his precise words. Talk about “fake news”!

      • Perhaps Anthony Esolen has replied best to this sort of remark in his recent post at “The Catholic Thing”:

        “Let us hear no more … from you priests, prelates, and Catholic writers who perpetrated outrages upon the souls and bodies of young priests and seminarians, and you who covered for them, for reasons best known and kept to yourselves, but for no reason sufficient to excuse you, and to prevent you from doing the honorable thing. If you have a position of authority, and you did nothing, you should resign. You may be replaced. You are not indispensable. Enough already.”

        https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2018/08/08/enough-already/

  4. “And there remain good reasons to debate whether such acts should be re-criminalized in any future edition of the Code.”

    No, Monsignor, there are no good reasons to debate that. They should be recriminalized.

  5. I am deeply frustrated by the fact that Msgr. Guarino doubles down on his position. The presence of active homosexuals in the clergy is the most pressing issue. Period. It is a cancer in the Church, corrosive and debilitating to everything it touches. It must be excised quickly and thoroughly.

  6. Msgr. Guarino is certainly not proposing “business as usual,” nor is he looking to “blow smoke in the laity’s faces.”

    Instead of responding with nastiness, how about addressing his main issues of the serious flaws of the Dallas Charter and the need for a new national commission?

    And let’s all take to heart the words of St. Paul in this Sunday’s Second Reading (8/12/18).

    • David:

      Thank you for engaging with me on the topic, since you quoted me (business as usual) I would like to respond.

      You suggest I am being “nasty.” You misapprehend me.

      I wrote something at length earlier, but it seems I deleted it somehow. I will try again, a little more concise.

      Msgr Guarino suggesting that the issue is the Dallas Charter is completely off topic – that is about priestly sexual corruption. We are talking about BISHOPS who are sexually corrupt, THAT is the topic.

      Msgr Guarino was immediately called out by Dr. Edward Peters for foisting a canard on the readers here. Msgr G suggested to us that the Church had for centuries never treated sodomy as a canonical crime. That was false. Dr. Peters showed us that it was always considered a crime in Canon Law until 1983. So that statement by Msgr G was at best misleading. And all people who are deeply read into the corruption of Bishops in these matters know that the secrets lives of clergy and Bishops who live lives of sodomy (Bishop McCarrick) or adultery (Bishop Kieran Conroy in England) help build the web of falsehood and blackmail that allows the criminally negligent coverup and “episcopal management” of sex abuse of children and altar boys and seminarians. That is what Governor Keating and others attested to publicly in 2002-04, and attest to now.

      Finally, appeals to the epistle of St. Paul are all well intended I am sure. No one wants to be angry. But suggesting that I am being nasty is an over-reach on your part…suggesting “ill will.”

      Appeals to St. Paul’s epistle warning against anger are good…but we all know that “in the Church of the sex revolution,” most Bishops, clergy and lay people are never going to make an appeal to St. Paul’s epistle against sodomy, or Jesus’ words against fornication.

      And so yes, I am angry, but no, I bear no ill will. It is simply the case that the crimes against the souls who suffer sexual destruction and abuse, such as my own classmates, cousins and brother, cry out from the ground.

      And I know that Cardinal Wuerl’s appeals to Pope Francis are phony…because on the day Pope Francis was introduced to the world, one man conspicuously standing on the balcony was Cardinal Danneels, who, curiously, had only shortly before been retired in disgrace, after being exposed in the Belgian press (Aug 2010, De Standaard, AP etc) for: covering up homosexual incest by his friend Bishop Vanderweighe, Belgium’s very own “McCarrick.”

      We are to be sheep, under good shepherds.

      We are not and will not be cattle.

      There is a BIG DIFFERENCE. Tell Cardinal Wuerl.

      Your true friend in Christ

      • “Msgr G suggested to us that the Church had for centuries never treated sodomy as a canonical crime. That was false. Dr. Peters showed us that it was always considered a crime in Canon Law until 1983.”
        The desire to engage in a demeaning and abusive act of any nature, does not change the nature of the act. The use of force or coercion to engage in a demeaning and abusive sexual act against another is obviously, a heinous act, and a more serious crime.
        No one who is Catholic, and thus respects the inherent Dignity of our beloved sons and daughters, would condone demeaning and abusive sexual acts of any nature, including between a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife.

    • Msgr Guarino,

      This late in the day in this sorry state of affairs, you wilfully remain blind to the fact that it is homosexuality that is the issue.

      The failure of the Dallas charter is less the exemption of bishops and more the willed and dogged determination to ignore the elephant in the room – homosexuality in the seminaries and in the clergy. It is sickening that to this day, you still want to ignore the rot that this has brought to the church.

      You and priests like you are part of the problem. Denial will not clean up the church. Mea Culpa and a determination to repent and make reparation will.

  7. That Weakland and Boland remained bishops as long as they did reveals the depth of the corruption. Finn, an excellent orthodox bishop who followed Boland, was eventually taken down by the lavender mafia in retribution for cleang them out of the chancery.

    Let Finn run the investigation into the bishops’ crimes.

  8. “A ‘mixed commission’ (not exclusively bishops and not exclusively laity as others have proposed) will well represent the Church of Christ and command the respect of the entire People of God.”

    No, it will not “command the respect of the entire People of God.”

    In other news, the sodomite agenda proceeds apace, and the blasphemy knows no end. We’re now flying sodomite flags and banners in front of our parish churches. How wonderful.

    http://www.capebretonpost.com/news/local/different-kind-of-church-pride-in-little-bras-dor-232819

  9. Msgr. Guarino’s response fails in a number of ways. The problem of abuse is homosexual predation on young males in which predators may use sexual harassment as just one strategy among others. Avoiding defining (and remedying) the problem as one of homosexual predation allows the Msgr. (and the bishops) to avoid the attacks of pro-homosexual cultural elites. In effect, it reeks of moral cowardice and the failure to protect young males from predation. And will not solve the problem.

  10. Ye gads! The point of Msgr. Guarino’s article was not to state the nature of the sin of sodomy or its understanding in canon law! His point was to suggest some kind of defence for decent priests left behind in this panic, which I now see was not overstated. Ed Peters has hijacked this discussion and I don’t appreciate it. The root of the church’s crisis is not the homosexual act! Homosexuals are not to blame for this crisis. It is facile to think so.

    Please, there should be so much more to this argument than which canon says what and for how many centuries, blah,blah,blah. And what I see forming here is a hatred for homosexual men in the priesthood. All people are called to a life of chastity appropriate for their state. It’s nobody’s business whether or NOT someone is heterosexual or homosexual. Do you want a priest to be there when you need to bury your dead or do you want to know his sexual history? How would he prove it to you? I shudder to think of the possible answers to that question; all, as far as I can see have medieval undertones. Unchaste homosexual men can be a big problem for other reasons, but not because homosexual orientation causes pedophilia.

    If you want to know why catholicism isn’t taken seriously by the world at large, reread the comments attached to both of these articles. And then go and read Ed Peters’ “justified” response and his second, “now, triumphantly justified” response, still missing the point entirely. They say the devil is in the details, and after reading Peters, I can see that’s true. Pettiness is certainly a “Roman” trait. Could you weed that sin out, too, while you’re rampaging?

    If the laity can’t make distinctions necessary to create an appropriate and mature understanding of the problem and its causes, then it has failed in its mission too. I’d be more worried about that failure than what kind of sin the homosexual act is ( criminal, canonical, serious or otherwise) and what punishment is appropriate to it.

    I, by the way, am a mature woman, happily married with children. I have, in fact, been persecuted by homosexual men in a parish in Greenwich Village for defending Cardinal Ratzinger’s Halloween letter a long time ago. I was run out of that parish and the priest in charge did nothing to defend me. Yeah, there might be a problem in some places, but it’s still not related directly to pedophilia. Please get your facts right. It too, would save us all a great deal of time!

    • The “it’s pedophilia, not homosexual predation” theme is, literally, the lie constructed by the arch sex abuser himself, McCarrick. He created it in the ADW, and exported it to the USCCB, and it was done to deny and suffocate the Lay Abuse Crisis Report, which candidly asserted the truth: 81% of the abuse was homosexual abuse of teen boys .

      The pedophila talk is from the lips of McCarrick.

      After 2 decades of this organized deceit, serious adults are not going to tolerate the “McCarrick-speak.”

    • The point is that most of that “pedophilia” wasn’t pedophilia; it was predation against adolescent males. That homosexual behavior is largely what caused this crisis, and disingenuous statements like “It’s nobody’s business whether or NOT someone is heterosexual or homosexual” don’t help in the least. It’s certainly all of the Church’s business whether someone is practicing a mortal sin, abusing people who are under his spiritual care, covering up his own sins and those of others, and causing scandal. “For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.”

    • “It’s nobody’s business whether or NOT someone is heterosexual or homosexual.”

      With regard to who is and who is not permitted to be ordained it most certainly is the business of the Bride of Christ.

      “The root of the church’s crisis is not the homosexual act! Homosexuals are not to blame for this crisis. It is facile to think so.”

      Nonsense. Denial is not a river in Egypt, madame. Stop being an apologist for intrinsically disordered sexual deviants masquerading as Priests.

    • @MMM…There is no panic. There is a demand for effective action.
      The gay priests and gay bishops don’t like it. So they cover and hide and some of them attack the outraged pewsitters.
      Yes, its ugly and will likely get even more ugly. But the evil gay mob in the RCC will not go own without a fight.
      So we fight them. So be it.

  11. I hope that I’m wrong, but I see a very dark future for the Catholic Church. I am trying not t cynical, but the signs are overwhelming. When I grew up in the church I was an altar boy and a lecture working with five priests and one monsignor. All were impeccable clerics showing great care for their flock. My mom would ask me to retrieve the altar linen to be laundered because she was not “allowed” to enter the sanctuary. Today, the cries for change and a return to the old days isn’t coming from the hierarchy… rather the laity.

  12. Maybe the question is not so complicated or arcane….within parts of the Church has one strain of “accompaniment” become malignant symbiosis? Yes or No? If yes, now what?

    • Too many progressive Catholics overlook that the evangelism door swings both ways. Unrepentant sinners can be every inch the evangelists for sin as a saintly person is an evangelist for holiness. The serpent in the Garden of Eden converted Adam and Eve both to Original Sin, a 100% conversion rate.
      *
      A church full of public, boastful, unrepentant sinners could be considered to effectively be a church of Satan.

  13. “A hysterical response by the American episcopacy is what led the bishops to adopt the Charter for the Protection of Young People (Dallas Charter) in 2002. This document undermines both natural justice and the theology of sacred orders, as theologians of the caliber of Cardinal Avery Dulles relentlessly pointed out.”

    Please elaborate on the full extent of your objections. The fact that bishops aren’t subject to it? A low threshold of burden of proof? I’d like to know more. What specifically does “undermines both natural justice and the theology of sacred orders” refer to?

    “I further specified that I was not talking about the adult consensual relationships into which clergymen at times enter because, while these are serious sins, they are not civil crimes (which was the concern of the piece).”

    It’s one thing if a priest falls or makes a mistake–in certain instances, one could certainly even argue for discretion and privacy. Quite another if it is habitual problem, if it the “consensual relationship” is with a married woman (breaks up a marriage, for instance), another priest, seminarian, or a spiritual advisee. That’s a big problem. Look at Honduras. Look at the archdiocese of Milwaukee under Weakland.

    “A ‘mixed commission’ (not exclusively bishops and not exclusively laity as others have proposed) will well represent the Church of Christ and command the respect of the entire People of God. I offered various ways in which the commission could implement allegations against bishops, priests and deacons.”

    The principle concern is that any oversight body or whistleblower-type committee be independent and transparent, given that the clergy (and, indeed, most institutions) have proven themselves incapable of policing themselves. Would bishops or priests really be willing to investigate one of their own? Who would the laity be? Yes men? Would it contain professional investigators? If some think that impairs the theology of sacred orders, my suggestion is to use a bit of imagination.

  14. “[crimes of child abuse and sexual harassment] are the very crimes that have plunged sectors of the Church into moral turpitude—”

    With respect: the vast network of consensual homosexual deeds of adult clerics, with the attendant cover-ups, blackmails, etc, all the way up to the top levels of the Church, is now also disgracing Her in the eyes of many.

  15. Both Guarino and Barron seem to think that if we can delay addressing the rampant homosexuality in the priesthood to another day, then the problem might somehow be avoided entirely. that is the essence of their position. They cannot hope to avoid this problem, but maybe something will distract the laity from the obvious roots of the problem and thereby allow them to escape dealing with the homosexual problem yet again. Apparently this is the latest fall back position of the bishops. Not good enough. No one is going to be fooled again. There is zero tolerance for NOT addressing the real issue. No focus on the Dallas Charter is necessary. Address the real problems. Period.

    • Absolutely right. Homosexuality is THE problem. Tolerance and trust for bishops are gone, destroyed by their incompetence and complicity with the evildoers.

  16. The essential and irreducible problem is massive, deep, widespread homosexuality in the priesthood and episcopacy. No amount of bureaucratic “policies-and-procedures” bafflegab from Wuerl and O’Malley, no amount of modernist canonical and theological revisionism by Guarino, and no amount of pietistic deflect-delay-and-deny social media flak from Barron is going to change that. The common thread is that all of them regard us, the laity, as gullible imbeciles. This game has been played for 55 years and is over. Trust in what any priest or bishop (and now pope) says has been continuously abused and betrayed and hence has been destroyed. Revulsion, wrath, and hostility are result, as the comments above and in every other blog dealing with this issue, make clear. As was the case with the Arian crisis, so today the defense and restoration of the Faith must be in the hands of the laity

  17. “I proposed that a national commission be established—composed of all the estates of the Church—bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity—to serve as a reporting station for the crimes of child abuse and sexual harassment allegedly committed by clergymen.”

    No, sir. INDEPENDENT reporting. This infuriates me. You still want the fox in charge of the hen house.

    “…a panicked response to recent events must at all costs be avoided.”

    The bishops aren’t even meeting until fall…not looking too panicked to me. And, if they panicked in 2002, it was clearly because so many had so much to hide; I challenge the notion they were simply pressured by the press.

    Until you start talking full disclosure of the files, history of payouts, all financical data and an INDEPENDENT investigation, it’s a joke. How many dioceses are now hiding their files to protect themselves?

    You may like to focus on pedophilia, but 80% of your problem is homosexual predation on boys around or in adolescence, and McCarrick shows the continuum between predation of minors and on young seminarians. You cannot divide out the homosexual cesspool from this, much as you might like your logical categories. Are you aware of the man/boy and father/son dynamic in the ENTIRE gay community? This is a systemic, cultural issue in the homosexual world and it is fostering all of this.

    Either you are that ignorant of the problem or you take us for fools. Please start talking in real terms to us or you are part of the problem.

  18. The good Msgr. ignores the underlying problem in all of these issues: homosexuality. That is precisely what must be dealt with and eliminated in the clergy. He is blurring the issues and thus providing cover for those with the real problems. Enough of this.

  19. The Church is not in the business of investigating and adjudicating civil crimes. Her mission is rooting out, repudiating and forgiving sin. If she does the latter, the former will resolve itself.

  20. “If you want to know why catholicism isn’t taken seriously by the world at large”,

    It is because the world at large denies The Sanctity of Human Life from the moment of conception, and The Sanctity of the marital act which is Life-affirming and Life-sustaining, and can only be consummated between a man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife. Love, which is always rightly ordered, is devoid of lust.
    It is not the Faithful who are responsible for the heinous abuse crisis in The Catholic Church; it is members of the counterfeit church, those who deny God’s teaching on sexual morality which affirms the inherent Dignity of every beloved son or daughter.
    It is not possible for a counterfeit church to subsist within Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.
    “It is not possible for there to be Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion.”
    Those who have set themselves against Christ by denying that God, The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, are apostates, and no longer in communion with Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

  21. Where was Ed Peters and his canonical enlightenment when his newfound hero Abp Vigano as obstructing the investigation into numerous allegations from priests and seminarians about his conduct?

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