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Silencing the Church’s voice as a teacher of morality

The bitter consequences of sins of coverup in the past are now coming home with a vengeance.

(Annie Spratt @anniespratt |

The speaker was a highly sophisticated layman, possessor of a doctorate and professor of theology at a major Catholic university. We had been discussing the metastasizing scandals plaguing the Church—scandals concerning ex-Cardinal McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury, what the Pope knew and when he knew it, and on and on. Then, unexpectedly, my companion said this:

“There is something truly demonic about all this. The Catholic Church was virtually the last voice being raised against the sexual revolution. And that voice has been silenced.”

I glumly agreed. “Who would listen to anything the Church had to say about sex now?”

Although it didn’t occur to me to make the point, it hardly needs saying that sexual morality is far from being the only matter on which the Church’s voice has been effectively silenced. Don’t expect the Church to get much of a hearing for a while on immigration policy, race and racism, or other urgent matters about which Catholic social doctrine has something important to say.

Still, the credibility of Catholic teaching calling for self-discipline and respect for the other in what pertains to sex has unquestionably taken the biggest hit, and it’s no mystery why. Repeated transgressions by people with a grave obligation to live by the rule of chaste celibacy have given the Church’s opponents a giant opening to accuse it of hypocrisy.

It’s a tragedy that this has happened at a time when—at least in the United States—Church leaders for the most part seem to have learned the lesson of their predecessors’ errors and to be enforcing the tough policy on clergy sex abuse that they adopted in 2002. True as that is, the bitter consequences of sins of coverup in the past are now coming home with a vengeance.

There is painful irony, too, in the fact that this is happening on the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical condemning contraception. Near its end, Pope Paul, who will be canonized next month, warned that the rejection of its teaching would help pave the way to a “general lowering of morality.”

What Paul VI didn’t say, perhaps because it seemed too obvious to require saying, was that a parallel dereliction of duty by people who were sworn to uphold and practice chaste celibacy would contribute powerfully—indeed, was even then contributing—to the same catastrophic result.

And although I don’t expect critics of Humanae Vitae to admit it, or perhaps even recognize it, the roar of dissent that greeted the encyclical has also been a factor in the process of silencing the Church’s voice as a teacher of morality. Now the scandal of sex abuse and coverup has finished the job.

And that may be the most important lesson Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, can impart to the extraordinary meeting of himself and his peers that Pope Francis has summoned to convene in Rome next February to discuss responses to the sex abuse crisis.

The bishops of the United States have wrestled collectively with the sex abuse problem since the 1980s, but along the way they neglected an elementary axiom of good public relations: when something bad happens, get all the bad stuff on the record quickly. As a result, they and the Church have paid a terrible price as embarrassing disclosures have dribbled out over the years. At this perilous moment, Pope Paul VI’s famous dictum that the “smoke of Satan” had seeped into the Church again seems painfully pertinent.

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About Russell Shaw 263 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America, Eight Popes and the Crisis of Modernity, and, most recently, The Life of Jesus Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2021).


  1. No matter how grave and continuing the revelations about the clergy, lay Christians have also degraded themselves with their acceptance of gross behavior. Eph V, 1/15 seems to have little reference to most who describe themselves as Catholic.

  2. The specific targeting of the Roman Catholic Church out of all the entities involved in the cover-up of sexual abuse is symptomatic of real purpose. This is ultimately the tilling of the ground for the reduction of the age of consent. Who are we then to raise a voice at that moment?
    This is not to diminish the gravity of what has happened under the agency of the Church, but we don’t live in a vacuum. While our very nature and identity do hold the Church to the highest standard, this is a multifaceted cultural problem. Targeting the Church alone is merely a means to rob it of any voice in the public square.
    Where is an analysis of this phenomenon in public and private schools as well as in the denominations and non-Christian faith communities? What of the counsel provided the Church over the last sixty years by the legal, psychological and sociological academy?
    All Catholics – as justifiably raged as we are about what has transpired under the watch of an episcopate we once trusted – need be very mindful of the subtext presently driving the “outrage” in civil society.
    The outrage is primarily about Roman Catholicism. Sexual abuse is the tool of choice to cut our throat and rob Jesus Christ His voice in a society subsumed in secular materialist paganism. With deepest regret it appears to have robbed us of His voice in the episcopate in anticipation of the final assault.

    • I disagree with you, James.

      Members of the Church have given them much reason to vent this outrage. After all, she is supposed to be the bastion of morality, and now she has been shown to be corrupt.

      If the Church will no longer be believed it is because of her filthy members.
      Sexual abuse is not a tool to cut our throats with. WE have cut our own throats once we allowed sex abuse to become this great.

      We have no one to blame but ourselves. The greatest blame of course rests on the Shepherds who now have turned out to be wolves.

      Don’t blame them for telling us exactly how vile the hierarchy has become. We should be grateful and beat our breasts and say mea culpa and amend our lives. Our supposed priests and bishops have gone on a rampage desecrating lives and it seems so many priests and bishops chose to remain silent.

      As I said in my reply to Fr Stravinskas, priests would have known about this or that seminarian, priest, bishop who have broken their vows and committed perverted acts. But what did they do when heard it? Or when the laity heard about this or that priest, what did they do?

    • I love you zeal towards your faith in Christ, but you’re very wrong and the article doesn’t go far enough.

      Not by a long shot. What’s truly demonic is not the church losing its voice. But the alliance of so many of it’s leaders with those very demons! That’s probably not far enough. It’s not just an alliance but they’ve become demons themselves.

      How many have been excommunicated and placed in prison? This hasn’t been going on since the 80s in the USA my brothers and sisters. It’s been centuries if the present is any indication of the past – and why wouldn’t it be.

      I truly hope the faith can be restored to what it should be or once was. But how can you do this without massive purging from within? It’s not happening. I can only assume it’s not happening because fear of appearances or concerns over how deep the cancer has spread – after all who will run the church if so many are removed.

      This is a problem that just isn’t being taken seriously enough. Problem can’t even describe it. Abomination is the closest word I can imagine.

      So far what seems to be happening is what has always happened. Hold on tight, make some minor adjustments, stay the course, hope things blow over in the course of a few years.

      The church needs to seriously clean house!

  3. The author notes that tough policy is being followed in the usa on abuse of minors. But he is missing the other elephant in the room. We have a homosexual problem of consenting and/or pressured other clergy that is entirely distinct from the abuse of minors. We have no idea what percent of clergy are active gays with adults.

  4. The underlying them to all of this is the active homosexual subculture that isn’t even attempting to hide anymore. The Vatican bringing in Fr. James Martin to pave the way for accepting sodomy as a good from God is pretty obvious where all of this is going. I do not think that Pope Francis is capable of removing the filth from the Church as a lot of it is totally interwoven with the religious order he belongs to.

    • Concur…and it is so at odds with the Holy Spirit inspiring Romans chapter one (Dei Verbum/Vat.II…”both testaments in all their parts have God as their author”) that the drift from scripture is the foundational problem beneath it all.

      Romans 1:27-29 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
      27 And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy, and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error.
      28 And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient;
      29 Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication, avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers..

      Pope Francis doesn’t believe those words especially “God delivered them up to a reprobate sense”. But his two predecessors didn’t believe Romans 13:4 on the death penalty. So the problem is the meaning of inspiration and its circumvention by many throughout the clergy thanks to the drawbacks of modern biblical scholarship and its sharp lean against severity in God…which is another Romans passage:

      Romans 11:22
      See then the goodness and the severity of God: towards them indeed that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

  5. How not to see in the silencing of the Church the removal of the KATECHON and subsequent obliviousness of the people? 2 Thessalonians, chap.2

  6. If the PA grand jury report had to fish back to 1930, and besides present many falsehoods, deprive people of their constittional right to due process and is in fact an unconstituitonal use of the gran jury process, then the present story is not all bad. In fact in recent years, the number of so called credible cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the U.S. has been 5 or 6 a year out of some 40,000 and that doesn’t even mean that the five or six are even guilty. Another darks side to the so called and demagogical “zero tolerance” has been false allegations against many priests. Most of the allegations against priests are from 20, 30 or 40 years ago, and htere is no way of achieving justice in such cases, as the Statute of Liminations should apply. The bishops have made a huge mess of the matter. They have turned their own prests against them and now the laity. I am against the zero tolerance policy as it is demoagogical and one size fits all. Many of the priests accused have had no chance of defending themsleves. I am also against laicizaiton, because how can the Church defend the doctrine of the indelible priestly character when it has been laicizing thousands of priests.The purpose of the Church is the salvation of souls and its sanctions have that goal in mind. After all, it seems to me that a priest who is laicized is under a great deal of stress and is likely to fall again, whilst if there were a system whereby they could sent to monasteries or some other spiritual institution.
    As for gran juries, they are political affairs, and the PA one led by Shapiro who is pro LGBT had no itnerest in getting rid of sexual abuse of minors in the State of Pennsylvania. If he did, why didn’t he examine Protestnt and Jjewish institutions plus public schools, in which the problem is at least 100 times worse than in the Church. He did not because the powerful Teachers Unions won’t allow it. In schools, the accusation has to be made within 90 days. Where is the real interest in minimizing sexual abuse of minors, rather than hypocritically blaming the Church for it. In Australia, a Royal Commission examined the matter and it included all institutions that have the care of children in their misison, The problem is homosexuality and no amoung of State investigation will do anything about that as both the media and the governnment are promoting promiscuity right left and center.

    • Believe me, thirty years from now, you will know of many more pedophile incidents in the American Church that are going on right now…cases you have no knowledge of right now.

      Your analysis is greatly flawed. The Church goes to great lengths to hide cases, bribe victims, maneuver local police and politicians, so a your numbers are not reliable.

  7. Today’s crisis in the church is proof that humanae vitae was right, sex outside marriage corrupts, and chastity works every time it’s tried.

  8. Humanae Vitae condemns something, contraception, that the Bible doesn’t condemn. The Jews called that practice “making a hedge around the Torah,” adding human law to Divine Law to keep them from transgressing it. But Jesus condemned the Pharisees for that behavior. Modern law-makers, With the best of intentions, make rules for peoples’ lives, but their extra-biblical laws are just as wrong today as the Pharisees’ laws were 2,000 years ago. Mankind is not lost b/c it spurned “Of Human Life.” It’s lost b/c it violated the Word of Life, which is and always will be the Last Word on all questions.

  9. “Don’t expect the Church to get much of a hearing for a while on immigration policy, race and racism, or other urgent matters about which Catholic social doctrine has something important to say.”

    Not to hijack the post but I believe you are on to something in this regard – though likely not in the way you meant. The Church teaches that countries do in fact have a right to limit immigration for the common good. However, many priests and bishops (including the Bishop of Rome) appear to have adopted an Open Borders policy for nations. Thus undermining the true teaching of the Church.

    There also appear to be many who seek to adopt the modern outlook on race – which defines persons according to their ethnic origin rather than persons created in the image of God. I’ve even heard a number pushing the “White Privilege” line.

    No, the Churchs voice is being drowned out on many fronts by the “Spirit of the Age.” And not just in regards to sexual morality.

  10. What’s hard to earn and easy to lose?


    Every revered Institution in the Western World today is under attack by Post Modernists who prefer anarchy over law & order.

    Thus, it’s incumbent upon every single Institution to be assertive in their efforts to maintain their moral high ground, including the need to throw people under the bus when and where appropriate.

    This is true of our schools, our police, our medical community, our corporations, our government, our media and our church.

    IF those institutions lose their ability to morally lead their communities, we are ultimately going to be faced with having the Academia and intellestia making the decisions in a large centralized Politiboro like China and Russia.

    I for one don’t want to go there…but slippery slopes are upon us and if we don’t grow a spine and insist that our revered institutions own up to their mistakes and failure and redeem themselves…do we really need to give them respect?

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