Infidelity in the Sacrament of Marriage is one of the most challenging of all wounds to heal. Infidelity creates severe betrayal pain for spouses and children and, unless properly addressed, can result in marital separation, divorce, repeated unchaste behaviors and severe emotional and spiritual trauma in the loyal spouse and children,
In order for healing to occur, the causes of infidelity need to be clearly uncovered and decisions taken to engage in the hard work of overcoming them, so as to be loyal to one’s spouse and children and to lead a chaste life.
The origins of infidelity in Catholic marriages often arise from unresolved conflicts from youth and, to a lesser extent, from adult life. These include loneliness, low self-esteem, buried anger, mistrust and anxiety, selfishness and a lack of faith.
The sexually acting-out behaviors can be unconscious attempts to escape from intense emotional pain, or simple self-indulgence, with a belief that one is entitled to use another person as a sexual object. In addition, marital infidelity is of epidemic proportions today resulting from the use of pornography.
The resolution of the psychological and spiritual conflicts in the unfaithful spouse requires difficult and humble progress in self-knowledge and engagement in the hard work of growth in virtues and in grace.
The important effort to resolve marital infidelity is comparable to the valiant struggle for chastity in the priesthood.
The present sexual abuse crisis, provoked by sexual infidelity by cardinals, bishops and priests, is a severe betrayal of the spouse of Christ, the Church. These priests were called and anointed to be loyal fathers and good shepherds and protectors of Christ’s Church. Instead, a multitude of confirmed reports exist about sexual abuse, primarily of adolescent males, as well as seminarians and adults.
The response to the crisis, with McCarrick as but one of many examples, has been profoundly weak and disappointing. The major cause of lack of clarity and truth is the refusal to recognize the scientific findings on the crisis that clearly identifies homosexuality in priests as a leading factor in the crisis.
As with the healing of marital infidelity, the origins of clerical infidelity need to be clearly uncovered. In my clinical experience with priests over the past forty years, major psychological conflicts from youth are similar to those of unfaithful spouses. After uncovering the origins, priests need to decide to configure themselves to the Lord, to teach, and then to live, the fullness of the Church’s truth on sexual morality. This teaching helps protect priests from relapses.
As with many unfaithful husbands, many priests, bishops and cardinals are attempting to deny their guilt and to even blame their spouse, the Church, for their infidelity. They claim the cause is clericalism. This rationalization is comparable to blaming marital infidelity on being married.
The sacrament of marriage, in which a spouse has an active loving and sexual relationship, does not protect someone with significant spiritual and psychological conflicts from engaging in infidelity. Nor will blaming the Church’s teaching on sexual morality and celibacy for the sexual abuse crisis protect the priests and members of the hierarchy from further acts of abuse.
Deep insecurities and rebellion against Humanae Vitae would seem to have led bishops and priests to give in to the unChristian moral views of the secular culture. As a consequence, their sense of entitlement and pretentious thinking has led some of them to communicate as though the Ten Commandments do not apply to them. For example, the term ”consensual” sexual behavior would seem to excuse unchaste activity between a cleric and another adult as quite legitimate.
So, the term ‘consensual behavior’ is nothing but an attempt to normalize immoral activity by priests and members of the hierarchy. Consensual immoral activity between adults is never okay. It is a grave offense in both the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Marriage.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responded to the clericalism theory in a recent interview:
It’s very unjust against Jesus, who gave spiritual power and authority to the apostles and bishops, with their priests. The large majority of such abuses are not due to the sacrament of holy orders, but to sexual incontinence, a false understanding of sexuality, not respecting the Sixth Commandment.
In response to the failure of Church leaders to identify homosexuality as a factor, he responded:
I think they don’t want to confront the true reasons for sexual abuse of minors, of boys and young men, and want to make their own agenda. They’re against celibacy, against the Sixth Commandment, and therefore they instrumentalize abuse and this terrible situation for their own agenda.
Cardinal Müller also identified a root cause of the abuse crisis as the laxity in the 1960s and 1970s. “This goes back to the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Müller explained. ‘There was an [attitude that] Jesus preached love and we don’t need laws in the Church.”
He also expressed that the abuse crisis was caused by “absolute false politics” within the Church that allowed abusive clergy to remain in active ministry instead of facing the canonical penalties they deserved.
This harmful cover-up needs to end, and bishops who have enabled it should be asked to resign.
In these, as in other challenging times in the history of the Church, the laity has an important role through prayer, penance, and witness. Laity are not exempt from offering fraternal correction to priests and the hierarchy. This correction is particularly important when our shepherds reject the Lord’s teaching on any matter and encourage others to do so without direction or correction from the Vatican.
At the upcoming Vatican meeting on the clerical sexual abuse crisis of youth and adults may the Holy Father encourage priests and bishops to be loyal to the Lord’s teaching on sexual morality and bring to an end the terrible plague of infidelity through their chaste lives.
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