The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, recently delivered remarks that focused on the leadership crisis in the Church. The churchman — a leader widely respected and admired for good reason — was right in what he affirmed with respect to the crisis. He was wrong in what he denied.
Archbishop Chaput gave the Pio Laghi Lecture at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, on March 27th. Titled “Facing the Future with Hope and Joy”, Archbishop Chaput’s remarks were a powerful testimony, and dead-on right in everything they affirmed.
They were a clarion call.
“In 2019, even the simplest acts of faith, such as setting time aside on Sunday morning to worship the Lord, are more and more obviously contra mundum, against the world,” Archbishop Chaput said, and that’s right. “This means our faith is now more costly, but also more visible, and thus more powerful.” That is true, too, even and especially in places like the United States and most of the developed world, where we are yet free and at ease.
His call for fearlessness in facing the process of institutional harrowing that the crisis of leadership is accelerating, but not causing, was hard and heady. “[F]or committed believers it’s an exhilarating time, too, because we’re being pushed back onto the foundations of our faith, the enduring sources of truth and life,” he said, right again. “We still need budgets, and we can’t escape meetings. The Church was instituted by Christ, which means she’s an institution, a living body of the faithful ordered toward worship of God and service in the world.”
“But in this time of sifting,” Archbishop Chaput continued, “a great deal of dead weight is being stripped away. We’re being driven closer to the one, simple truth from which the Church draws her purpose and strength: God incarnate in Christ, the author of our salvation and life eternal.”
Archbishop Chaput was right again when he frankly acknowledged that anger is an appropriate, healthy, and necessary response to the state of the Church in the present, especially insofar as her clerical and hierarchical leadership culture is concerned.
“[M]uch of the anger in the Church today is righteous and healthy,” he said. “As Pope Francis said just last month, ‘[I]n people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted’ by deceitful clergy and religious.” He went on to say we need that anger, only we need to channel it properly. “What we do with that anger, though, determines whether it becomes a medicine or a poison.”
Archbishop Chaput missed the mark, however, when he denied that clericalism is at the heart of the crisis facing the Church. “Clerical privilege is not the problem,” he said. “Clericalism may be a factor in the sexual abuse of minors, but no parent I know – and I hear from a lot of them – sees that as the main issue.” That misses the point, which is not that “clericalism” makes men abuse children, but that the culture of clerical privilege is a driver of corruption and rot.
Archbishop Chaput went on to say, “Not naming the real problem for what it is, a pattern of predatory homosexuality and a failure to weed that out from Church life, is an act of self-delusion.” Now, some 80% of reported abuse cases in the United States involving legal minors were ones in which a cleric assaulted or molested a pubescent or post-pubescent male. Only willful obtuseness can keep one from seeing the connection.
Still, predatory homosexuality does not account for the rape of women religious, or for the systematic coverup of all manner of abuse, or for the appalling silence of bishops and priests in the face of the paralysis and moral bankruptcy in Church leadership corporately considered.
In a piece for the Catholic Herald last summer, I argued that there would still be a crisis of moral culture in the clergy almost as bad as the one we have now, even if we discovered all the perverts and expelled them from the clerical state, and caught all the abusers and threw them into jail. The reason is that:
[T]he motor of the clerical culture we have right now – and this is true across the board, top to bottom, without respect to ideological leanings or theological inclination – is the intrinsically perverse libido dominandi (will to power), rather than a perversion of the libido coeundi (sex drive). The former makes use of the latter, and the latter is often a consequence of the former. But the only way men given over to the latter gain any power or place in any society is by addiction to and direction of the former. Therefore the underlying problem is power.
Whether motivated by cowardice or cravenness or culpable blindness, clerics unwilling publicly to denounce not only the abuse of minors, but every kind of moral turpitude in the clerical ranks, are complicit — knowingly or otherwise — in perpetuating the culture that has brought us to this point of crisis.
Real, lasting renewal requires cultural transformation — and that requires personal conversion — and that requires institutional reform. Law follows culture, but law also drives culture. Hard though it is to hear, the perverse lifestyles of too many clerics — high and low — are only a major symptom of the disease. They are not the true root cause of our affliction. The Church’s leadership culture is warped: bent to the preservation of power.
Archbishop Chaput was right when he said, “This is a moment of privilege and opportunity, not defeat. Reverence for the past is a good thing, but clinging to structures and assumptions that no longer have life is not.”
We need to work together — all of us, of every age and sex and state of life in the Church — to reform our institutions so that they help us get men in leadership who are resistant to the constant and inevitable blandishments and allure of power, and keep men given over to those blandishments and that allure from doing too much damage when, as must happen, they do get into powerful positions.
Archbishop Chaput was right again when he said in conclusion:
We’ve been given the gift of being part of God’s work to rebuild — and build better — the witness of his Church in the world. So let’s pray for each other, and thank God for each other; and lift up our hearts to pursue the mission, and create the future, that God intends.
(The opinions expressed in this essay are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the CWR editors or of any Ignatius Press staff.)
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