As I referred to in my post yesterday, it is being shown that some of Maciel's followers still--even now, after so much evidence of his life of wrongdoing--secretly or not-secretly believe he will eventually be vindicated as the living saint they thought he was. Will the difficulties presented by this attitude eventually derail any attempt to bring real and lasting reform to the LC/RC? God alone knows.
Today, there is news about the $77 million dollar settlement reached by the diocese of Wilmington, Delaware to compensate 146 people claiming abuse by clergy; the claims stretch back forty years, and involved diocesan priests and religious order priests:
Lawyers involved with the Delaware Catholic Diocese of Wilmington's $77 million settlement with nearly 150 alleged victims of sexual abuse said the church's agreement to release unredacted documents is a historic step toward making sure it doesn't happen again.
And lawyers for the alleged victims said they will post the documents on the Internet.
"When people see the documents, they will be able to judge for themselves" how the church dealt with pedophile priests, attorney John Manly said.
And there was also the news this week that popular priest Fr. Thomas Euteneuer released a statement in which he admitted to violations of chastity with an adult female under his spiritual care in the course of his somewhat unusual exorcism ministry.
With all of these items of news and information, there tend to be comments and conversations which reveal more about each person's view of the Church, the priesthood, sin, and the like than they do about the individual situation. On secular news sites, alas, the comments on matters like these tend to fall along anti-Catholic lines, blaming the Church, the celibate priesthood, the moral law, and similar things for clerical malfeasance. On Catholic websites, commentary seems to divide among three groups: those concerned primarily for the victims; those defending the priests accused or admittedly guilty of some wrongdoing on the grounds that they are otherwise good, holy men; and those who insist that any failure on the part of a priest is really the laity's fault for not praying more, offering more sacrifices, or inviting priests over to dinner more often.
Sin is not a proof that the Church is wrong about a celibate priesthood, nor is it proof that the Church is not an institution founded by Christ to serve as the ordinary means of salvation for all men. Sin is not self-justifying; that is, just because men and women fail to live up to the Church's teachings regarding sexual morality does not mean there is not really any such thing as sexual morality.
But sin is also not something to be brushed aside and overlooked simply because we admire the person or group of people involved in it. And while the laity certainly ought to pray and make sacrifices for priests as for all of the Body of Christ (and could clearly learn to be more hospitable, in some cases), priests sin for the same reason lay people do. We have free will. It is among God's greatest gifts to us, but it is also our gravest responsibility: to learn what is good, and to choose only what is good, regardless of the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Can we do that on our own? No. Hundreds of saints have told us so. Even St. Paul said, "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans 7:19). If any of us thinks we are strong enough on our own to avoid sin, we are being tempted by the worst sort of spiritual pride, and should seek the remedy of prayer, the Eucharist, good Confessions, and the other helps to our spiritual growth the Church offers us.
But this is why the Church also teaches us that we have a serious duty to avoid the near occasion of sin--because we are weak, all of us, and because failing to heed that warning and placing ourselves in the occasion of sin is the first step toward falling into sin, perhaps grave sin. For the priests who abused children, the sin did not simply begin one day; it was preceded by a lengthy period of slowly grooming the children to succumb, and this meant making the choice to be in the children's presence alone and to take some liberties in terms of personal contact which, though innocent enough to appearance, were already sinful in that the perpetrators were using these opportunities to break down the children's natural reserve and innocence. In other cases I've read about, priest abusers used the deadly combination of pornography and alcohol to "seduce" their preteen or teen victims; here, again, the occasion of sin had already been sought out and embraced before the crimes began.
Laity are not exempt from this moral imperative, avoiding the near occasion of sin, either. If a man thinks that he is far too moral and good to be tempted by the presence of a really attractive female co-worker on a business trip far away from home, he may discover to his shame that he was only a few drinks and a convenient hotel-room away from breaking his marriage vows. If a woman thinks that she can form close friendships with men other than her husband, enjoying the attention of what she thinks of to herself as harmless flirtations without ever planning to go any farther with this "game" of hers, she may also learn that she is ready to leave her family for a man she has been insisting is just a friend before very much time has passed. If an engaged couple thinks that of course their virtue is so strong that they will not be tempted by the fact that they've decided to spend an afternoon and evening watching movies alone in the young man's apartment, they may face the prospect of having to postpone the wedding until after the baby is born.
And though I've focused on sins against the sixth commandment, the same rules apply to the other commandments as well. A man who drives over to a rival's house in a fit of deadly anger may well end up in jail for a violent or even murderous act. A dishonest employee begins to steal from his employer not when he actually takes the money, but when he starts wondering how to convince another employee to break protocol and let him take the day's bank deposit to the bank alone. A woman's struggle with covetousness may be exacerbated by her subscription to magazines featuring perfect homes with expensive furnishings and appointments; a man's battle with laziness may end in defeat not when he squanders a day, but when he deliberately fails to set his alarm clock the night before; a woman's sins of gluttony may have their origin not in her binges, but in the act of placing the ice cream and chips into her shopping cart in the first place.If, in our day and age, priests have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, I can't help but wonder if it isn't because our age focuses so little on sin, and on the things that lead to it. Priests are no more exempt from the rule of the avoidance of the near occasion of sin than anyone is--but I wonder, when I read the sad articles and recall the pain and confusion many Catholics felt at the height of the Scandal, whether some of them might not have forgotten it, as, indeed, many of us have done, and continue to do.