Church Scandals Call for Concrete & Symbolic Actions
NEW YORK – The Vatican seems to be perplexed that the media cannot avert its eyes from the latest news about pedophile priests in the Roman Catholic Church. However, few things can be more disturbing to anyone, especially believers. We Orthodox do not get a pass: This plague has infected our Church as well. The case of Nicholas Katinas is the most infamous one. We need help in understanding how this can possibly happen, not just the abuse, but the apparent indifference or unwillingness of religious authorities to act to prevent further abuse and punish the guilty.
The media has focused on one of the bishop’s motivations: Trying to protect the Church from scandal. It’s natural for an
institution to protect itself, at least by “solving” problems quietly, but this is the Church for God’s sake! It must be noted the Archdiocese under Archbishop Demetrios has worked hard to put a system in place to deal with priests who violate the trust we put in them. Its policy on sexual misconduct by clergy can be found at www.goarch.org. But we must do more than hope the system works. We must monitor the monitors, and ask the hierarchs to look beyond the advice of their lawyers, and find a way for the Church to ask forgiveness of the victims, and of its members, whose faith has been badly shaken.
Having grown up in a church family, I wrestle with giving some benefit of the doubt. When priests were returned to parishes after therapy, is it possible the hierarchs simply could not believe that this illness was incurable?
What else might explain it? With my political science background, I often thought about the roots of institutional corruption and wondered if in a way “friendship” is the root of this evil. That explains unwillingness of ethical people to expose and punish those guilty of heinous crimes. They cannot bring themselves to “betray” their friends. But in the Church, there are much higher duties, and by NOT stopping him, by any means necessary, one truly betrays the friend.
Still, how could those aware of the perpetrators not understand what was going on? I suggest the root of the issue is that Christian churches, certainly the Roman and the Greek, have never come to terms with one of the most basic elements of human nature: sex.
I guess it is not easy. A learned priest promised to explore
the issues in a lecture series 10 years ago, but when it came
time to address pre-marital sex, a basic need (fine, call it a temptation) of men and women in relationships, the discussion was shut down.
Enough. Sex is an essential, integral part of human nature.
St. Gregory of Nyssa, brilliant as he was, was wrong on a number of things, and about sex too. He suggested sex was not part of God’s original plan for us, but He only gave us genitals because He knew Adam and Eve would fall, and would then need them to make babies. Rubbish. I am
suggesting such ideas dominate Orthodox and Catholic thinking about sex, to the detriment of Church and Society.
Sexuality is not an accident. When all is well, for most humans, it is as close to heaven on earth as possible, when one finds one’s other half and their love is expressed with the fullness of their humanity, in both soul and body. But with child molestors, the illness is rooted in the core of their psyche. In such cases, the experts are unanimous: Get them away from children.
We must do our part to ensure that the long-awaited Great
and Holy Council that will address all the vital issues of the
Orthodox Church will look at those related to sexuality, and
base policies on true spiritual wisdom and science, not wishful
thinking. We can then address related issues, like allowing bishops to marry, and permitting priests who get divorced to remarry on a case-by-case basis, and finding funds for expanded counseling for priests and their families who are having difficulties, but we cannot address those issues here.
In this limited space, I will make an additional suggestion, for high-level symbolic action.
In 1979, the late Patriarch Dimitrios and Pope John Paul II
stated “our resolute determination to do everything possible to hasten the day when full communion will be reestablished between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church and when we will be at last able to concelebrate the divine Eucharist.”
And when SCOBA, in its official documents, acknowledges
that we are “sister churches,” we are saying there is something actual rather than merely potential in our relationship. This means it can find expression, even now, in genuine and significant acts of faith and charity.
Let the Patriarchs of New Rome and Old Rome meet in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and, together, lay down
their crowns, the Patriarch, the crown given his remote predecessor by Mehmet II, Turkish conqueror of Constantinople (Orthodox bishops did not wear crowns before the Ottoman period), and the Pope, his triple tiara.
Let them declare they will not wear those crowns for the remainder of their tenure, and invite the hierarchs in places
that have been poisoned by these scandals to do the same.
Let us hope that such an act of Christian humility sends a
message to all hierarchs and clergy that the ineffectiveness if
not indifference of the past regarding these horrors must end.
Maybe then, the victims and their families might forgive, and
the churches can begin to heal.