Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Protection of Roman Catholic Ecclesiology at the Heart of Sex Abuse Scandal

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, recently dismissed as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF, formerly the “Holy Office”, formerly the Inquisition”) by “Pope Francis”, recently wrote:
The primacy of the Roman Church with its bishop is not due to a claim of superiority over other churches or to some will to power cleverly organized over the centuries by the clergy in the capital of an empire, but rather to the foundational will of the Lord of the Church [emphasis added]. Peter suffered martyrdom in Rome, and thus his primatial apostolate devolves upon the Church of Rome and consequently upon its visible head, the Bishop of Rome.

The primacy of Peter did not flare up at some point over the real world as an ideal, only to grow dim over the course of history and increasingly lose its contour in history’s vicissitudes. In order to comprehend the nature and mission of the episcopal ministry and of the primacy, one must go beyond a naturalistic understanding of the Church as a legal assembly. The Church has its origin in God’s salvific will and is the instrument thereof [emphasis added]. By its nature and mission it is not merely a religious assembly organized by men. The dualism between a supratemporal ideal image and its pale reflection in its historical realization must be overcome also. (Müller, Benedict and Francis: Their Ministry as Successors to Peter, English translation by Michael J. Miller, Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press ©2017, pgs 7–8.
This is the core of Roman Catholic ecclesiology.

What Müller has described here is more than merely the Platonic “forms” of church and hierarchy – with the imperfect actual instances of such here on earth. What he has described essentially are Aristotelian “ideals”, or forms of “Church” and “papacy”, wherein the “forms” inhere in the actual instances of popes and bishops.

In Müller’s view, these “forms” are, and this “Church” is precisely the “sacrament of salvation” that Christ intended when he spoke the words recorded in Matthew 16:17–19, Matthew 28:18, John 21:17, etc. Never mind that exegesis of these passages show nothing of the kind. This is the core of Roman Catholic view of itself, and the biblical proof-texts will suffice. The Roman Catholic core of “the Roman Catholic Church”.

“The Church” that we see – sexual abusers included – is not some “dualistic” image, some “form” and its evil alter-ego, “its pale reflection in its historical realization” – no, “the Church” and its succession and hierarchy of bishops are one and the same, as they existed in 30 AD in the mind of Christ, and as they existed in 325 AD to the writers of the Nicene Creed, and as they exist now in the reality of the heart of God’s very plan of salvation.

As proof, Müller cites Lumen Gentium 8 (a passage that I’ve cited on a number of occasions):

Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men…. This is the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it [emphasis added] (cf. Mt: 28:18, etc.), and which he raised up for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). (LG 8 – Miller’s translation).

Müller of course is also blamed for creating a 2,000-case backlog, which his CDF was supposed to be investigating. One writer cited Vatican sources to the effect that Muller “could not organize a one-man parade”. But I want to suggest here that Müller was not the inept administrator that these Vatican sources have portrayed. I want to suggest that he (and and perhaps even “Pope Francis”) was intentionally protecting this “ideal” of “the Church” that he had outlined.

By and large, Roman Catholic Priests have been protected from prosecution by willing superiors who seem to do everything they can to (“backlog”) such cases. By comparison, a Houston, TX man was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the repeated abuse of two minors.

* * *

Cardinal George Pell Sex Abuse meme
Cardinal George Pell
sex abuse meme
In a recent editorial, the progressivist National Catholic Reporter cited the removal of Cardinal George Pell from his #3 spot at the Vatican (in order to face sex abuse charges in his native Australia) as evidence that “the Church” has “changed”. Not nearly enough in their view. But in the process, they cite the process that Rome has followed in protecting not merely the abuser-priests, but in protecting the entire protection racket that has been in place for decades or more:

Indeed, this is not 1985, when the U.S bishops' conference and the Vatican could bury detailed reports on the abuse of minors and cover-up in Lafayette, Louisiana, and ignore advice from a priest, a lawyer and psychiatrist on how to proceed in transparency and justice. The U.S. bishops would go blithely on for another decade before some individual dioceses would begin to implement policies to handle abusive priests.

This is not 1995, when Austrian bishops elected as president of their conference Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër, archbishop of Vienna, just days after media reports broke about Groër's sexual affairs with seminarians under his care two decades before. Groër resigned as archbishop by the end of the year, but another three years passed with continual media coverage of Groër's misconduct with students and adults and a desperate plea from the Austrian bishops directly to Pope John Paul II "to bring the burden of the Groër matter to an end soon," before Groër went into quiet retirement. John Paul met privately with Groër twice and defended the cardinal against "unjust attacks" until Groër died in 2003. The pope called him one of God's "faithful servants."

Throughout his pontificate, too, John Paul staunchly defended Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado as "an efficacious guide to youth," even though the founder of the Legionaries of Christ was a serial sexual abuser and fathered multiple children with at least two women. Only after John Paul had died could Pope Benedict XVI force Maciel out of public ministry.

This is not 2002, when Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston could withstand a year of withering, daily news coverage of how he damaged a generation of Catholics by denying and systematically covering up clergy abuse. Finally forced out of Boston, Law found refuge in well-paid Vatican jobs and continued to influence the work of the church for another decade.

This is not 2013, when a documents cache forced open by lawsuits showed that Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011, withheld information on abusive priests from civil authorities and used tough, combative legal fights to keep payouts to victims low and archdiocesan records confidential in hundreds of lawsuits. (The subjects of Pell's legal strategies would recognize these tactics.) Already retired, Mahony would defy his predecessor's order to withdraw from administrative and public duties because of "his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care." In less than a month, Mahony was in Rome to elect a new pope and expressing "amazement" that anyone would suggest he not join the conclave.

Being progressivists, the editorial writers of the NCR want to attribute such efforts at covering up the sex abuse is because “the hierarchy has yet to undertake the deep and likely painful examination of the role the all-male clerical culture of the church has played in this scandal. At its core, this scandal is not about sex, it is about how power and authority are wielded in the church.” This, too, is contrary to the way that Müller views the very “ideal” of “the Church”.

This, too, shows how the conservative and progressive wings differ in their views of what “the Church” actually is.

The progressives want to condemn an “all male clerical culture” for this scandal. The conservatives like Müller want to protect their doctrinal “ideal” of “the Church”.


  1. Why this is by no means confined to Catholicism, do you believe that there is something within the culture that causes this among priests? I curious as to you view.

    1. Hi Trent --

      What do you mean by "this"? -- Are you talking about the abuse, the hiding of the abuse, or the ecclesiology?

      No other church has the kind of ecclesiology that Rome has -- Rome holds that the very *essence* of "the Roman Catholic Church" (with its unique "succession" and hierarchy and all) were created at Matthew 16:18. That kind of thing is outlined in the Lumen Gentium quote above. Perhaps I'm not explaining the philosophical underpinnings of it quite correctly here, but in *essence*, the Roman Catholic (Newman-esque seed and) structure of the church is precisely as necessary in God's plan of salvation, as the incarnation, death, and resurrection are in God's plan of salvation. In other words, to deny the Roman Catholic system is to deny the existence of God.

      I certainly understand that the abuse, and even some of the hiding of the abuse, is not confined to Catholicism. I'm sure that the specifically "all-male clerical culture" determines the shape of this abuse (generally homosexual in nature), but as for the fierce desire to hide things, it is the uniquely Roman Catholic view of its own importance that accounts for the persistent and systematic cover-up of such things.

      As it is, even progressive Roman Catholics seem to have jettisoned that ecclesiology (their willingness to blame the "all-male clerical culture). And perhaps "Pope Francis" himself has jettisoned that particular ecclesiology as well. But there are those, embedded deep within the organization -- (the lingering "Thomists", perhaps), who will always hold to that "necessity" of the Roman Catholic Church, its hierarchy, its sacramental system.

      That's what is being protected.

    2. The typical Roman Catholic apologist will tell you that "God chose humans to populate the church" and "humans aren't perfect". But this abuse scandal goes far deeper than just normal human evil. It goes beyond the occasional bad seed, or even the fact that "tares grow up among the wheat". It is the very doctrinal structure of the hierarchy here that is the source of the evil. And so, to suggest that God somehow willed *this church* to be quite this evil at its core, goes far beyond the typical apologetic responses to explain away the normal day-to-day sinfulness of Christians. (Especially so, given the demand for perfection of holiness in their system).

    3. Thanks for the reply. Was at work all day and no chance to reply I meant "while this [abuse]..." you answered sufficiently.

  2. "Pope Francis." "The Church."

    John - I get your point.

    1. Steve -- yes, my point is that we need to be really careful about defining our terms and -- "let the reader understand" -- we have to be certain that we're talking about the same thing. Leonardo De Chirico has spoken and written about this -- it is Rome's tendency to re-define terms in their own mold, and then to say "see, we believe the same things" -- when really that's not the case. Turretin had noticed this tendency and commented upon it (in the first pages of Volume III of his Institutes) -- In all of these "ecumenical" documents, there is equivocation of terms, -- the terms are not defined, and consequently people don't know what it is they're agreeing to.