COULD CLERICAL CHILD ABUSE CAUSE THE DEMISE OF CATHOLICISM? – By Brian Mark Hennessy
I have been asking myself that question for a long time – probably because it is shocking to me that someone who has professed a desire to do good in the world could then go on to betray the very essence of what “priesthood” is supposed to be all about. After all, the Catholic Catechism states that the sacrament of ordination “configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for his Church. By ordination the priest is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of Priest, Prophet, and King. The Priest is the defender of truth, who stands with angels, gives glory with archangels, causes sacrifices to rise to the altar on high, shares Christ’s priesthood, refashions Creation, restores it in God’s image, recreates it for the world on high and, even greater, is divinized and divinizes.”
That amazing ontological change in the nature of a man at ordination either does or does not do what it says. In reality, the mental picture of a man who stands with angels and is “divinized” does not fit well with the historic, depraved and alarmingly still undiscovered levels of clerical child sexual abuse. Rationally, within “Christianity” the truth is that some two millennia of poetic licence has been interwoven in the Catechism deliberately by a clerical hierarchy to create a contrived illusion. That description of ordination in the Catechism is a fabrication. If true, a priest would be incapable of sin. Ergo: there are no “ifs” nor “buts”. The definition cited in the Catechism is proven to be false by evidence of the most heinous of sins and the clerical arrogance expressed is in dire need of humility.
The most realistic reason why a priest, psychosexually immature or not, would abuse a child – instead, for example, of seeking a sexual relationship with an individual categorised as an adult – is because he believes that, owing to the child’s immaturity and incomprehension, his ability to control his victim means that he will not be discovered. Hence, he will not lose face nor his position in the public clerical or civil realms. Apart from the fact of the inability of an innocent and gullible child to understand what is happening to them, we need to determine, therefore, what additional factors in the clerical “realm” might contribute to a cleric taking such a risk. I offer some possible explanations.
One fact is that a priest, realistically, can believe that he can get away with abusing a child precisely because the institution which has ordained him has adopted a hierarchy that self-promotes themselves as a uniquely holy caste that is set apart from their followers. It has always been the case throughout the history of mankind, from shaman to Levite to Pope, that a priest, both in practice and in theory, should be deemed to be beyond the reproach of other mortals. The priestly hierarchy achieves this by their adoption of the role of anointed mediator between God and man from cradle to grave. They impose themselves on the communities surrounding them as the appointed teachers of religious truths that only they have the knowledge and right to interpret. They project themselves as the sole and true guardians of esoteric doctrines that are the keys to the afterlife. Having created that concept, the priesthood then seeks to usurp each layperson’s birthright to shape their own path to destiny. This deprivation of the control of a personal spiritual and intuitive access to an afterlife is achieved by the clerical right to the imposition of religious texts, the creation of codes of laws and prohibitions, of rituals, invocations and, more importantly, interdictions, proscriptions and punishments. The latter are uniquely combined with the fearful prospect of exclusion from both the earthly community and sunlit eternity by excommunication.
The Catholic Church abhors the application of the word “priest” to the prophets, shamans and medicine men of both primitive or contemporary, alternative Christian sects or religious beliefs. They do so because it is essential that they claim total uniqueness from any form of ritualistic priesthood that preceded theirs or is today “other” than their own exclusive claim to that right and dignity. Sacrifice was always an essential ingredient of the function and the key to the power of priesthood. In Christianity the daily re-creation of the Sacrifice of Christ on a Cross for the salvation of adherents derives from that dominant feature of the New Testament. The same willingness of Abraham to sacrifice Issac on the altar of Mount Moriah in the Genesis story of the Torah is similarly a dominant feature of Judaism. Nevertheless, well before Christianity and the Israelite passage out of Egypt, and still today in remote societies, the priestly castes of men set themselves apart in the same way and have claimed for themselves, without exception, the knowledge by which their followers could access spiritual prosperity in both the here and now – and in an afterlife.
Those “other” priests of bygone days have sacrificed to the gods by the ritualistic slaughter of sheep, oxen or mankind. The “other” priests of today use mostly symbolic sacrifice for the same purpose. They similarly exchange their enigmatic powers of the bestowal of eternity and access to the eternal heavens for goods and riches. That exchange has always been a part of the ritual. In doing so both priest and shaman achieve a unique stature within their respective societies – and anoints them also with distinction, status and a degree of, if not actual, wealth. Thus, they became the ritual anointers of leaders and kings. They divined the astronomical clock and controlled the planting and reaping of crops. They became the all powerful institutions that monitor and marshal the lives of mankind in this world and into the next. To maintain their position in society, they, themselves, of necessity, have always had a need to at least “appear” to be beyond reproach from the same laws and prohibitions that they demand from their followers. It is the same today as it was in the past.
When they are found not to be beyond rebuke, it is essential for the survival of the institution of “priesthood”, both individually and collectively, to conceal their misdeeds by any means possible. Thus they have routinely denied their failings and removed the transgressor far out of sight so that they are also out of mind. Any form of admission or apology is not countenanced. The wringing of hands in public is considered to be counter-productive to the acceptance of their assumed, distinctive authority and powers. Instead, historically, they have washed their hands in public with an air of indifference, feigned reproach and deliberately imprecise declarations of innocence and victimisation.
Every civilization in every age has had its priests – from the primitive, ritualistic priests of the world’s oldest known 12,000 year old Anatolian temple site at Gobekli Tepe, an agrarian society where the world’s very first genetic cereal crops were harvested, to the temples of the Sumerians, Hittites, Assyrians, Minoans, Pharonic Egyptians, Israelites, Incas, Aztecs and modern Empires of both East and West. Few of those historic priestly classes have survived in any format at all. Most are now confined to the deep, archaeological layers of pre-history. They all rose to power by the same process of the control of man’s individual journey to the afterlife. They all believed that their institutions were immortal. Most failed because they became too powerful, too covetous of their wealth or discredited by their own misdeeds. Undoubtedly, some too ended through natural disasters which the priests, despite their claims of being the ordained intermediary between man and god, were unable to control or prevent. One way or another, the civilization of today will become a similar distant memory.
Mankind, confined to its small earthly globe in the over-arching, endless universe has a yearning to understand his place within it, but mankind will ultimately and manifestly reject all “spurious” claims to control its destiny. Parents cherish their children because they are their sole and often unconscious, but instinctive hope for the continuity of their own earthly genetic posterity. When depraved clerics destructively ravish their children they cause demonstrable harm to that child’s earthly future. In some cases, sexually abused children go on in later years, for complex reasons, to take their own lives. In doing so, they irrevocably destroy not only their own unique potential, but also their parents’ hopes and dreams. Those clerics who abuse children extinguish any authority, divine or earthly, they may have possessed to mark out and light up the path to the perceived future eternity of their lay followers.
Beyond and despite any good the Catholic Church achieves in this world, it is not impervious to the retribution that their own earthly evils and unproven heavenly claims can exert upon them. Their concept of priesthood can also become irrelevant in a world that is increasingly less willing to allow others to usurp their individual right to self-determination in both the practical elements of this world and in the ethereal vision of the next. The demonstrable accumulation of unspeakable wealth, the aggregation of claims to a monopoly of the only route to a spiritual world in a heavenly afterlife and, above all, their heinous abuse of the most cherished innocents of this world in all ages past and in the present will only serve to rapidly quicken the certain and inevitable extinction that awaits them.