BY LEE STRANG
Coming from the Midwest, where the Catholic church is less scathed by problems, to Boston, which is racked by scandal, was somewhat shocking. But the reason for the difficulties here—and lack of difficulties elsewhere in the United States — was immediately clear: dissent. Dissent from the church’s teachings across the board but mostly with her proper and beautiful understanding of human sexuality expressed in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.
The Catholic church claims that it is the true church of Jesus Christ. The claim is historical: In Matthew 16:18-19 and in John 20:22-23 Jesus gave to the Apostles, and especially to Peter, certain authority to speak and judge in His name. The Apostles then created an institution that was the seed out of which grew the larger institution we know today as the Catholic church. Thus, the Catholic church claims divine authority for herself on certain matters. Those who are members of the church cannot, rationally at least, dissent from those matters upon which the church has stated dissent contravenes the divine will.
Dissent, however, is just what those who taught in the church’s seminaries, colleges and pulpits have done since the Sixties. Dissent became institutionalized with an entire generation of clerics being taught and teaching that the church was wrong on many doctrinal matters, especially regarding human sexuality, and that she would soon change to “catch up with the times.” Recent books on the subject are full of examples. In one seminary a professor questioned whether Christ’s sacrificial death atoned for our sins, a teaching central to all Christian faiths. At another, a textbook taught that nonmarital sexual intimacy was permissible and even desirable, especially among a celibate priesthood.
Since moving to Boston we have witnessed first hand the rotten fruit of the culture of dissent. Homilies (sermons) of some priests are riddled with explicit or implicit dissent and challenges to the church. The mass, which for Catholics is a sacred event, is turned into a launching pad for unorthodox innovation.
The priest scandal resulted directly from this culture of dissent. Each and every priest who harmed a child acted in dissent to the church’s teaching on human sexuality. Having come of age in a culture of dissent these men were taught that “sexual expression” and not their vows of celibacy were valuable. It is no mistake, given the approval of homosexual activity by the heterodox, that the vast majority of harms perpetuated were done to boys and young men. Paul Shanley, the notorious Boston priest who abused many boys, was a founder of a homosexual organization that sought to promote as morally licit “man/boy love.” Prior to the revelation of his perversions Shanley was celebrated by dissenters for his “courageous stand” against the church’s repressive teachings on human sexuality.
The calls by these same dissenters for “democracy” within the church, a married clergy or the ordination of women, or for an “updating” of the church’s teachings, are part of the problem and not solutions to the scandals. A married clergy or one that includes women will not help because Protestant denominations and professions that deal with children have as high if not higher rates of abuse than does the Catholic clergy. The same fact is true of denominations that are more “democratic” in their governance. The dissenters are attempting to agitate for the same failed agenda of liberalization of the church that they have been pushing since the Sixties regardless of its consequences.
The solution to the recent scandals in the Catholic Church is a return by the faithful, the clergy, and the bishops, to the Church’s teachings. We must recognize that we are Catholics because of the Church’s claims to divine authority. This belief is based upon scripture and tradition. Jesus gave to his Church on earth the power to declare what is right and wrong in order to protect the goodness of the Christian way of life, and those who reject this authority reject him. If those claims are true then by what right and how wise is it to act contrary to those teachings?
The Catholic Church is full of flawed — sometimes seriously so — men and women. Yet those of us who continue to cling to her believe that she is a divine institution instituted by Jesus Christ. We are like the great humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam who, when challenged by Martin Luther as to why he had not left the Church despite its many errors replied: “I endure this Church in the hope that she will improve, given that she also has to endure me in the hope that I will improve.”