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General News    H2'ed 8/16/18

A New Low for the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.

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Pope Francis in March 2013 (cropped)
Pope Francis in March 2013 (cropped)
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 16, 2018: On August 14, 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released the grand-jury report about priest-sex-abuse and the cover-ups by bishops in six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. The dioceses had received copies of the grand-jury report in May. But its public dissemination then got tied up in in court. But the state Supreme Court ordered its release, but with certain names redacted.

The grand-jury report spans 70 years. It lists more than 300 Pennsylvania priests accused of various forms of sex abuse and estimates that some 1,000 Pennsylvania victims were involved. The report includes vivid details of the abuse. The details are disgusting, to say the least. For understandable reasons, the mainstream news media have covered the grand-jury report.

The sheer amount of disgusting details is overwhelming. This report represents a new low for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. But it covers only six dioceses in Pennsylvania. Should we extrapolate from this report that comparable disgusting details would be reported in grand juries in the other 49 states were convened to survey the Roman Catholic dioceses in those states? It appears that this report is just the tip of the iceberg.

Thus far, however, Pope Francis has been silent about the grand-jury report. So it looks like he is just going to let American Catholics twist slowly in the wind.

Update: After I posted this piece, the Vatican issued a statement about the Pennsylvania grand-jury report. I heard about the Vatican statement on the NBC Evening News with Lester Holt. I subsequently read a report about the Vatican statement in the New York Times.

Now, at the end of July, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., from the College of Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, after allegations of sex abuse involving minors and adult seminarians. So perhaps in the spirit of giving Pope Francis credit where credit is due, we should give him credit for removing McCarrick from the exercise of any public ministry.

By coincidence, on August 9, 2018, the New York Times reported that A. W. Richard Sipe (born in 1932), a former Benedictine priest who had become a leading expert in priest sex abuse, died on August 8, 2018, in the La Jolla area of San Diego at the age of 85.

In 2016, according to the lengthy NYT obit, Sipe wrote a letter to Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego about priest sex abuse. The NYT obit quotes Sipe as saying the following in that letter: "When men in authority -- cardinals [such as Cardinal McCarrick], bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors [who have taken vows of celibacy -- priests and religious brothers] -- are having or have had unacknowledged-secret-active-sex under the guise of celibacy, an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative. Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among, and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children."

The celibacy required of diocesan priests in the Roman Catholic Church is a matter of church law. However, if the church were to dispense with the requirement of celibacy for diocesan priests, this change in church law would open the doors for married men to become ordained priests. More importantly, this change in church law might open the doors for reconsidering the church's unfortunate teachings about sex. But Catholic bishops, including Pope Francis of course, tend to be constitutionally conservative fellows, and so they tend to resist making any significant changes.

Nevertheless, Stephen Greenblatt's book The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (Norton, 2017) can serve as a locus for discussing certain matters related to the church's unfortunate teachings about sex. Stephen Greenblatt (born in 1943) is a Jewish professor of English at Harvard University. His discussion of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 CE) is perceptive ("Original Freedom, Original Sin," pages 98-119).

As a thought experiment, we should try to imagine Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden engaging in sexual intercourse -- before they fatefully ate the forbidden fruit and were expelled from the Garden of Eden by God. St. Augustine tried to imagine this. For him, before there was Original Sin, there as Original Freedom for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. For St. Augustine, Original Freedom meant no sexual lust -- no stirring of our concupiscible appetites. For him, Original Sin is the root cause of our concupiscible appetites and sexual lust.

Now, by another coincidence, in 2018, the Roman Catholic Church still officially upholds Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae proscribing artificial contraception -- which resoundingly echoes St. Augustine's mindset about our concupiscible appetites and sexual lust.

Greenblatt says, "Adam and Eve were meant to reproduce, Augustine insisted, without involuntary arousal [of sexual lust]. 'They would not have had the activity of turbulent lust in their flesh. . . . but only the movement of peaceful will by which we command ourselves the other members of the body' Untroubled self-command -- arousal only when you will yourself to be aroused; no arousal when you do not -- was for Augustine the heart of what it meant to be free" (page 116; Greenblatt's ellipsis).

Greenblatt says, "To those of us accustomed to think of freedom in political or social terms, the conception of freedom as unruffled inward tranquility and bodily control seems very strange. But to someone deeply troubled by the problem of involuntary arousal, it made sense. And Augustine was certain he was not alone. He drew upon a long tradition of moral philosophy, pagan as well as Christian, that centered on the achievement of control over the self that nothing, nor even excruciating pain or exquisite pleasure, could disturb. In Paradise, he wrote in The City of God, Adam and Eve -- with no pain, no fear of death, no inner disturbance -- would have known perfect serenity, a serenity that was meant to extend to sexual intercourse. The coming together of male and female in the reproductive process was designed to be utterly calm. Without feeling any passion -- without sensing that strange goad, as if something were driving you forward -- 'the husband would have relaxed on his wife's bosom in tranquility of mind'" (pages 116-117).

Greenblatt says, "This was how it was all meant to be for Adam and Eve. But, Augustine concluded, it never happened, not even once. Their sin happened first, 'and they incurred the penalty of exile from paradise before they could unite in the task of propagation as a deliberate act undisturbed by passion'" (page 118).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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