I asked John Sylvest (@johnssylvest) of the Cathlimergent Network and ChristianNonduality.com to offer our readers some thoughts on the clergy sex abuse scandal and this is his response.

A Complex Reality

The clergy sex abuse crisis is a complex reality with many dimensions and a social ontology that includes many different types of stakeholders. Foremost in our hearts and minds are the victims of clergy pedophiles and ephebophiles, including their families and friends. There are the sexual offenders, themselves, both past and, God forbid, future, including their families and friends; we pray they have no future victims. There are clergy who’ve been unjustly accused and many others who feel shamed and tainted. There is a scandalized laity and a discredited hierarchy. There are lawyers and insurance companies. There are reporters and bloggers. There are those who’ve harbored animus toward different of these stakeholders for reasons both related and unrelated to the crisis itself.

The reality has many dimensions for all of these stakeholders: medical, psychological, clinical, moral, spiritual, legal (civil & criminal & ecclesiastical), temporal (the passage of time, statutes of limitations), financial, ecclesial, administrative, pastoral, practical and empirical (factual). There are critical relevant distinctions such as between laicization processes and sex abuse investigations. There are understandings that have evolved through time for clinical, civil and ecclesiastical authorities. There are new systems in place for protection, prediction, investigation, interdiction, and intervention. There are global dimensions as the crisis presented in the US, then Ireland, now Europe and very likely next in Spain, Latin and South America. There are demographic dimensions regarding the prevalency of pedophilia and ephebophilia in our populations at large and other institutions versus in the church.

Those in the media, including reporters and bloggers, may wish to investigate these different dimensions and discriminate between the various stakeholders and their interests. I hope all keep their primary focus on the victims and their loved ones and their interests. In our efforts to fix the blame and other collateral problems, let’s tend first to the victims’ healing.

Reasons for Hope

There is a tendency, even among the Catholic laity, but especially among outsiders looking in, to over-identify the Catholic Church with its clergy, magisterial teaching office and church hierarchy (the episcopacy and the papacy). There are about 5,000 bishops and a little more than 400,000 priests in the world. They are joined by over one BILLION lay Catholics. There is also a tendency to overemphasize moral teachings and political prudential judgments and to ignore the much more salient spiritual dimensions that play out in the Catholic life of prayer, worship and service. That’s a LOT of living and dying, working and praying, celebrating and serving! And this suggests an immense reservoir of goodwill and an incredible resiliency, not unaided by the Holy Spirit, that can triumph over any tragedy, transcend any scandal, including Crusades, Inquisitions, Papal Controversies and, yes, this Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis.

Who knew what when and did or didn’t do what when and where?

Gosh, I really hesitate to thus speculate!

So, foremost, let us pray.

help us seek out victims
help us provide appropriate interdiction and punishment for offenders
help us to recognize and repent of our roles as enablers
help us establish listening forums
help us bear witness to the pain
help us learn from our pain
help us remain in pain until we learn its lessons
help us admit our failings
help us apologize and compensate
help us provide healing resources
help us find and provide financial resources for victims
help us with our moral reasoning and prudential judgments
help us not to seek our own interests when competing values present
help us reform ecclesiastical structures
help us reform other social structures and institutions
help us disclose facts timely and transparently
help us establish accountability and responsibility
help us cooperate with civil authorities
help us to repent publicly
help us identify and admit to institutional dysfunctions
help us to recognize both institutional and personal sin
help us to identify, not only misfeasance and malfeasance, but, nonfeasance
help us identify our ignorance, incompetence and culpability
help us to resign our offices and ministries when appropriate
help us when unjustly criticized or accused
help us avoid the deflection of accusations with counter-accusations of animus
help us to avoid the shirking of responsibility and the blaming of others
help us to avoid jumping to facile conclusions and rash interpretations of facts
help us revisit any church disciplines or polity that may not have contributed to the cause of this crisis but which may very well become resources in moving us beyond it
help us as reporters, journalists and bloggers to be responsible and remain within our realms of competence
forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
help us, even in our pain and sin, to sing your praises and seek your glory
heal us, reconcile us and make us one
protect our children, please, and work through us to accomplish their protection which is your supreme will
help us to bring a just resolution to our ecclesiastical crisis and give us the encouragement of Your Spirit to make whatever hard decisions and to take whatever difficult actions that might entail

we thank You and praise your Holy Name. Amen.