French Church Abuse - Devastating Revelations

Some 216,000 children have been sexually abused by members of the French Catholic clergy since 1950, an independent inquiry has found.

I cannot overstate how much damage this does to the Church.

Of course, Catholics tend to immediately engage in damage limitation when confronted with facts like this suggesting that abuse is a part of much of societies institutions historically and that the proportion of priests who abuse is far lower in the Church than it is in wider society. 

These things may well be true, but the direct hypocrisy makes the abuse of minors by clergy a perfect tool for the devil to undermine the Church. It is a perversion of the mission and purpose for which the institution exists. It is an opposite image of Christ hiding in the heart of His bride on earth. It is this stark and jarring contrast that makes abuse in the Church uniquely appalling.

This kind of abuse necessarily involves a perversion of the priesthood and the trust which is implicit in the role, manipulating an individual's faith itself to justify the abuse being visited on the victim.

For me there is a really disturbing undertone. You could argue that the Church encourages us to be docile in our reception of the faith, especially where the pope, bishops & priests are concerned. In previous generations it might even be said that this is what makes you a good Catholic: someone who surrenders to the institution. It's certainly my experience of my Catholic grandparents in Ireland who held the clergy with almost supernatural awe. And there is some justification for holding clergy with special regard and as individuals who have special authority.

St Padre Pio is often held up as a modern example of how, even when we disagree or do not believe the decisions made are for the best, we should still obey. 

St. Faustina wrote that Jesus Christ told her “the devil can imitate humility, but he cannot imitate obedience.”

But in these post-abuse scandal days, how do we reconcile this idea? I find Padre Pio's example particularly disturbing insofar as it basically suggests that irrespective of what we suffer, we are to simply accept injustice and mistreatment. 

The Second Vatican Council teaches:
"The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God." LG 37
Pope Francis recently warned against those who resist the Spirit with "so-called fidelity to the law" and invites the faithful to pray for the grace of the docility to the Spirit. But when the Spirit seems pre-occupied with Pope Francis' own muddled whims, and the Law is the only thing that stands between the sheep and those who would manipulate them for their own ends, the Holy Father starts to sound like someone using his office to justify a very specific agenda, and that agenda appears to contradict much of what has always been held and taught by the Catholic Church.

Of course it is true that we live in a culture which is increasingly dominated by a dictatorship of relativism. Our culture strongly promotes personal autonomy and therefore regards all authority with a certain amount of suspicion. It is a culture which considers obedience to be symptomatic of a low intellect and contrary to human dignity because it impedes self-determination. I recognise I am guilty of this myself.

This cultural virus has infected all of us to some degree. In a post Tradiones Custodes  world, it does not matter how traditionally ecclesiastical we may be in our tastes, there is a clear culture of legitimising our personal objections to papal dictats in a way which would have been unthinkable a few short decades ago. The behaviour of the Pope and hierarchy only serves to exacerbate this situation.

These revelations will inevitably shake people's faith in the Church. Given the evidence, perhaps they deserve to be shaken? I speak of the temporal, human institution of course which is always so damaged by human failings. The only medicine surely is holiness, but are we willing to take the medicine, call out sin as unacceptable and re-dedicate our lives all the more to Christ?


  1. The link does not appear to be working. The figure of 216,000 beggars belief.
    Are you sure that it doesn't refer to instances rather than individuals?

    1. I've fixed it now (I think). The figure is from a BBC report

    2. BBC locuta: Causa finita est...?

      While not wishing to make light of anyone's suffering I wouuld simply wish to point out that France has a long-lived tradition of anti-clericalism.


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