[Tom Doyle was a canon lawyer at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1985 when he co-authored a report to the U.S. bishops that advised them to confront clergy sex abuse in the church. Following are portions of a talk he gave recently in Boston. Read the full text at www.votf.org.]
What we have experienced in our lifetime is a disaster the horror of which is perhaps equaled by the bloodshed of the Inquisition but which certainly makes the indulgence scam of the Reformation pale by comparison. For years the rape and pillage of children, adolescents and young people in our midst has been allowed to go on. Why? Since the first public explosion in our era in 1984, people high and low have been looking for answers.
I submit that the sexual abuse disgrace has been a symptom of a deeper and much more pervasive and destructive malady: the fallacy of clericalism. The primary symptoms of this disease are the delusion that the clergy, especially as they crawl higher on this ladder, are somehow above the rest, deserving of unquestioned privilege, the keepers of our salvation, the guarantors of our favor with the Lord. But the deadliest symptom of all is the unbridled addiction to power.
The horror of the sex abuse phenomenon cannot be adequately described or measured. No public apologies, no public statements, no widespread purges will come close to repairing the immeasurable damage done to the emotions and to the souls of the victims and survivors and indeed the whole community. Out of this disaster has emerged a solid, gleaming hope, the realization that we must have a deep, probing and painful scrutiny of the governmental system that caused this to happen; and we must have a real change.
The widespread abuse of power by hierarchical leadership has been sustained by the myth that what is good for the small minority, the clergy, is good for the Church. But they have lost sight of the Christ-given reality that the Church is us! We, you, are not onlookers whose main duties are to pay, pray and obey. The Church's most vital members are not those wearing the elaborate robes and sitting on thrones, but the marginalized, the hurting, the rejected, the forgotten, the voiceless : and today we are taking back what's been hijacked from us.
What we see before us are the beginning death throes of the medieval monarchical model that was based on the belief that a small minority of the educated, privileged and power0-invested was called forth by God to manage the temporal and spiritual lives of the faceless masses on the presumption that their unlettered status equaled ignorance. That was 1302. This is 2005 and that earlier model is based on a myth that is long dead if it ever was real in the first place....
Earthly society and Church leaders might have felt that the only possible government was government by monarchy. But I believe that the Lord had a different idea, democracy : the word that strikes fear and trembling in those addicted to power. We have to help them find the joy and happiness of sharing.
This unspeakable disaster has proven beyond doubt the need for all of us to abandon the magical thinking that sustains the medieval paradigm and take the great risk of beginning to accept Christ's challenge to lead by serving. The hierarchical system appears to have lost the ability to do so. You must take up the challenge. The promise for what we all want is within your grasp: a Church that is Christ-centered first and a political structure second. Is clericalism and its offshoot, a monarchical hierarchy, part of the divine plan? Hardly. We need to try Christ's radical egalitarianism.
We need to recognize that the resistance to change now and in the past is grounded in a fear that the loss of the "traditional" model will result in a loss of spiritual security. But we all need to accept the responsibility for our own spiritual growth, and not depend on a magical notion of sacraments and the magicians as priests and bishops who administer them.
We must stop enabling through financial support the power structures that have been largely responsible for the horrific consequences of the cover-up of widespread sexual abuse. There is no longer room for timidity or fearful deference to the very structures that have betrayed us. We must challenge the clergy who voice their support for victims, survivors and a revivified Church to not simply talk the talk, but to walk the walk. We must keep this wonderful, hopeful spirit alive. Millions of people from the pope on down have been prayting for relief and for a new dawn. It is here. The Spirit of God is really alive and well and moving through you!