Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Roman Catholic Problem

Organizations with a strong hierarchical structure have it for one primary reason: they want a lot of control. Sometimes this can be good, but it often goes bad over time. In the case of the Roman Catholic church, having strong central control was probably pretty good for a long time, but now the hierarchy is in trouble for covering up a lot of sexual misconduct by priests.

As a protestant outsider, I have no strong sense of why the Roman Catholic church has been so lax with respect to policing its own. A cynic would say that this church has so long been a haven for so many pedophiles at all levels that it regarded pedophilia as one of its privileges. A more pragmatic person would say that the church regarded guarding its reputation as being more important than holding a few of its priests to account for sins and crimes. A kind person would say that the church's labyrinthine structure and extreme conservatism made it time-consuming to pursue questions of priestly misbehavior. My guess is that all three points of view have some truth in them.

Whatever the truth regarding the "why", there's no question that, for the younger generation, the Roman Catholic church has been greatly tarnished by the ongoing scandals about pedophilia in its ranks. Older Catholic's who were raised in the church and were virtually brainwashed about the status and rights of priests seem to be immune to outrage about the current situation. It's not at all the same for younger Catholics who see the church as managed by a bunch of old men who seem dedicated to running a church as it always was - an inside game characterized by arcane rituals and obeisance to the rulers. These young people see what the inside game has produced, just like us outsiders have seen. Who would want to be part of that?

Where does the Catholic Church go from here? Well, it's hard to say. They are excellent at stonewalling, and that seems to be the plan at the moment despite the fact that it doesn't seem to be working very well. An alternative would be to decentralize priestly discipline and let the bishops or archbishops take quick action to cleanse the ranks - no doubt there are still more than a few known pedophiles out there. Given the shortage of priests, that's a tough call. Can that church restore its honor for the next generation? The jury is out, for sure.

My guess is that the Roman Catholic church needs to change a lot if it is to survive in North America and Europe. The old guard's time is over, and with it a lot of the historical organizational concepts they held. Women need a lot more power, celibacy needs to become optional, and power needs to be decentralized. The Roman Catholic church's strengths have always been concern for the poor and unwavering belief in a loving god who forgives those who repent. It's time to return to those roots and shed its over-riding concern for its own "inside game".

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I really think a lot of the problem is generational.

Those in power in the Catholic hierarchy today were brought up in a time when if the unspeakable happened, it wasn't spoken of.