I, like most people, am desperately saddened by any report of the abuse of children. I have no interest in letting such people "off the hook" but hope to see prudent justice executed--while I am also inclined to treat any person with a loving, merciful grace they don't deserve, as I hope to be treated. (That is another complex matter.)
Whatever one's take on sin and grace, I find this article to be a helpful voice in the discussion about Catholic priest abuse. Getting the stats right is particularly interesting:
-All sectors of civilization, some certainly more than others, have some rate of child abuse, averaging, appallingly, around 10-20% of men (as abusers). The rate among priests is at 4%.
So why despise an organization which is lower than half the average rate of abuse?
Simple: they know better, and they can do better. When the world acts too worldly, it is sadly to be expected. But when the Church acts too worldly, the world gasps and says it must get on acting as it should. This appears to me what the Catholic Church's critics are indirectly affirming.
The especially vitriolic voices who hope this scandal will serve as a fatal dynamiting in the Church's demolition are actually hoping the Church will be more Churchy. I am not only referring the Church's teachings in Mark 9:42, Matt 18:6 (et al) where any abuse of children is regarded with violent hatred by Jesus, but also to its structure and hierarchy. The avowed opponents of the harshness of excommunication and the dogmatic evils are coming out of the woodwork calling for millstones around the necks around pedophiles. While I do not wish to detract from the fervor from their millstone-mobs, I do wonder if they know that they want the Church to exercise its authority.
Why not call for the banning of marriage or life-partnership, as it boasts a large correlation with abuse? Why not despise the Protestant pastors or rabbis or, for that matter, other groups that show higher rates of abuse than priests? The other institutions or groups which are home to abusers do not maintain much of an organizational structure (at least compared to the Catholic Church) and therefore, I assume, we think there is no leverage to critique an "abuse of authority" therein. How, for example, could there ever be such a thing as a "Baptist cover-up," as its pastors are not subject to much of an organized structure?
I have never been under the assumption that the Church is anything but a "whore," in St. Augustine's words. That's why its members quickly clarified that its sacraments are meaningful apart from the quality of the priest dispensing them. Having joined the Church in the midst of its scandal, five years ago, I am under no false pretenses; but I am convinced that anything true the Church's critics have said is a drawing upon the Church's own tradition and teaching, which I am quite clear on: they defend the widow, orphan, the defenseless while denouncing (even more loudly than its critics) the usurer, the extortionist, the murderer, the abuser, the lier, and so on. But, taking the truth even deeper, it has also acknowledged that these sins are in all of us to some extent, beckoning from us a call to mingle our justice with mercy.
In Chesterton's assessment, whatever has not been inspired by Christian tradition in the West (which is nearly everything) has been mostly inspired by Greek pagan philosophy. While it has tickled some "new-agers" and others to revel in paganism as a better alternative to Catholic dreariness, I would hope they know that it took Christianity to regard padeophilia as a sin. Have we not read The Symposium or any other Greek work where child molestation is regarded as a matter of course?
I leave you with a quote from his Heretics:
There is only one thing in the modern world that has been face to face with Paganism; there is only one thing in the modern world which in that sense knows anything about Paganism: and that is Christianity. That fact is really the weak point in the whole of that hedonistic neo-Paganism of which I have spoken.
All that genuinely remains of the ancient hymns or the ancient dances of Europe, all that has honestly come to us from the festivals of Phoebus or Pan, is to be found in the festivals of the Christian Church. If any one wants to hold the end of a chain which really goes back to the heathen mysteries, he had better take hold of a festoon of flowers at Easter or a string of sausages at Christmas.
Everything else in the modern world is of Christian origin, even everything that seems most anti-Christian. The French Revolution is of Christian origin. The newspaper is of Christian origin. The anarchists are of Christian origin. Physical science is of Christian origin. The attack on Christianity is of Christian origin. There is one thing, and one thing only, in existence at the present day which can in any sense accurately be said to be of pagan origin, and that is Christianity.
The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them. The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted, but invented, are faith, hope, and charity. Now much easy and foolish Christian rhetoric could easily be poured out upon those three words, but I desire to confine myself to the two facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact (in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)—the first evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues. And the second evident fact, which is even more evident, is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.