Have you seen yesterday's New York Times? Rachel Donadio's article, "Vatican Revises Sexual Abuse Process But Causes Stir," begins on the front page. She reports an announcement from the Vatican that it has revised laws to discipline sex-abuser priests, but also that ordaining women as priests is as grave an offense as pedophilia...WHAT??... I know that systems tend to accomodate to their least functional members, but this is horrifying, and continues to leave children at risk.
Let me give you the context in which I'm reading this article. I'm sitting in the back of a large room where a trainer from the Humanitarian Assistance Program is beginning a 3-day EMDR trauma treatment workshop for 30 therapists who work in non-profit counseling centers.The trainer has just directed each trainee to introduce her or himself, and I've heard half of them recount extensive experience working with children, adolescents, or adults who have been sexually abused. There's no fooling these folks about the devastating effects of the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
Back to the article. Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi said that changes to the laws showed the church's commitment to tackling child sexual abuse with "rigor and transparency." ...WHAT??... Though the new rules do extend the statute of limitations to 20 years from the victim's 18th birthday, and they also include possession of child pornography and sexual abuse of mentally disabled adults on the list of grave crimes, they do not hold bishops accountable for abuse by priests on their watch, nor do they require them to report sexual abuse to civil authorities. WHAT is rigorous about this??...
The word rigorous reminds me of memoirist Mary Karr, author of The Liars Club, Cherry, and most recently, Lit. A devoted Catholic, Mary approaches her work with an unswerving commitment to putting the truth on the page. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church would do well to learn from her disciplined drive toward integrity. I can even think of her as a bishop, ordained through the spiritual discipline of writing, and, through her teaching, book tours, radio and TV interiews, leading her flock of readers closer to God. But who am I kidding? The hierarchy of the Catholic Church would never go for this.
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, a top official in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said "The church's gratitude to women cannot be stated strongly enough. Women offer unique insight, creative abilities and unstinting generosity at the very heart of the Catholic Church." How true, and how patronizing! For years, women have been cooking for priests, cleaning their rectories, preparing their altars, functioning as their administrative assistants, and donating their time and talents to various activities without which parrishes would be unable to function. The intransigent attitude of blatant sexism which continues in the Catholic Church frightens me. Why? Because the more patriarchal a system is, the more pervasive sexual abuse within it is.
And what about the love? Where's that? Doesn't Scripture say that "by their fruits shall you know them, that they have love, one for another?" I see very little evidence of love; very little indication that they're able and willing to do the work of compassionate witnessing that would result in major systemic change on every level within the the church, and that scares me, too. To quote the last two lines of Marge Piercy's poem For Strong Women, "Until we are all strong together, a strong woman is a woman who is strongly afraid."
(for further reading on these topics you may appreciate "The Dysfunctional Church: Addiction and Codependency in the Family of Catholicism" by Michael Crosby; "She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse" by Elizabeth Johnson; "Perversion of Power" by Mary Gail Frawley-O-Dhea