Back in October, when Harvey Weinstein’s exploits [crimes] became public, those of us who have been supportive of the Catholic Church’s teachings on human sexuality were quick to think of the prophetic nature of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae when he foretold the dire effects that contraception would have on the way that men treat women.
As other prominent figures were exposed for their despicable manipulation of sex with women and men, we continued to be confirmed in our thinking.
However, the June revelations of the credible allegations of sex abuse on the part of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick confirm what many have suspected for a long time. The Church has been uncomfortably silent on matters of sexuality, family, and marriage because some in her leadership do not live these teachings themselves. And it is very hard to teach something that one does not know and live.
Obviously, celibate priests are not called to marriage or a life where contraception would even be a question. But their celibacy makes no sense unless one appreciates marriage. Marriage between a woman and a man points to the perfect union between Christ and his bride, the Church. Setting aside the exceptions for married priests, the theology of the Latin Church understands that the priest, called to be in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), enters into a supernatural type of nuptial vocation. Put simply, if he’s not continent- refraining from sexual activity- he’s cheating, just like any married person who acts unchastely and engages in sexual activity outside that person’s own marriage.
In my experience, the priests and bishops who are comfortable talking about, defending, and promoting the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage are confident in their vocations. They understand that their vocation and the vocation of the married support each other and point to the reality that we are all called to an eternal relationship with God.
I’m also confident that the celibacy of their relationship is hard work, just as marriage is hard work for the two spouses. I’m confident that they struggle, as married couples do. And I’m confident that they are willing to sacrifice, as married couples do, so that, in the words of St. Paul, they may “run so as to win.” All of the challenges here are worthwhile because overcoming them brings us closer to our ultimate desire, which is union with God.
Apart from serious eschatological considerations, celibacy (not to mention, virginity and chastity) makes little sense. Which explains why those who have lost sight of the greatest prize find it extremely challenging, if not impossible, to live the vocation.
Pope John XXIII wrote, “A soul adorned with the virtue of chastity cannot help loving others; for it has discovered the source and font of love – God.”
When we lose sight of this source, the reality of God, then we become all too comfortable with using others as objects, even children and others we have been given to protect and love. And none of this can be accomplished without living chastity. It’s not about subduing love; it’s about allowing love to burn passionately and strongly. Anything that exists outside of chastity is a mockery of authentic love.
Just a few days before the most recent round of headlines which helped to refocus attention on Cardinal McCarrick’s reported abuses, I was visiting with the editor of a national publication. We were both saddened, even distraught, that it seemed like the story was going nowhere. One credible allegation of abuse of a minor, two settlements with adults, and…nothing.
Timing is everything. The groundswell came a few days before July 25, the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. I’ve no doubt that it will continue to unfold throughout this year.
As more details emerge about this massive failure in chastity and egregious predation on the vulnerable within the flock, we will, hopefully, get beyond journalistic investigation and see some sort of due process with judicial investigation rather than the historical pattern of simply waiting for the culprit to die. Justice demands that what’s being said about the cardinal be verified, not left in the limbo of the never investigated, never proven, never corroborated.
Though I am a theologian and a diocesan official, it’s not clear to me what a process should look like when a bishop has been accused of crimes, whether civil, ecclesial, or both. Canonists assure me that the tools exist in law. Bring ’em on.
In these days, I’m hearing from a lot of lay people who are anxious to see change, even if they have to lead. In Church affairs, it is the ordained who are principally responsible for governance. I wonder: what sort of lay leadership would be effective today in bringing about real reform without harming the unity of our Mother the Church?
Hear me out: We all know good priests and bishops. Either we have confidence in them or we don’t. I’d like to see them take the lead on the necessary reform. It will be more authentic if the reform comes from within and from those in charge. The laity may rightly express frustration, anger, and concern. The laity can be ready with good ideas. But we need our bishops and priests to lead now, otherwise they will lose what little credibility they have left.
It’s a start that the original announcement in June came from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, not the archdiocese or an archdiocesan office. Similarly, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and advisor to Pope Francis, released a statement (the day before the anniversary of Humanae Vitae), stating, “These cases and others require more than apologies.”
Church leadership has a lot to do in order to give more than apologies.
Both inside and outside the Church, we are being bombarded by evidence that the virtues outlined in Humanae Vitae apply both to the laity and the clergy. Paul VI put forth an achievable ideal about human life and the love that makes life human. Ignoring that ideal gives us the spectre of McCarrick’s abuses and those of many others.
The timing of these revelations alongside the commemoration of one of the most polemical papal writings in the history of the Church – which happens to be about love and sex – is more than a coincidence for me. God, in his gift of free will, has allowed us to be utterly stupid about the teachings of his Church. And now we have arrived at a place where those teachings must be lived and taught by the leadership of the Church in order for the Church to heal. Humanae Vitae is the lynchpin in the abuse crisis.
In the end, I believe that there are no coincidences, only God’s providence. It is our choice how we respond.
Note: Pia de Solenni, SThD, is the Chancellor of the Diocese of Orange and Theological Advisor to the Bishop. The opinions expressed here are her own.