No More Scandal

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So Benedict has met with the Irish bishops and lectured them on the badness of pedophilia. Here’s how the Vatican press release describes what the pope had to say:

For his part, the Holy Father observed that the sexual abuse of
children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave
sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person
created in his image. While realizing that the current painful
situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to
address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to
face the present crisis with honesty and courage.

He also expressed the hope that the present meeting would help to
unify the Bishops and enable them to speak with one voice in
identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had
been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the
Church’s spiritual and moral credibility.

The Holy Father also pointed to the more general crisis of faith
affecting the Church and he linked that to the lack of respect for the
human person and how the weakening of faith has been a significant
contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors. He
stressed the need for a deeper theological reflection on the whole
issue, and called for an improved human, spiritual, academic and
pastoral preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and
religious life and of those already ordained and professed.

Since Benedict calls for “a deeper theological reflection on the whole issue,” I have a suggestion.How about re-examining the doctrine of scandal? This ancient teaching (see definition in Catechism after the jump) refers to actions–or reports of actions–that lead others into sin. Again and again, throughout the many abuse cases throughout the world, the cover-ups were justified by church authorities on the grounds that making the abuse known would cause scandal in this technical sense. Not that the revelation of a priest’s abuse of a minor would cause more child abuse but rather, it would drag the Church into disrepute and thereby alienate the faithful. The evil done by the doctrine is by now plain.

It’s all very well for the pope to cast his stone at an alleged societal “lack of respect for the human person.” What’s needed is for the Church itself to discover sufficient respect for the human persons in the pews to establish a policy of letting them know when a priest (or bishop) has sinned. The cover-up-to-avoid-scandal dodge must be doctrinally done away with, the sooner the better.

Respect for the souls of others: scandal

2284 Scandal
is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person
who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and
integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal
is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led
into a grave offense.

Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of
those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It
prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these
little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to
have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the
depth of the sea.”86 Scandal is grave when given by those
who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus
reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to
wolves in sheep’s clothing.87

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.

Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish
laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the
corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that,
intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the
Commandments difficult and practically impossible.”88 This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger,89 or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his
disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty
of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or
indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to
him by whom they come!”90