Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science, Director of Human Life Studies, and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is In Defense of Nature: the Catholic Unity of Environmental, Economic, and Moral Ecology. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com.
How to fix a Church whose moral authority is so severely damaged by sexual scandal? That’s the question we hope Pope Francis will face with the greatest humility and courage in this February’s meeting with bishops. The situation is especially dire because the Pope’s own record dealing with sexual abuse in his pre-papal days as archbishop of Buenos Aires is itself part of the scandal.
To many of the faithful, it’s not clear whether this upcoming meeting is an attempt to fix the real problems besetting the Church, such as the pervasive homosexualization of the clergy, or merely a clerical strategy for short-circuiting needed reform. Let us pray that the Pope and bishops will truly be guided by the Holy Spirit.
It might help bring some bracing clarity to those in the hierarchy making the decisions if they understand the unhappy position that the Catholic Church is now in.
Imagine that our contemporary society is a ship at sea in the darkest night, buffeted in a storm by winds coming from nearly every direction, so much so that the ship reels and lurches violently in continual danger of capsizing. Spun around so many times, there is no sense of direction left, and the only compass on board has been shattered by the captain’s chief crew members in circumstances too embarrassing to mention.
That’s a pretty accurate allegorical image of our current cultural situation and the Church’s place in it. The pope and bishops—the captain and his crew—are supposed to bring the moral direction of Christ to society, and there are few times in history where society was in greater need of the Church’s authoritative guidance.
We live in a time when even the most natural and seemingly obvious moral lines are being feverishly erased. This has resulted in the elevation and acceptance, not only of unnatural acts (such as same-sex marriage or killing one’s own offspring), but also the harnessing of science to commit anti-natural acts (such as violently changing one’s natural gender by surgery and hormonal reconstruction, as if nature herself were the enemy).
For those trying to seize the ship and steer our society into such unnatural and even uncharted waters, there is no such thing as a moral compass. Or more accurately, each of us has his, her, eir, pers, their, vis, xyr, hir, zir, tem, thons, het, nir own internal moral compass and it points whichever direction one happens to want to go at the time. (No, those are not typos, but a small list of the latest gender-free, gender-manipulative pronouns handed down from the Tower of Linguistic Babel.)
Things are dark, very dark, and our society lurches in every direction, as new and shocking malformations spin us around and threaten to sink the ship. And if you think the ship is rocking now, do a little research on where transhumanists want to take us by erasing the distinction between machines and human beings.
Although lay Christians might think seriously of abandoning ship and letting it all go under as we swim to some imagined safe island, for the time being we are part of this society, and so must live amid gales of ever-greater moral barbarism and confusion.
I dare say that we Christians are not the only ones who are feeling nauseated in a society increasingly dominated by those who reject any notion that there is such a thing as the proper moral direction. The more morally anarchic and unnatural we become as a society, the more disoriented and desperate any moderately sane person becomes, whether Christian or not.
What society needs—desperately needs—is a moral compass, one that points to the true human good, the good that morality protects and nourishes human nature rather than manipulating and defiling it. Or to put it another way, we don’t need a moral compass—we’ve got any number of those pointing in countless directions. We need the moral compass, and someone to read it with authority, especially as the dizzying changes in medical technology continually multiply moral confusion.
In short, society needs the Church to draw moral lines faster than those who are erasing them, and so cure confusion with clarity. The Church’s claim, and rightfully so, is that she is in possession of the moral compass, one that is constructed according to the laws of our nature, and one that is immeasurably enhanced in its precision by the upgrades of revelation, one that is accurate no matter how far we sinful humans wander from the right course.
But just when society so desperately needs moral guidance, the compass in the keeping of the Church has been smashed by scandals. Who can take the moral guidance of the Church seriously when those into whose care the compass was entrusted, and on whose shoulders the terrible burden of reading it was authoritatively laid, have been engaging in (or complicit in covering up) acts so despicable that even her enemies are offended?
This February the Pope’s meeting with the bishops will either be a watershed in the history of the Church, purging it of the deepest roots of perversion, or it will be yet another and more devastating blow to the Church’s moral authority. If it is to be real reform, there must be no more paper or priest shuffling. No more vapid statements of remorse devoid of very real, very painful reform. No more last-minute machinations by the likes of Cardinals Cupich or Wuerl. And no more trotting out vague promises to be good, or attempts to deflect our attention to other issues (like immigration or climate change).
The scandal is the biggest problem the Church is facing, and has faced for centuries, and since the society so very desperately needs the moral compass before its self-destructs in moral shipwreck, it’s the biggest problem the world faces as well.
Please don’t say that the problem is clericalism. The problem is the deepest sexual turpitude entrenched at every level of the hierarchy. If clericalism is a problem, it’s because clericalism has become the instrument for avoiding reform.
St. Peter, pray for us.