This Register Symposium is not a physical conference, but a written collection of shared reflections from independent contributors with specialized knowledge regarding the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The nine experts have been asked to reflect on the root causes of the problem, and the most effective path forward for the Church.
I thank you for inviting me to take part in this symposium on “Abuse and the Way to Healing” in anticipation of the upcoming bishops’ summit at the Vatican. My contribution will draw on my personal experience of 51 years of priesthood.
It is evident to all that a primary cause of the present terrible crisis of sexual abuse committed by ordained clergy, including bishops, is the lack of proper spiritual formation of candidates to the priesthood. That lack, in turn, is largely explained by the doctrinal and moral corruption of many seminary formators, corruption that increased exponentially beginning in the 1960s.
I entered a pontifical seminary in Rome and began my studies at the Gregorian University when I was 25 years old. It was 1965, just months before the end of Vatican II. I couldn’t help but notice, not only in my own college but also in many others in Rome, that some seminarians were very immature and that these houses of formation were marked by a general and very serious lack of discipline.
A few examples will suffice. Seminarians sometimes spent the night outside my seminary, as the supervision was woefully inadequate. Our spiritual director was in favor of priestly ordination ad tempus — the idea that ordained priesthood could be a merely temporary status.
At the Gregorian, one of the professors of moral theology favored situation ethics. And some classmates confided to me that their spiritual directors had no objection to their presenting themselves for priestly ordination despite their unresolved and continual grave sins against chastity.
Certainly, those who suffer from deep-seated same-sex attraction should never be admitted to seminary. Moreover, before any seminarian is accepted for ordination, he must not only strive for chastity but actually achieve it. He must already be living chaste celibacy peacefully and for a prolonged period of time, for if this is lacking, the seminarian and his formators cannot have the requisite confidence that he is called to the celibate life.
Bishops have the paramount responsibility for the formation of their candidates to the priesthood. Any bishop who has covered up abuse or seduction of minors, vulnerable adults or adults under a priest’s pastoral care, including seminarians, is not fit for that responsibility or for any episcopal ministry and should be removed from his office.
I am praying intensely for the success of the February summit. Although I would rejoice greatly if the summit were successful, the following questions reveal that there is no sign of a genuine willingness to attend to the real causes of the present situation:
- Why will the meeting focus exclusively on the abuse of minors? These crimes are indeed the most horrific, but the crises in the United States and Chile that have largely precipitated the upcoming summit have to do with abuses committed against young adults, including seminarians, not only against minors. Almost nothing has been said about sexual misconduct with adults, which is itself a grave abuse of pastoral authority, whether or not the relationship was “consensual.”
- Why does the word “homosexuality” never appear in recent official documents of the Holy See? This is by no means to suggest that most of those with a homosexual inclination are abusers, but the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of abuse has been inflicted on post-pubescent boys by homosexual clerics. It is mere hypocrisy to condemn the abuse and claim to sympathize with the victims without facing up to this fact honestly. A spiritual revitalization of the clergy is necessary, but it will be ultimately ineffectual if it does not address this problem.
- Why does Pope Francis keep and even call as his close collaborators people who are notorious homosexuals? Why has he refused to answer legitimate and sincere questions about these appointments? In doing so he has lost credibility on his real will to reform the Curia and fight the corruption.
In my third testimony, I begged the Holy Father to face up to the commitments he himself made in assuming his office as Successor of Peter. I pointed out that he took upon himself the mission of confirming his brothers and guiding all souls in following Christ along the way of the cross. I urged him then, and I now urge him again, to tell the truth, repent, show his willingness to follow the mandate given to Peter and, once converted, to confirm his brothers (Luke 22:32).
I pray that the bishops gathered in Rome will remember the Holy Spirit, whom they received with the imposition of hands, and carry out their responsibility to represent their particular Churches by firmly asking for, and insisting on, an answer to the above questions during the summit.
Indeed, I pray that they will not return to their countries without proper answers to these questions, for to fail in this regard would mean abandoning their own flocks to the wolves and allowing the entire Church to suffer dreadful consequences.
Despite the problems I have described, I continue to have hope, because the Lord will never abandon his Church.
Archbishop Carlo Viganò is the former apostolic nuncio to the United States.