It's hard to imagine what could be more heart-rending ... or more of an outrage.
Priests are raping nuns. Some of the headlines have greatly overstated the problem (calling it “widespread” is misleading and calling it a “time-bomb” is hyperbole) but we all owe a debt of gratitude to anyone helping to step up the Church's response to this tragedy and scandal.
Greatly to her credit, Pamela Schaeffer (managing editor of The National Catholic Reporter, which broke the story) stressed on National Public Radio that “we are talking here about very few priests. And I think it's important that not all priests be painted with this kind of a brush.”
Others have been less kind, quick to suggest that the cause of this horrible conduct was ... priestly celibacy.
The problem with that assumption is that these attacks have been very rare. If the nature of the priesthood were at fault, it wouldn't be rare at all.
Two other things Schaeffer said in summing up the newspaper's report might offer better clues as to how the Church could prevent such abuses in the future.
Seminary training. First, she made the point that these priests did not get appropriate seminary training in celibacy. Shouldn't the Church look here to address this problem? As Omaha, Neb., Archbishop Elden Curtiss says in Brian McGuire's front-page story this week, new pastoral and theological approaches can help to develop the virtue of celibacy in priests even better than old-style approaches, and of course much better than no approach. In addition, a faithful and vigorous Catholic culture in the seminary can help identify those not called to celibacy. Experiments in downplaying celibacy in our seminaries have caused great pain. They should end.
Inculturation. Schaeffer also pointed out that the attacks were caused by cultural differences, particularly in certain parts of Africa, which are hostile to celibacy. Here's another place the Church can respond. The Church should “accommodate” itself to cultures in order to teach its faith and morals more effectively — but should never change its faith or morals to fit a culture's. The models of the Church that pay the wrong kind of homage to cultural differences have had dire doctrinal consequences, which were addressed recently in the document Dominus Iesus. In the Reporter's article, we see that this soft model of the Church can have ugly moral consequences as well.
So, the prescription for addressing this problem should be straightforward: Jail the offenders, and then put their lessons on the wall of every seminary formator's office:
Lax seminaries and seminaries that are skimpy in authentic moral formation are disasters waiting to happen. Strong seminaries, like the one featured on our front page this week, are graces waiting to break out.