National Catholic Register


Why People Were Wrong and Right to Be Outraged by the Priest Scandal

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 9/26/13 at 11:59 PM


People were wrong to be outraged by the priest abuse scandal if the reason for their outrage was the notion that there was something singularly sick and weird about priests that made them and them alone commit crimes against children, or if they believed there was something unique to bishops in possessing an institutional instinct to cover up the crimes, circle the wagons, and perpetuate the victimization by attacking the victims as boat rockers, etc.  As our school system keeps demonstrating, there is nothing uniquely Catholic about this.  All institutions behave this way.  And it ain't because teachers are celibate or teaching is a male-only institution.

On the other hand, people were absolutely right to be outraged by the priest abuse scandal because the Church's response to priestly abuse was not unique but average, like the average response of all human organizations to such crimes.  Why single the Church out when the average response of schools or the military, or corporate cultures is also to let the same things go on and commit similar coverups?  Because, blast it!, the Church is the Body of Christ, that's why! It's. Not.  Supposed. To. Be. Average.  It's. Supposed. To. Be. Holy.  Those to whom much is given, much will be required. 

That's why we deserved every blow from every fist it pleased the Lord to allow for our chastisement, because the Church is not just playing Kiwanis Club here.  Judgment begins with the house of God (cf. 1 Peter 4:17).  Average is not acceptable for us.  And it is the world's backhanded compliment to that eternal fact about the Church that the world knew that and treated our betrayal of trust differently than it treats sexual abuse by a teacher or a boss.  Of course, it's hypocritical on the world's part too and our obligation to protect all children from harm obliges us to point that out when the world only cares about children insofar as they are useful human shields for attacking the Church.  But once the children are safe from the world's cynical neglect our job as Catholics is not to worry about the world's hypocrisies, but about our own.  We are not to maintain parity with the world.  We are to be in it but not of it.  And we are to be far better than it.  The old-fashioned word is "saints".