For Those With Ears to Hear

I want to offer another perspective on the escalating scandal within the Catholic Church, and to alert readers to a good recent essay on these sordid topics.[1]  In “The Pattern of Priestly Sex Abuse,” Harriet Fraad offers some important data many of us didn’t know.

Figures from the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, for example, estimate that since 1950, about 280,000 children have been sexually abused by Catholic Clergy and deacons.  With the shame and denial that accompany sexual abuse, the real number must be much higher.
Worse, this is NOT just a recent phenomenon. Father Thomas Doyle, a priest, and Richard Sipes and Patrick Wall, former monks, have written that the Catholic Church has recognized the problem of abuse by priests for 2,000 years. Their book, Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse (Volt Press, 2006) was based on the Church’s own documents.
And far from being the case of a few bad apples, Brooks Egerton and Reese Dunklin have reported that two-thirds of sitting US Bishops have been accused of moving pedophile priests to new assignments.[2]  It is not the apples that are bad, it’s the barrel.

Under authoritarian rule – whether political or religious – the high ideals preached by the leaders have no necessary connection to their behavior.  That is the disconnect, the lack of integrity, between a church preaching Jesus while practicing the sexual abuse of “the least among us,” then covering it up by moving pedophiles on to rove among new flocks.
It’s worth recalling just a few teachings from this man Jesus who hangs on the front wall of every Catholic church. 
He measured the quality of our belief by whatever we do to “the least of these,” and that what we do to them, we do also to him.  He said those who mislead children would be better off with a millstone around their neck, thrown into the sea.  And he thought these were among the bedrocks of human decency that should be obvious to all “with eyes to see and ears to hear.”
This is part of the background against which any individual or church calling itself Christian must be judged. 
Authoritarian leaders and institutions can infect us with and blind us to the habitual abuse of children, women, other races, sexual orientations or beliefs.  They are always prone to turning their God into their own hand puppet so that He believes the same as they do.  Far too often, they have turned children into mere playthings, used for the selfish desires of the leaders — or left unprotected from the viciousness of others. 
The Catholic Church has been a great and important institution for many centuries, and much of what it has done is very good.  But beneath the surface, the Church’s unwillingness to integrate all the children of God into their priesthood – including women, married couples and gays – they remain a one-sexed institution, attracting men who like to be around other men, and some whose natural perversion or moral blindness have led them to see children as appropriate sexual objects. 
The consistent abuse of children by priests is not a peripheral facet of the Catholic Church; it is the logical consequence of an entrenched male hierarchy’s inbred sense of its own privilege.  Of course such behavior is the antithesis of the high ideals Jesus taught.  But that is another way of saying that the Catholic Church has too often become the mortal enemy of those high ideals that are the Church’s only justification for existing.

The worldwide outcry from people covering the entire religious spectrum is saying Enough!  Enough of these men pretending they have the moral authority to preach on matters of sex, about which they are willfully ignorant.  Enough pretending that their habitual abuse, secrecy and cover-ups should be tolerated by anyone – especially the victimized children and their families, and the societies that exclude them from paying taxes because they have been seen as a healthy and stabilizing part of the larger world around them.  Enough of the priestly myopia that lacks the eyes to see even the most repugnant of their transgressions.
For twenty centuries, according to the Church’s own records, a dangerous and frightening number of its priests and popes have been unable to see these abuses.  The current outrage – which must also have roots 2,000 years old – comes not only from Catholics, but also from millions of others, whether they care for religion or not.  People all over the world are trying to say that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Church and its popes, when these moral commandments are screaming so loudly that even 200 deaf boys could hear them. 

[1] “Priests and Pedophilia: What Authoritarian Religion, Families & Schools Have Wrought” (posted in Tikkun and Alternet, 30 March 2010). Or see
[2] Front page above the fold, The Dallas Morning News, June 12, 2002.

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About the Author

Davidson Loehr is a former musician, combat photographer and press officer in Vietnam, owner of a photography studio in Ann Arbor, and a carpenter. He holds a Ph.D. in methods of studying religion, theology, the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of science, with an additional focus on language philosophy (The University of Chicago). From 1986 to 2009, he served as a Unitarian minister. He is the author of one book, America, Fascism & God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher, (Chelsea Green, 2005). Now retired from the ministry, he is building a platform to become involved in national discussions of religion, science and culture. His book in progress is The Rise of Secular Religion in America.

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  • Tom Degan

    In my parish, St. John the Evangelist in Goshen, NY, the first major pedophile scandal materialized in the early nineties. The priest in question, "Father Ed" had been molesting boys in their early teens. To say that the parishioners were traumatized by this would be an understatement. They were devastated. Then something wondrous happened….

    Father Ed was eventually replaced by Father Trevor Nichols. Father Trevor had been an Anglican in merrie old England when he converted to Catholicism. On becoming a Catholic he was transferred to Saint John's – WITH HIS WIFE AND TWO DAUGHTERS! A married priest! WITH TWO KIDS!

    You want to hear the punch line? Our little parish did not implode. The sun did not fall from the sky. Huge cracks did not appear in the earth's surface. In fact, it was nice having them. They were – and are to this day – deeply beloved by the people of St. John's.

    Allowing priests to marry would transform the Catholic Church. Having Father Trevor, his wife Marian and their two lovely daughters in our midst certainly transformed the people of St. John's.

    Tom Degan

    • bill buster

      We now have a married former Anglican Priest in our Diocese-Charlottetown, PEI Canada and I see this as one of the more hopeful things that have come to be in our RC church. Thank you for your hopeful words. bb canada

    • justice

      Fr. Trevor Nicholls has 4 kids idiot!

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