The movie Spotlight, directed by Thomas McCarthy, is a masterly portrayal of the Boston Globe team that investigated the Roman Catholic Archdiocesan cover-up of sexual abuse amongst its clergy. It stars Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and John Slattery and other fine actors in the roles of the reporters and editors who revealed the extent of Cardinal Bernard Law’s refusal to deal with the scandal. The only response of the Roman Catholic Church to complaints of molestation was to seek out of court minor settlements, to give accused priests sick leave or counseling and to move them to another parish where they continued their pattern of abuse.
The question to be asked is why Cardinal Law, and others in the world-wide Roman Catholic hierarchy, protected their clergy and failed to protect their children? The answer, I believe, and the movie indicates, lies in the unnatural requirement of celibacy for clergy. To expect clergy to live celibate lives goes against nature. To give priests the absolute authority in their congregations, and to deny lay people any say in the government of the church, so that their voices are discounted, dismissed, or unheard, creates an unhealthy environment. Martin Luther recognized this in the sixteenth century when he revealed the corruption that was endemic to the nature of the church and promulgated his understanding of the priesthood of all believers: that everyone was a priest before God and needed no one to be a mediator between himself and the Lord. Jesus was the only mediator or High Priest needed for access to God.
Jesus said, “Do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). I have never allowed anyone to call me Father for the reason that it implies an attitude of subservience or dependence. Of course priests love to be called ‘Father’ (or today, ‘Mother’) because it flatters them. When I have participated in sexual abuse or harassment training the message that I have received is that abuse happens out of a need of the abuser for a sense of power over another. Power corrupts. When priests play at being God to their parishioners they commit the worst of sins. To use their power to molest children is not only a sin but a crime that cannot be swept under the rug.
The other reason the Roman Catholic Church protected their abusive priests is their belief in the indelibility of Holy Orders. The effect of the sacrament of order is to impart the Holy Spirit and to impress an indelible character, which permanently distinguishes those in orders from the laity. The priest is ordained to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass and to forgive sins and so continue the salvation of Christ on the Cross. This gift of ordination imparts an indelible character on the priest which cannot be removed except by the Vicar of Christ, the Pope. Therefore a bishop cannot fire a priest for misconduct without a lengthy process of laicization.
This view of the priesthood is one of the reasons the Roman Catholic Church cannot recognize the ministry of other churches. We do not have an indelibility of ordination and do not believe in an apostolic succession of ordination. Protestant clergy can and are fired and their ordination is revoked by their denomination when there is misconduct. We can be held accountable by church committees of inquiry on which lay people serve. While moral failure occurs amongst Protestant clergy there is a healthier environment of accountability than exists in the Roman Catholic Church.
The situation will not improve in the RCC until they have solved the problem of the requirement of celibacy and the heresy of the sacrament of the indelibility of Holy Orders. The Form for the Solemnization of Matrimony in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer included one of the causes for which Matrimony was ordained. “It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.” Marriage would remedy many of the abuses that are inherent in the system of the Roman Catholic priesthood and which damages their credibility and witness to the Gospel.