Complicity by Inaction

I mentioned that I am reading James Carroll’s Practicing Catholic, which I am enjoying tremendously.

In talking about the clergy sex abuse scandal, Carroll suggests that there is plenty of blame to be spread around, including among ordinary Catholics. In his view, “each Catholic had reason to feel implicated.” I share the following paragraph fully recognizing that many people will have different views about some of the examples Carroll uses, because I think his underlying point is a valid and important one.

When Catholics cooperated in the climate of dishonesty that polluted the Church’s teachings about sex – not making an issue, for example, of the absurd birth control prohibition – we were shoring up the dishonest atmosphere in which abusive priests thrived. When we declined to hold bishops accountable for their excessively autocratic exercise of authority in small matters (forbidding girls from serving at Mass with altar boys) and large (closing parish schools without consultation), we supported the power system that bishops were protecting in protecting abusers. When we failed to make an issue of the unjust discrimination against women embodied in the male-only priesthood, we were part of what allowed patriarchal clericalism to reach a state of calcified corruption. When we passively accepted the hierarchy’s refusal to implement Vatican II reforms aimed at empowering the laity, we gave the abusive priests a place to hide and their sponsoring bishops a way to keep them hidden.

As I said, we may or may not agree with some of Carroll’s examples. But we all need to ask ourselves, in what way were we complicit by our silent acceptance of the status quo? Carroll is not (nor am I) minimizing the guilt of the individual offenders. But he is suggesting that we accepted a system that enabled the crisis to occur, and it is worth reflecting on the extent to which that charge may be true.

It seems to me that this is something worth thinking about, not only with respect to this issue, but with others as well. To what extent, by my inaction, do I allow unjust structures to continue to exist and to oppress my brothers and sisters?

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One thought on “Complicity by Inaction

  1. Hello Susan
    Thank you for the reading. I have been thinking about this particular topic, especially when recently a bishop in Nova Scotia , Canada was caught with child pornography. Incredibly, he was personally involved in helping abuse victims in getting compensation and healing from sexual abuse (within the church). I think people felt horribly betrayed and understandably confused by his actions.

    With prayer, I began to get over the disgust and anger and began to wonder, did my own inaction over the years have any negative effect on the spiritual demise of this bishop and other offending priests?
    I left my church as many young people did, with thoughts about my career, travel, and relationships. I returned in my late 30’s once I had started a family.

    I began to think back. Did I ever pray for my church? Did I ever pray for the protection of her priests, religious and laypersons? Did I ever pray for unity and understanding in Catholic’s hearts to grow? Each question I asked, I sadly have to answer, I did not. Each priest or religious who violated a vulnerable youngster has to answer for his / her horrible action. But I can’t help but wonder, will my Lord, one day ask of me, Did you protect my church in any way?

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