The Roman Catholic Church reached the point of crisis some years ago. The ever-expanding scandal of priestly sexual abuse and, just as bad, the intricate and systematic cover-up by the highest authorities has deepened the shadows in which lay Catholics have painfully struggled. What should they do? Leave the Church for Eastern Orthodoxy or Episcopalianism? Not a bad idea, it seems to me, but then I’m not a Catholic. But if I were, here are some of the factors I’d consider.
The situation is complicated by the nature of the Catholic Church as an institution. If one were dealing with a Protestant congregation in which a clergy sex scandal had been revealed (and they have been, many times), it would be a simpler matter. Fire the minister if you can (or make him undergo “counseling,” which I have always suspected was a euphemistic “Get Out of Jail Free” card provided by a sanctified Good Ol’ Boys club). Sometimes the loyalty of the congregation to a beloved minister makes church members reluctant to believe the charges against him, no matter how well-founded; either that or it makes them too forgiving. In these cases, one’s recourse would be simple: quit the church or split the church.
But the Catholic Church is, by ancient design, a closely integrated, massive, and rigidly hierarchical institution. Only so could it ensure uniformity of doctrine, morals, and discipline. It ought to be able to employ this great machine to stamp out abuses such as clergy sex predation. But what if the corruption is so deep, so far-reaching, so high up the ladder that it is no longer a question of getting rid of a few (thousand) bad apples? Suppose the Church hierarchy, the institution itself, has become the abuser?