THE CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE CRISIS: HOW CAN ORTHODOXY HELP? by A.A.J. DeVille

The late Margaret O’Gara of the University of Toronto was fond of using a phrase that the late Bishop of Rome, John Paul II, also employed regularly: an “ecumenical gift exchange.” O’Gara published a book in 1998 under that title, while three years earlier the Pope used it in his landmark encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, on Christian unity. I also use the phrase in my new book, Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico Press, 2019, 154pp).

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Readers of the book will quickly see that many of my proposed reforms are gifts from the East, starting with Nicholas Afanasiev, especially his book The Church of the Holy Spirit. It was from him that I developed my argument for a three-fold ordering of the Catholic Church: the laics (to use Afanasiev’s somewhat ungainly term), the clerics, and the hierarchs, all existing together, each with voice and vote in the councils of governance of the church—from the lowly parish council through to diocesan, regional, and international synods. All three orders are necessary for the Church to flourish; each of the three acts as a check on the others, ensuring that none can run totally roughshod over the others.

I am equally indebted to examples drawn from the current structures of various Eastern Orthodox Churches—the Russian, the Antiochian, the OCA, and also—and above all—the Armenian Apostolic Church, whose singular and admirable structures I first highlighted in my earlier book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame Press, 2011).

But my ecumenism is not only oriental in direction: it also looks northward, from Indiana (where I’ve taught and lived for the last dozen years) into my native Canada. I look in particular to the structures pioneered by the Anglican Diocese of Huron (hugging the lake of that name and headquartered in London, Ontario) a decade before Confederation. Those structures were totally unique in 1857 but quickly spread across the country and around the global Anglican Communion. They gave Anglicans the right to elect their own bishop in local synod, and for lay and clerical delegates from each parish a right to voice and vote in annual synods determining the affairs of the Church. Anglican structures originating in the 19th century bear startling resemblance to Armenian ones in the late 20th and early 21st. Both have precious gifts the Catholic Church desperately needs.

In addition to arguing (ch.2) for structural reforms at the parish level (so that no Catholic bishop can ever again shuffle abusers in and out of parishes without telling the people), and at the diocesan level (treated in ch.3 so that bishops who shuffled abusers, or were themselves abusers, are forced to face their own people), I also draw on Eastern Orthodox experiences of synods as disciplinary tribunals (ch.4) to argue that Catholic synods should be empowered to discipline bishops, much as occurred, e.g., in 2015 when the OCA Synod deposed the one-time Archbishop of Canada, Seraphim Storheim, for sex abuse. We need to ensure that last November’s disgraceful and pathetic spectacle of the American Catholic bishops standing around for late-night texts from Rome telling them what they may or may not even discuss never happens again. We need to ensure that bishops, wringing their hands outwardly while inwardly satisfied that “only the Pope can discipline a bishop,” cannot let each other slither so smugly off the hook again.

Finally, and most tentatively, in my fifth and final chapter, I argue for re-examining not just the possibility of a married presbyterate in the Latin Church, but also a married episcopate—something nobody even in the Orthodox world has really been willing to discuss openly, but I did for serious reasons given in the book.  Abolishing celibacy is often the change that lazy and unimaginative people leap to first, but I deliberately put it last to emphasize the complexity of the change, and also to underscore the costs: I count many married Eastern Catholic and Orthodox clergy among my friends, and I am consistently appalled at the huge costs their families bear. (For evidence of this, I commend to you my dear friend Father Bill Mills’ new book, Losing My Religion. Bill is a priest in the OCA in North Carolina who writes honestly and humorously about the painful costs of parish ministry.) If the Catholic Church moves towards married clergy more widely, it must do so only after careful consideration of the huge sacrifices that fall disproportionately on the wives and children of clergy.

All this will be, admittedly, a real stretch for most Catholics even to contemplate. Thus I began in my first chapter with a call to dismantle the papal cult of personality and papal monopoly on power. For this chapter I drew on the person who has done the most to aid our understanding of the complex relationship between sex and power: Freud (whom I wrote about for Orthodoxy in Dialogue in November 2017). Drawing on both him and the contemporary Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, I argued for dismantling what I call the “Catholic imaginary” in which the omnipotent, omnipresent, and seemingly omniscient Pope maintains a totally unjustified, untraditional, and theologically perverse monopoly on power (which monopoly is copied by bishops in their dioceses). As I put it bluntly in the book, all my proposals “are guided by one crucial principle: nobody in any context for any reason at any point in human history deserves to have a monopoly on power of any sort.”

If the Catholic Church cannot now see that and change, then it will die. Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed is an attempt to show that there are life-giving alternative structures available if we have but eyes to see, minds open enough to learn from our Christian brothers and sisters, and hearts humble and grateful enough to receive them as a “perfect gift…from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17).

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power is available for purchase at Amazon.
See related articles by David Byrne, Sarah Gregory, Teresa Hartnett, and Gilles Mongeau, SJ, in our Archives by Author.

Adam A.J. DeVille holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Ottawa and St. Paul University. He is associate professor and chairman of the Department of Theology & Philosophy at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne IN and editor-in-chief of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian StudiesHe blogs at Eastern Christian Books

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