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    Entries in Media Coverage (2)

    Tuesday
    Jun072011

    A Broader Narrative RE: Catholic Priests and Sex Abuse

    In Kansas City, one of the most disturbing and attention getting headlines in both The Kansas City Star and on local news programs has involved Father Shawn Ratigan, improper relationships with children, and the diocese failing to respond promptly and appropriately to concerned parents, parishioners, and school administrators.  The Catholic sex abuse scandal continues to grab headlines.

    That is why this posting by Ben Meyers struck me as fascinating.  Scott Stephens at the ABC has done some research on the Catholic sex abuse scandal, and has found that a different narrative may need to be told by the media in order to proper contextualize what has been happening, and what continues to happen, among Catholics with regard to the sexual abuse of minors.

    Meyers writes:

    The study, Scott says, shows "a sudden and disturbing increase in instances of sexual abuse from 1960, reaching its hellish pinnacle in 1975, followed by a sharp and sustained decline from 1985 to the present". By 2001, there were 5 reported cases of sexual abuse per 100,000 children (compared to 134 cases of abuse for every 100,000 children in American society as a whole in the same year). By 2010, there were just 7 reported cases across the entire Catholic Church in the United States. The report thus describes "the 'crisis' of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" as really a "historical problem." 

    Scott discusses many other aspects of the report's findings. Most interesting, I thought, is his suggestion that "the foetid cultural soil of the 60s and 70s proved uncommonly conducive to the commission of sexual abuse" – and that the Church's reinstatement of a "punitive approach" to sexual deviance (as opposed to its earlier adoption of fashionable "therapeutic" approaches – counselling, treatment, relocation), together with "John Paul II's radical reform of seminary life and the spiritual formation of priests".

    Thus Scott offers his own blistering conclusion: "Those who incessantly call for an end to sexual abuse in the Church are effectively trying to break down an open door." The deepest problem, he thinks, was the cultural milieu of the 1960s, with its vociferous opposition to all taboos, and its sinister promotion of unchecked sexual experimentation. (Sinister if you happened to be a child at the time.)

    While I have not encountered additional coverage of The Catholic Church's report, The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors By Catholic Priests in The United States, 1950-2010, I hope to.  If there are aspects of the report that are in need of challenging, such analysis would prove beneficial in establishing what has actually taken place, and the reasons abuse has been a problem among clergy.

    Considering that sexual abuse has been a major obstacle in people taking seriously the claims of the church, if the issue has been addressed and is improving among Catholics, then this serves to clear away some of the debris for all Christian people to give faithful witness to Christ.

    Friday
    Apr222011

    Carrots and Sticks? Anything but.

    The Religion Newswriters brought to my attention a recent Time Magazine treatment of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell and his new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  In the article, titled, "Rob Bell's Hell: A Threat to the Evangelical Business Plan," it is argued that the consternation concerning Bell's theology is not only rooted in a passion for orthodoxy, but fear and trembling over the prospects for fundraising in an evangelical world without hell.

    In my opinion, Time's coverage has it wrong.  The presentation of the Christian gospel, as it is preached by evangelicals, is a stereotype, a misrepresentation.  I could even call it bad reportage, and intentionally misleading.  It's common for people to dismiss Christianity in this country due to concerns that preachers are only out for your money, and will threaten and coerce you by holding damnation over your head in order to pry your earnings from your tightly closed fists and into the coffers of the church.  This myth continues to serve as a buffer between the public and the actual claims of Christianity, which is why some churches have even chosen to remove the offering from the liturgy during worship services.

    Bill Saporito, the reporter presenting the story, does well in outling Paschal's Wager, a very famous rational argument that posits believing in God is the most rational choice, even if no god exists.  In the event that one is correct, an eternal reward ensues.  If there is no god, one has lost nothing, and likely has gained from living a life of humility, charity, and goodwill.  He quotes two philosophers who are experts in "game theory," a subfield of rational choice theory.  But he fails to directly quote ONE evangelical leader saying anything, directly or indirectly, with regard to heaven and hell as the end game of the Christian religion.  The end of Christianity is neither heaven or hell, but God, revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

    I won't deny that there are preachers and ministers, and subsequently lay people, who present Christian faith in terms of carrots and sticks.  Hell is there to scare us into shape, and heaven is there to draw us toward choosing to live a good life.  But the Christian religion, whatever else might be said about it, is grounded in a different mechanism: grace.  On Good Friday, we would do well to remember that Christianity centers upon the cross and resurrection of Christ.  Heaven and hell are not earned, they are rather subsidiary doctrines standing beneath assertions pertaining to creation, fall, atonement, and eschatological hope.  Christ died for us, to reconcile a lost and fallen humanity unto God, so that the two might dwell together in peace, and, in doing so, extend that same peace to all of creation.

    It isn't surprising that the carrots and sticks treatment appears in Time.  As an aside, it was a prevalent framework for religion that I encountered while in the Religious Studies department at The University of Kansas.  I was often perplexed when this framework was applied to other religions, Buddhism in particular, where the ultimate goal of religious practice is not heaven and hell, or union with God, but rather enlightenment, entailing that we ultimately escape from the suffering of the illusion that is this life through ascent to a unified and all-encompassing state of consciousness.

    As a final word, it is not heaven and hell that motivate me in giving of my finances to the ministry of church, but rather looking upon the cross, seeing the immense cost that Jesus was willing to pay for me, for us, on Good Friday.  In contemplating that scene, how can I not give?  How can I not give of my own resources to help others in knowing God, having their physical needs met, justice being served, setting apart leaders to pray for us, etc.?  I don't buy my way to heaven, or out of hell.

    Jesus did that, after proclaiming, "It is finished." And he did by grace.