Saturday, 17 April 2010

The Sexual Abuse Scandal & Theology

Experts tell us that the sexual abuse scandal within the church is both endemic and systemic. Interestingly, and certainly not surprisingly Catholic teaching on sexuality has a very strong basis or focus on sin. The development of Catholic moral theology, points especially to the legacy of Augustine and this saint's preoccupation with sin. Augustine who struggled with lust throughout his life has come under increasing criticism in recent times for his excessive sexual pessimism. Augustine, a favourite of Benedict XVI, linked sex so strictly with procreation that he held as sinful all sexual activity by married couples that was not consciously ordained to procreation. During the Middle Ages, as the sexual body became to be seen as evil, the self flagellation of body hatred became the highest form of devotion. To quote James Carroll "The sexual body now became an "occasion of sin" to be subdued". Among Augustine's many teachings such as 'original sin' he believed that people tend toward evil. This theology especially on sexuality continues to influence the Church's position on such matters as celibacy, contraception, abortion, masturbation, premarital sex, and homosexual relations.

When a church is so negatively inclined toward human sexuality, it cannot possibly be expected to find a solution internally to the sexual abuse crisis it now faces. A healthier approach to sexuality must be found. But first the church will have to shed it pessimistic views on sexuality it has held as sacrosanct for so long. And that will require a brand new theology – one that rejects what was pronounced by St. Augustine and begun with Vatican II. Perhaps we should all learn to re-read and absorb one of the greatest and sensuous chapters ever written about human sexuality – The Song of Songs. It would be interesting to learn how other religions view sexuality.

Which Cardinal or bishop is going to be the first to admit that the Church's theology on sexuality is at the root of the problem? Remember it only took the Church nearly four hundred years to admit Galileo was right.

The second hurdle to be overcome by the Church, in regards to the sexual abuse crisis, is its hierarchical leadership structure and the theological basis which supports it. This structure is clearly visible when members of the clergy view themselves as elevated above rather than totally integrated with the laity. Jesus taught equality not superiority. Jesus clearly denounced earthly kingdoms during his time in the dessert. The Church seems more interested in protecting a religious kingdom with a power that reaches beyond that of the people and nations it serves. The theology of 'apostolic succession' along with the claim that Jesus came to found a separate church not only denies Jesus' Jewish heritage but also his call to EVERYONE to bring about a worldwide community based on God's kingdom values. As long as the Church sees itself as special and separate from the world it cannot be expected to look inwardly. Hence the required changes will not take place. Which Cardinal and which Bishop is prepared to accept this challenge?

One of the most natural and valuable teaching tools we possess is learning by trial. We probably learn more from our mistakes then by any other means. But we will be bound by our mistakes if we never learn from our mistakes. That is why I wanted to examine how Catholic theology may have contributed to the Church's handling of the sexual abuse scandal.

Some other facts about St. Augustine
Augustine developed a theology of just war,

Augustine struggled with lust throughout his life.

As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle
Augustine underwent a profound personal crisis, which led him to convert to Christianity, abandon his career in rhetoric, quit his teaching position in Milan,
eventualy gave up any ideas of marriage, and devote himself entirely to serving God and to the practices of priesthood, which included celibacy.
as a bishop he used to warn, that one should avoid mathematicians who combine science and horoscopes

He believed all people tend toward evil

students must be physically punished when they allow their evil desires to direct their actions

He also wrote "On Free Choice Of The Will," answering why God gives humans free will that can be used for evil.

Augustine's arguments against magic, differentiating it from miracle, were crucial in the early Church's fight against paganism and became a central thesis in the later denunciation of witches and witchcraft.
Augustine taught that Adam's guilt as transmitted to his descendants much enfeebles

Augustine took the view that the Biblical text should not be interpreted as properly literal, but rather as metaphorical, if it contradicts what we know from science and our God-given reason

Augustine taught that Original sin of Adam and Eve was either an act of foolishness (insipientia) followed by pride and disobedience to God or the opposite: pride came first

The sin of Adam is inherited by all human beings

He often said that any can be saved if they wish. While God knows who will be saved and who will not,
he believed in papal supremacy
Augustine taught that the eternal fate of the soul is determined at death,and that purgatorial fires of the intermediate state purify only those that died in communion with the Church. His teaching provided fuel for later theology.

Augustine struggled with lust throughout his life. He had a mistress before he converted, but once he became a Christian, he condemned all forms of extra-marital sex (including his previous relationship with his mistress),

For Augustine, the evil was not in the sexual act itself, but rather in the emotions that typically accompany it.

Augustine's life experience led him to consider lust to be one of the most grievous sins, and a serious obstacle to the virtuous life

St Augustine "vigorously condemned the practice of induced abortion" as a crime, in any stage of pregnancy

At the risk of being too critical of St. Augustine - he did say many other wonderful and inspiring things.

No comments: