Infidelity is at the root of the clerical abuse crisis

As we suffer through news of freshly uncovered depravities perpetrated by our church leaders, we hear competing interpretations about the root cause. Some say this is about clericalism. Some say homosexuality. I agree with the late Father Richard John Neuhaus that the one thing at the root of these horrors is infidelity. 
For those who cite clericalism, by which is sometimes meant a celibate priesthood, that doesn’t explain the abuses in the Penn State football program or the Michigan State doctor who abused gymnasts for decades. If by “clericalism” we mean unchecked power that believes it is above any law, then yes, it must be rooted out.
Though, having worked for the church for almost two decades now, I can honestly say I’ve come across little of that. 
For those who cite homosexuality, the numbers surrounding these incidents here and globally consistently point to activity that is overwhelmingly same-sex activity with post-pubescent boys and young men. Admitting that fact ought not lead to the condemnation of anyone who experiences same-sex attraction. But ignoring that fact means never truly looking at these horrors through the lens of reality. 
Both explanations fall short of explaining the Archbishop McCarrick situation, which appears to be rooted in sociopathy more than anything else. There the question is how his predations were allowed to remain unchecked for so long. The answer is, as I say, infidelity. 
Some have said that the proper application of and fidelity to canon law would have stopped these abuses. Perhaps. I cannot help but think that if church leaders had been faithful to all the church’s teaching on human sexuality and chastity, none of this would have happened. Therefore, perhaps it’s time to become more intentional about learning and passing on that teaching. 
Recently, a young mom told me about a meeting of her moms’ group that had invited their pastor. She said the pastor expected to be peppered with questions about the scandals. Instead, after one such question, the rest were about how to raise their children faithfully. Moms, who are ever-so-practical, need the help of the church to better steer their children, who live in a society that has elevated sex to the greatest good.
I was able to share with her that thanks to the archbishop and other local leaders, the Archdiocese of Omaha’s Center for Family Life Formation has a website with several resources for human sexuality formation. Rooted in truly Catholic theology, the tools are there for this mom and all families in the archdiocese to present to their children age-appropriate truths about chastity and our faith in their beauty and, yes, in fidelity.
Our church leaders need to do better. As Archbishop Lucas has said so well, they have broken our trust and they have done so repeatedly. But as a people of faith, we must look to what can be done going forward. The answer is fidelity. If we are to have laity oversee and investigate the work of bishops on abuse matters, then let us select those who are faithful to the entirety of the church’s teaching on chastity. 
Now some may object that public fidelity can hide private depravity. This is a fair point. Fidelity must then be a response to a relationship with Christ. This means having our consciences formed not by societal whim or by democratic dissent, but by the catechism and by our love for Jesus. If holiness is what is called for in this difficult Catholic moment, and it is, then as every saint will tell you, we must be faithful to Christ and to who we are in him.
Deacon Omar Gutierrez is director of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the Archdiocese of Omaha. Contact him at
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