By Antonio Lopez
The present crisis of the sexual abuses by the clergy that affects the Church is one of the gravest challenges that the Church has encountered since the Protestant Reformation in the Sixteenth century. But, like the Protestant Reformation, which became the occasion for the Church to renew itself through the Council of Trent and many movements of renewal such as those guided by St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila, similarly the present crisis has created the conditions for a profound renewal of the Church. There have been many different suggestions by Church leaders concerning how the Church should make certain changes and adjustments to address this crisis of clerical sexual abuse, particularly in view of the diminishment of credibility and trust with respect to the Church in the eyes of the world at large and within the Church itself, especially among its lay members. In the following comments I will try to emphasize that the changes that the Church must make in order to face this present crisis of clerical sexual abuse cannot consist of adopting certain measures, including profound ones, in order to merely find solutions or specific policies related only to the sexual abuse problem in the Church. As I will try to show briefly later, unless these measures and policies are taken within the context of a profound renewal of the Church as such, they will not be able to address in its root causes this sexual abuse problem.
I will divide my comments into two parts. First, I will primarily refer to some important information and statistics concerning the clerical sexual abuse problem in order to summarize its extent and to have a basic understanding of its nature. And second, I will refer to some important ecclesial measures and policies that should be taken with respect to the problem. I will try to demonstrate that these measures and policies can only be effective ultimately if they are part of a profound structural renewal of the Church itself.
I. Information Concerning the Clerical Sexual Abuse in the Church
Before anything else, it is very important to state here that the statistical data indicated in the following statements can only be understood generally as only approximate at best and with a considerable margin of error. These statistical data, that have been reported by different studies concerning the clerical sexual abuse, not only in the united States, but also in other countries, vary considerably from study to study, most especially depending on the country where the studies were made.
The first important reality that must be taken into consideration and that is universally recognized is that the problem of clerical sexual abuse is overwhelmingly the abuse perpetrated by male priests on male minors. Minor female persons and women in general abused by clergy or female members of religious congregations, although significant, have been much less frequent. Thus, of the sexually abused by priests, approximately 80% have been boys, of which about 40 to 50% have been under 14 years old and therefore are considered children, and about 40 to 50% have been mainly older post-pubescent teen-age minors. In addition, about 10% of the sexually abused by priests have been young adult males, and about 10% have been minor or young adult females.
The priests that have perpetrated sexual abuse on minors have been affected by some form of pedophilia. We may refer to two basic forms of “active pedophiles” among those priests that have been sexual abusers. First, there are those “fixed” pedophiles that have a permanent or fixed sexual attraction to pre-adolescent children and that cannot be confused with being homosexual. These pedophiles are really the only pedophiles that are strictly speaking not merely active pedophiles but are rather biologically or constitutively determined pedophiles with an apparently fixed sexual tendency that cannot be changed by any known present treatment. However, recent studies have shown that, although the sexual attraction to pre-adolescent children on the part of these fixed pedophiles is usually a relatively very strong attraction, it is possible for these pedophiles to have an enduring life of abstinence without abusing children if they seriously commit themselves to a life of self-control, especially with the help of some form of psychological and/or spiritual guidance or treatment. As a matter of fact, for a person that has the condition of fixed pedophilia to engage in sexual abuse, the latter must develop a certain additional psychological and personal immaturity whereby the sexual attraction to pre-adolescent children of this person may result in actual sexual abuse. It seems clear that, in view of the very
strong sexual attraction to pre-adolescent children of a person that is a fixed pedophile, this person should not be admitted to the priestly and/or seminary formation. For the possibility of this person to eventually abuse pre-adolescent children is indeed high.
The other kind of active pedophiles among abusive priests engages in the activity of sexually abusing children on account of various reasons. These active pedophiles have the kind of pedophilia that may be called “immature regressive pedophilia”. This kind of pedophilia is the consequence of a distorted personal development closely associated to a great extent to a social and/or family context that is generally not conducive for authentic existential growth. This distorted personal development entails a deep lack of self-esteem and insecurity that are the underlying basis for the search for domineering and oppressive power that is manifested in the sexual abuse of children. The sexual behavior corresponding to the immature regressive pedophilia of ordained priests, as in the case of fixed pedophilia, cannot be confused with homosexuality. Thus, both heterosexual and homosexual persons that have become priests may develop behavioral patterns corresponding to immature regressive pedophilia.
Under certain conditions that are to some extent psychologically similar to those of immature regressive pedophilia, priests may engage in the activity of abusing young adults. There is some evidence that suggests that it is “probable” that the majority of these priests may be considered, in the case of the abuse of male young adults, homosexual, or in the case of the abuse of female young adults, heterosexual.
The sexual relations of heterosexual and homosexual priests with young adults have frequently entailed, of course, a considerable abusive dimension. This is so since the ecclesial authority and prestige of these priests have been generally used by them in order to exert a profound psychological and paternalistic abusive manipulation on their young adult partners.
The sexually abused in the Church must be considered in reference to the practice in general of the sexual activity of priests that includes both abusive as well as non-abusive sexual behavior by both the heterosexual and homosexual priests. One must point out here that most of the heterosexual and homosexual sexual relations of priests have taken place with other consenting adults, including some other priests or seminarians and young adults.
It has been estimated that in the last decades approximately nearly 50% of the priests in the United States, namely nearly half of them, have not adhered to their vow of celibacy. In fact, in the United States, about 30% of all priests have been involved in heterosexual activity, and about 15% of all priests have been involved in homosexual activity. Furthermore, studies have indicated that out of all the priests, only about 6 to 8% have engaged in the sexual abuse of minors. This means that only a relative minority of priests that are sexually active engage in abusive sexual relations, namely about 12 to 16% of them. This indicates that not merely the criminal sexual abuses by priests, but also the sexuality itself of all priests at large in the Church, entails a pastoral and human problem that must be addressed.
It is important to take notice also that it is generally recognized that the number of sexually abusive clergy of other religious denominations, who do not require an official commitment to celibacy, is to some extent proportionately higher than the number of abusive Catholic clergy. This suggests that the exigency of celibacy by itself, which is sometimes considered by some to be an imposition, does not correspond to a higher number of sexual abuses on the part of the clergy of the Catholic Church.
Moreover, and as a confirmation that homosexuality in itself is not the root cause of the clerical sexual abuse in the church, it must be pointed out that although during the last few decades it is universally believed that there has been an increase in the number of homosexual priests, nevertheless, it is a very well-established fact that sexual abuses by priests during this period have decreased in a very considerable way. Indeed, the vast majority of homosexual priests have never abused any one. As the study made in 2010 by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a study used by the American bishops, reports, the sexual abuse of minors by priests is not the result of their heterosexuality or homosexuality as such. The results of this John Jay study have been further confirmed by the recent so-called MHG study of about a year ago used by the Catholic bishops of Germany. As both of these studies, and most distinguished psychologists and psychiatrists, indicate, the underlying foundation for both heterosexual and homosexual priests to be motivated or driven to sexually abuse minors is an inadequate kind of psychological fixation and/or a distorted process of psychological development. This distorted process of psychological development is closely connected to a context of mainly unsatisfactory family and other social conditions that result in much personal insecurity and poor self-esteem. On the other
hand, both heterosexual and homosexual persons, can and must develop, with different degrees of achievement, their own sexual identity in connection with a growing sense of self-acceptance and corresponding self-esteem and in the context of establishing mutually enriching relations with other persons.
Hence, just as the heterosexuality as such of priests is not the root cause whereby 30% of all the priests in the United States that are heterosexual break their vow of celibacy, similarly, the homosexuality (or heterosexuality) of priests is not the root cause whereby priests engage in abusive sexual relations of minors.
This suggests that the Church must engage in a consideration of the human conditions concerning the process of the development of the sexual identity, that involves corresponding psychological and social behavioral aspects, of priests in order to properly confront the causes of the clerical sexual abuse crisis at large. Some of these causes, to which I will refer later, include ecclesiological and pastoral realities that are not in different ways conducive to authentic personal growth.
We may now mention the Vatican’s 2004 document, “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders”. This document declared that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” could not be accepted for the priesthood. These words of the document have been interpreted in different ways by bishops and other Church leaders. Some of these consider these words as entailing that homosexual men must not be accepted in the seminaries. However, there are other Church bishops and leaders that have a different interpretation of these words. They consider that the words “deep seated” mean that one cannot live a celibate life. Thus, for these bishops and leaders of the Church, if a homosexual man may have the sexual maturity to live in conformity to the vow of celibacy, he may become a candidate for the priesthood. In line with this interpretation, one of the most influential Church leaders in the United States, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, has said that if a homosexual man believes that he has the vocation to be a priest he “shouldn’t be discouraged.”
It is important to notice that, as it has been maintained by many, it is difficult to discern the exact conditions of the sexual orientation of human beings. Thus, to distinguish between those
heterosexual and homosexual men that may or may not have the sexual maturity to live in conformity to the vow of celibacy is not easy. Indeed, not only for seminary officials in charge of discerning whether a man is suitable for entering a seminary, but also even for the man himself, determining whether the conditions of one’s sexuality entail the maturity to live in conformity to the vow of celibacy is not easy.
It must be noted that, although the homosexuality in itself of priests is not the root cause for the latter to become sexual abusers, nevertheless, the fact that the vast majority of the sexually abused are boys suggests to some that the sexual abuses in the Church is the result to a great extent of the homosexuality of many priests. However, it is believed by most persons that have studied the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Church, that to a very great extent the main reason whereby the vast majority of the sexually abused by priests have been boys is because priests in general share in many more activities with boys than with girls, thereby having more opportunities to abuse boys than girls. For example, priests have always engaged frequently in playing sports with boys but rarely with girls. As another example, until not many years ago, boys have had greater proximity with priests by being altar boys.
I have already indicated that some homosexual and heterosexual priests, affected by conditions that are similar with those of immature regressive pedophilia, engage in the activity of abusing young adults. It is believed that some heterosexual or homosexual priests affected by these conditions engage in abusive sexual relations with minors that are teen-age boys or girls that are not yet eighteen years old but that have the appearance and behavioral characteristics that are very similar of those of young adults. What is important to emphasize here is that it is not merely homosexual, but also heterosexual priests, that engage in this type of abusive sexual relations of minors. On the other hand, since, as we have just indicated, priests in general share in many more activities with boys than with girls, homosexual priests have more opportunities of abusing teen-agers that are near the age of being young adults than heterosexual priests. Hence, it is believed that there are more homosexual priests than heterosexual ones that are involved in sexual abusive relations with young adults or teen-agers whose age is near that of young adults.
We may point out that, according to “informal estimates” by serious observers of the various realities of the clergy, about 20 to 45% of the priests in the United States have some form of homosexual orientation. It must be said that, on the one hand, this percentage of Catholic priests
that are homosexual entails what is proportionately a considerably greater number of priests with some form of homosexual orientation than the rest of the general male population. Nevertheless, on the other hand, the minors and young adults, mostly Catholic, that have been the victims of sexual abuse by homosexual priests is proportionately much less than the men that have been sexually abused, when they were still minors, by men with a homosexual orientation corresponding to the rest of the general population. Thus, while on the one hand, considerably far less than 1% of Catholic males have been abused by priests in the last 50 to 60 years in the United States when they were minors or young adults, on the other hand, it is generally maintained that during the same period more than 1.5% of American men have been sexually abused by other men when they were minors.
In the United States, it may be generally estimated, with a great margin of error, that perhaps between about 6,000 and 10,000 priests have perpetrated sexual abuses, mainly on male minors and some male young adults since 1950. It must be indicated that the number of abused persons by priests in the United States is much greater than the number of abusive priests. This is so since most of the individual abusive priests have been involved in abusing more than one victim, sometimes 30 or more of them. Actually, the number of abused victims of sexual abuse in the United States by priests since 1950 may be generally estimated to be, and again with a great margin of error, nearly 30,000. Of these, nearly 25,000 have been male minors, about 3,000 have been young adult male persons, and about 2,000 have been female minors and young adults.
It must be pointed out, however, that the number of persons in the United States that have suffered and have been negatively impacted in a significant way from clerical sexual abuse is much higher than the 30,000 abused victims mentioned above. This is so since, in many ways and degrees, those that are especially associated with the direct victims of clerical sexual abuse, such as their parents and their families, and many of the members of their ecclesial communities or parishes, have shared in a very meaningful way in the suffering and disillusionment of the sexually abused by priests to the extent that they have become cognizant of these abuses. Of these that are especially associated with the direct victims of sexual abuse, there may be probably about 100,000 parents and family relatives, and about 200,000 or more members of ecclesial communities. As a matter of fact, the People of God of the Catholic Church at large have also shared significantly in this suffering and disillusionment of the direct victims of sexual abuse by
priests inasmuch as they have become aware through many possible channels, including the media, of the sexual abuses perpetrated by the Catholic clergy. This suffering and disillusionment are, in some ways and in different degrees, due primarily to a profound feeling of being betrayed and of becoming existentially disoriented precisely by the actions of those on whom the People of God trusted in a special way and for whom they had a profound respect and admiration based on their status as priests. Thus, the members of the Church at large have experienced a feeling of profound humiliation and dejection caused by those who have used frequently their status of being priests not for being role models and authentic leaders that serve the wellbeing of all, but for the purpose rather of exercising their priestly authority as an oppressive power that has resulted in sexual manipulation and abuse. This exercise of oppressive power is also closely associated with the fact that, until recently, the vast majority of victims of clerical sexual abuse have endured additional feelings of betrayal and disillusionment due to the general lack of compassionate comprehension on the part of the clerical authorities of the Church. This lack of compassionate comprehension has involved very frequently the attempt by the clerical authorities to silence the victims of clerical sexual abuse, or even to mainly reject them by ignoring them, when these victims have attempted to communicate their painful experiences of having been sexually abused by priests. This general silencing and rejection on the part of the clerical authorities has entailed a culture of systemic denial and of covering up the sexual abuses by priests that has permeated to a great extent the life of the Church. This culture of systemic denial and covering up of these sexual abuses is closely connected to a generalized ecclesial distortion, whereby the exercise of controlling the laity and of promoting a certain elitist superior status of the clerical state has displaced the legitimate benevolent authority of service corresponding to the clerical state of priests. This ecclesial distortion, which has prevailed in many ways and forms in the Church not only among the clergy, but also among the laity, is a central aspect of clericalism, something to which Pope Francis has referred to in different occasions. According to Pope Francis, clericalism is the main cause of the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Church.
In line with what Pope Francis has said, the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Church is not due merely to the actual clerical sexual abuses. It is also due to the culture of clericalism that has both reinforced and enabled the sexually abusive priests, and that has resulted in the general
cover up of these priests and their sexual abuses. For this culture of clericalism has, on the one hand, fostered the supposed elitist superiority of the clergy and of the structures of the institutional Church associated especially with the status and authority of the clergy, at the expense of serving and protecting the individual members of the Church. And, on the other hand, it has actively reinforced and enabled the potentially sexual abusiveness of those priests that have had a tendency corresponding to fixed pedophilia or immature regressive pedophilia. Indeed, the culture of clericalism in the Church constitutes the fertile ground and a decisive protective shield that results in a profound incentive for the sexually abusive priests to commit their criminal sexual abuses by benefiting, not only from a superior social status and corresponding arrogant power, but also from immunity to any serious social and legal penalty.
II. Suggestions for Confronting the Clerical Sexual Abuse in the Church
I will now proceed to make some specific suggestions that may help to find solutions to the clerical sexual abuse in the Church. These suggestions will be concerned both with the formation of potential candidates to the priesthood as well as with institutional and ecclesial changes that are required in order to confront the crisis of clerical sexual abuse in the Church. All these suggestions entail in different ways a rejection of any form of clericalism in the Church.
First, it is important to recognize that the process of discernment by Church officials that are in charge of the process of accepting candidates for entering a given seminary is a complex one. For, it is not easy for them to distinguish clearly among the different kinds of the different sexual conditions of the various candidates. In fact, the men who have a sexually abusive tendency have generally acquired in different ways, frequently in a primarily unconscious manner, personal strategies to hide their inadequate condition whereby they are considerably capable of presenting themselves as mainly sane or psychologically healthy persons. Hence, the discernment concerning the acceptance of candidates to the seminary and their follow up as seminarians require a very careful process of evaluation and observation that may involve experienced persons, and that may entail considerable psychological and spiritual guidance. This process should include a period that may last sometimes at least a few years before the candidates may
enter the seminary and more time later on during their follow up as seminarians. It must be acknowledged that not all men that may insist on having a vocation for the priesthood, and even despite the considerable psychological and spiritual help concerning sexual issues that may have been provided for them, may be fit for the priesthood. However, it must be acknowledged that there has been a very extended tendency in the Church to lower the standards for accepting candidates for seminary formation due primarily to the perception that the Church is short of priests. This perception entails very frequently a subtle kind of clericalism that does not sufficiently appreciate the charisms and talents of the lay people. For many of the pastoral and administrative functions that are presently performed by priests may be performed by lay people.
The rejection of clerical arrogance and elitism to which I have referred above entails that the image of the priesthood projected by seminaries cannot result in the promotion of the priesthood as connected merely with a status symbol of the Church leadership. For if such image of the priesthood is promoted, men with a narcissistic personality disorder that may include sexual immaturity will find very satisfying and reinforcing to become part of this elite group of superior leaders that contrasts with the perception of the lay people as inferior.
Concerning the vow of celibacy, the seminaries must help the seminarians to correct the possible attitude of the seminarians to avoid mature relations with other adults. This possible attitude may be the projection of the insecurity that the seminarians may have to engage in any deep relationship that entails reciprocal personal adjustments with other adults, such as the one that is present in a marriage commitment or even in any serious and lasting friendship with other persons of either gender. In fact, this insecurity to have any deep relationship with other adults may be substituted by the manipulative abusive relationship with minors or young adults in which the latter are subordinate to the security of one’s control and power.
The seminaries must emphasize that the commitment to chastity must be the expression of one’s surrender to God’s love and his grace, and thereby it must also include one’s true love for the concrete persons that one must serve with joy and generosity. This entails that the commitment to celibacy requires that the seminaries must instill in the seminarians, contrary to any clerical arrogance and elitism, the recognition of the need of constant improvement and development in order to correct the various aspects of one’s character, such as a deep insecurity and a poor self-image, that are the grounds for one’s egocen
The seminaries must promote the existence of a certain general austerity conducive to self-control in the life of the seminary communities in which a dignified seminary culture, without frivolous ostentatiousness, will be the basis for an authentic communal spirit of mutual respect and reciprocal service. This communal spirit must include the context for the development of serious different friendship relations among the seminarians that must avoid falling into exclusive cliques or excessive intimacy. Thus, the life of the seminary communities should prepare the seminarians as much as possible for a life, as priests, of service and respect for all without falling into some forms of elite clerical cliques or of excessive intimacy with the laity.
Furthermore, the necessity to reject any kind of elitism requires that the formation of the seminarians, that in different ways corresponds to how the life and goals of the seminaries are organized, must be understood in the context of the insertion of the seminaries within the general reality of the Church as such. The life of the seminarians in their respective seminaries must not be isolated from the rest of the Church. For only thus the seminarians are avoiding the danger of some form of subtle exclusiveness and elite separation from the rest of the members of the Church. This requires that the seminarians must develop as persons with the potentiality of becoming priests in the context of sharing with the ongoing development or journey of the People of God at large. In this way, the seminarians will understand that they are formed to become not only priests that are pastoral leaders that lead others, but also priests of the Church that are led by the richness and initiatives of the different members of the People of God.
The seminaries must emphasize that all seminarians, like all priests, are accountable for their behavior and that no cover up and silencing with respect to any misbehavior in the seminaries will take place or is compatible with the priesthood. This exigency for accountability is connected to the demand whereby the seminarians must be especially formed to respect the dignity of each person as more important than the protection of the mere institutional and bureaucratic aspects of the Church. If this is not emphasized, the seminarians may develop or consolidate an attitude whereby the abstract institutional structures of the Church, with which the priests are officially connected, may be appealed to and defended in order to manipulate individual lay persons as mere means for one’s personal designs and desires. The seminarians must understand that this protection of the institutional Church is completely contrary to the
“sacramental brotherhood” in service of the People of God that is maintained in the Second Vatican Council (Presbyterorum Ordinis, #8).
It should be noted here that, on the one hand, all the above suggestions that I have made so far address the relation between the crisis of clerical sexual abuse in the Church and different aspects of the formation of the seminarians that must be implemented to confront this crisis. On the other hand, all these suggestions entail the need to reject different manifestations of clericalism. It is now important to consider in more detail the more general and fundamental problem of the culture of clericalism in the Church at large.
Clarifying in more detail what I have already said, clericalism may be described as the situation whereby some members of the Church are considered of greater value and importance than others on account of possessing an official faculty conferred by the ordination to the priesthood. Clericalism separates those that are closely connected to the hierarchical institutional structures of the Church, namely the clergy, from the members of the laity that are considered merely as the passive recipients of the decisions and commands of the former. In the situation of clericalism, the members of the clergy belong to the elite of the leaders of the Church to which the members of the laity are totally subordinated. Indeed, in the situation of clericalism the activity of the members of the Church must always include the commitment to protect the image and prestige of the institutional realities of the Church and its official clergy so that the Church becomes an effective and well-ordered society that is not subject at all to the lower realities of the prosaic and undisciplined world associated with the laity. In line with this, corresponding to the spirit of clericalism, it is imperative to protect the prestige and image of the institutional Church and of its official clergy at the expense of the needs and personal goals of the laity.
The rejection of clericalism means that the institutional Church and the functions of its clergy must be organized for the sake of serving the people of God, and even all human beings for that matter. In order to realize this service, the pastors in the church cannot be a separate elite group from the laity. As Pope Francis has said in a metaphorical way, the pastors must smell like their sheep. In other words, the pastors must accompany the different members of the People of God in close proximity to them in their journey of faith, avoiding any form of vertical authoritarianism and paternalism.
Hence, the rejection of clericalism entails the rejection of any clerical elitism or ecclesial clique. Just as the seminarians must be formed in the context of their sharing with the people of God at large, as I have indicated above, likewise all the members of the Church, including the priests, must also share their unique and distinct talents and charisms with those of other members of the Church in a pervasive communal spirit of reciprocal enrichment. This means that, not only the priests, but also all the baptized, have a pastoral vocation that in different specific ways entails leading the others. It is important that the Church at large recognizes that the specific pastoral leadership of the priests must be exercised in communion with the pastoral leadership of all the baptized in the Church. In the final analysis, only this mutual acceptance of the different kinds of pastoral leadership of all the members of the Church will eliminate the possibility of any one to presume of a superior ecclesial status corresponding to an exclusive pastoral dignity that in many ways constitutes a powerful reinforcing and enabling foundation for the clerical sexual abuse in the Church. This does not mean that the priests and bishops do not have the authority to be the presiding ministers of the unity and communion in the Church expressed most especially by their ministry of presiding the Eucharistic celebration. But the communion in the Church entails, not only the necessary communion of all the members in the Church with respect to the priests and bishops, but also the necessary communion of the priests and bishops with respect to the other members of the Church to which they minister by serving them. Thus, the suggestion by many in the Church, including many bishops, of creating ecclesial boards and authorized bodies, that include the participation of lay people in the mission of providing accountability concerning the abusive priests and bishops, is a movement in the right direction. But unless these ecclesial boards and authorized bodies are the expression of the pastoral co-responsibility of all the baptized, and not only the expression of the recognition of the mere collaboration of the lay people with the clergy, these ecclesial boards and authorized bodies will not address in a deep way the clericalism in the Church that is the main root cause of the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Church. For the recognition of the lay people as the mere collaborators of the clergy entails a new form of subordination of the lay people to the superior elite circle of the clergy. In other words, this mere collaboration of the lay people with the priests entails, once again, a new form of clericalism. Hence, the only way that the clerical abuse crisis in the Church may be reasonably confronted is if the Church at large undergoes a very significant process of renewal of its own structural pastoral realities whereby the underlying ground for the reality of clericalism may be
eliminated. This process of renewal must result in the rejection of the subordination of the laity to the priests by developing ecclesial structures wherein all share in different ways in the pastoral co-responsibility of leadership in the Church.
As Pope Benedict XVI stated in his communication to the “Rome Conference on the Laity” of 2009, “there is still a tendency to identify the Church unilaterally with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission of the People of God, which, in Christ we all share.” Benedict XVI reminds us of the pastoral co-responsibility of all the members of the Church. He asks us, “to what extent is the pastoral co-responsibility of all, and particularly of the laity, recognized and encouraged?” According to Pope Benedict XVI, this recognition and encouragement entails that a change must take place with respect to the way the lay people in the Church are perceived. According to him, the lay members of the Church “must no longer be viewed as ‘collaborators’ of the clergy but truly recognized as ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity.” However, Pope Benedict goes further beyond demanding a necessary change in the perception concerning the lay people in the Church. In addition, he emphasizes the need for a corresponding structural process of renewal in the very pastoral nature of the Church. As he tells us, “it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted with respect for vocations and for the respective roles of the consecrated and of lay people.”
It is very significant for the purpose of this presentation that, according to Benedict XVI, the vocations of all the baptized, including the vocation to the priesthood, is closely connected with the ecclesial process of renewal in the structures corresponding to the pastoral co-responsibility of all the members of the Church. This is very much related to the emphasis that I have made above whereby the rejection of clericalism is closely associated with the ways in which the programs of formation in the seminaries ought to be organized for helping precisely those that pursue their vocation to become priests. For the vocation to the priesthood, as that of anyone in the Church, is not a vocation to an exclusive elitist circle that may exercise domineering power and control over others in the Church. Contrary to the prejudices of clericalism, the distinct and different vocations of all the members of the Church are grounded in a fundamental and pervasive communion and universal reciprocal respect among all the members of the Church.
Therefore, in view of the clericalism that has prevailed in the Church, the members of the Church at large, particularly the bishops, should consider the present difficult situation concerning the clerical sexual abuse crisis as an opportunity for a positive development. Thus, the deep and extensive negative anger with respect to this crisis and its corresponding desire to correct it that are experienced by the People of God at large should be converted into the commitment for a significant renewal of the pastoral structures of the Church. It is my belief that only this significant ecclesial renewal may result in eliminating in a very considerable way the very possibility of clerical abuse in the Church.