Mystery Or Not

Are you satisfied with the pope’s message to Irish Catholics?

How are we to explain the fact that people who regularly received the Lord’s body and confessed their sins in the sacrament of Penance have offended in this way? It remains a mystery.

Religious mysteries are matters beyond mortal comprehension. To me, that brings to mind the Trinity, Real Presence, and what happens after death.

Sex offenders were able, like many addicts, to compartmentalize their lives. It’s a matter less of a rational analysis or even of religious behavior, and more one of psychology. The intellect can fail us. Or more accurately, the intellect can create its own delusions: the behavior can take over and the religious addict survives by splitting her or his life into two or more parts. It doesn’t make any logical sense to the outsider, but people in 12-Step recovery have realized this for decades.

A person has to be open to God’s grace. That means setting aside, sometimes, the old ways of doing things. God invited many saints to great rupture in their lives: Abram called in old age, Joseph sold into slavery, Ruth accompanying her mother-in-law to a new land. Career fishermen became apostles.

In many ways continuity is the friend of addiction. It minimizes upset. It permits secrecy and hiding. Addicts need not confront their wrongdoing. Continuity ensures their employment, their circles of allies, their friendly cover. Which came first, the ordination or the addiction? It wouldn’t surprise me that many addicts are drawn to a lifestyle in which one can avoid intimacy, achieve a certain level of comfort, and be insulated from the suspicions of others. Some addicts in the clergy have been able to live very fine lives indeed. When one’s focus is on sex and domination, the trappings of the sacraments are little more than regular dues paid, like a writer may have a nine-to-five job to pay the bills so as to create novels or poetry. Or a parent cleans and orders a household in order to care for a family.

I disagree with Pope Benedict on this one. It’s no mystery. It may be beyond his personal experience, but there’s nothing surprising about it.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Mystery Or Not

  1. Liam says:


    Well, I am not Irish, so my reaction is probably beside the point. But I find the lack of a reference to the role of bishops in this unfortunate and telling. It’s still a blind spot.

    As wonderful as 12-step programs are, I am wary of relying on addiction to explain too much of human pathology. Delving more deeply into the role of cognitive-spiritual blind spots is a broader one, and one that is less likely to provoke making others into an Other.

  2. Todd says:


    I concede that addiction provides but one of a few likely models that fit not only the abuse, but the grooming of bishops as allies of offenders rather than defenders of the faith. That Pope Benedict does not realize that bishops have often been bamboozled by sex offenders is indeed telling. No wonder he can’t get his intellect around the fact that his brother priests and many of their bishops have done incalculable damage to the Church. From his perspective, it is indeed mysterious. That he permits himself to get distracted by liturgical reforms, as Cardinal Dolan was distracted by political ecclesiology shows these guys have been bit by the pharisee bug, too. Thank goodness they didn’t go hog wild on morality like those liberals. Pfft.

  3. Agree with you both….

  4. Liam says:

    And, may I add, one way we folks in the chattier sections of the pews can get seduced is by subconscious dreams that, if we fixed the culture of prelates and clergy, Things Would Be Better. The problem is, there is still Us. (That’s *not* an argument for docility towards dysfunctional clerical and prelatial culture; it’s an argument for greater clarity about our expectations and own blindspots.)

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