The latest ongoing news out of the Roman Catholic Church about systemic sexual abuse have shattered any remaining good-will I had for that institution. On the theological front nothing has changed from the days of the Reformation and the critiques of the Reformers with regard to idolatry, superstition and justification. Sexual immorality amongst the clergy is not a new phenomenon, as Richard Sipe pointed out:
The first recorded church legislation about sex and sexual violations took place in 309 CE at a council of the Spanish churches in Elvira. (Laeuchli, 1972) It produced 81 canons; 38 had to do with sexual behavior. Priests and clerics, even if they were married, had to abstain from sex with their wives. A list of sexual sins of bishops, priests and clerics were enumerated—including sex with minor boys—and severe penalties were imposed.
Beginning with this document and continuing through every century up to our time, there is a continuous and uninterrupted pattern of legislation aimed at containing the scandal of sexual activity of priests—including sex with minors. (Doyle, et al. 2005)
Some of the documents that record the prevalence and scope of celibate violations are worth noting. The Book of Gomorrah by St. Peter Damian, (1051 CE) reported the sexual immorality of the clergy directly to the Pope. Peter strongly condemned the frequency of homosexual activity even with boys. In 1568 Pope Pius V wrote Horrendum in which he updated the legislation against clerical crimes where clerics solicit sex with men, women and young boys. Sacramentum Poenitentiae was an instruction that Pope Benedict XIV wrote in 1741 that addressed the problem of priests soliciting sex from people—including children—who came to them in confession. Between 1723 and 1820 CE, The Roman Tribunal recorded 3775 cases of clerical solicitation. Most prominent are the cases of seduction of young people in the confessional and in seminaries. (Haliczer, 1996)
Secret instructions have been sent regularly from the Vatican to Bishops around the world directing them in the correct procedures to process investigations and disciplinary actions against priests who sexually abuse. (1890, 1922, 1962, etc.) Church officials know and have known for centuries that some (a large proportion) of priests and bishops are sexually active, and some sexually abuse minors.
The historical record is obvious on this issue for those with eyes to see. The current situation makes sense of documents such as the Lollard’s Twelve Conclusions, the third of which says:
The Third Conclusion, sorrowful to hear, is: That the law of continence annexed to priesthood, that in prejudice of women was first ordained, induces sodomy in Holy Church; but we excuse us by the Bible, for the suspect decree that says we should not name it. Reason and experience prove this conclusion. For delicious meats and drinks of men of Holy Church will have needful purgation or worse. Experience for the privy assay of such men is that they like not women.
Many intelligent Protestants despair of the condition that they find in their local church and so they read of a splendid Roman institution, a dream-like place full of intellectuals, long history and beauty. I know because I have been down that road myself. Conjuring this fantasy church in their minds, they fly to Rome and make their peace with all kinds of theological errors. What they will find in Rome includes pitiful homilies, a lack of connection with local parishioners, and yes, the fear of sexual abuse for their children.
And yet I feel no sense of triumphalism in the Protestant world. I do not think we have the same size of institutional issues because we are smaller, more divided and do not possess the historical baggage of ingrained networks of perverts. However, there are examples too numerous to mention of predatory clergy, affairs, and abuse.
In the case of Anglicanism, the continued silence in the face of complicity with wicked regimes in Africa is a grave evil. I see no movement on these issues from our leaders, if they are even aware of the problem. This will be shown to be a moral compromise as history unfolds, even though the church thinks it is fine now.
The effect of moral failures on the part of our institutions is to further isolate and atomize us. If I don’t trust the church, I stay home. Politics is a cesspool so why participate? Corporate environments are often full of cliques, injustice and foolishness, so we tolerate them at best. This leads to us withdrawing into a bubble of home, curated internet feeds and whatever else passes our time. I don’t have an answer for any of this, because it is so endemic, and I am sure nothing new either. In one sense we can thank the internet for shining more light than ever before on corruption in all walks of life, but it also hurts to be aware of it all!
The old “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” discussed our “circle of influence” and while it may seem hokey, I think it is true. All we can do is influence those around us by living an honest life ourselves, following the precepts of a wise life, and attempting to pass that on to the next generation.
For Protestants who care about the loving God with our minds (which should be all of us) there are deep wells of intellectual material that are mostly untapped. I think most Protestants who convert to Rome are unaware of the historical intellectual resources available to them from the past four centuries. Places like the Davenant Institute and the Calvinist International provide books and articles about historic Protestant theology. Biblical resources abound in our day. Unfortunately, it is on you to do the work and not give up and erect a fantasy church in your mind.