The Vigano letter starts out well.
Vigano: “Bishops and priests, abusing their authority, have committed horrendous crimes to the detriment of their faithful, minors, innocent victims, and young men eager to offer their lives to the Church, or by their silence have not prevented that such crimes continue to be perpetrated.”
Well said, Archbishop.
“To restore the beauty of holiness to the face of the Bride of Christ, which is terribly disfigured by so many abominable crimes, and if we truly want to free the Church from the fetid swamp into which she has fallen…”
It is wrong to speak as if the Church were not indefectible, as if the crimes and sins of a small percentage of clergy have caused the entire Church to be disfigured and to have fallen. But what he says next, to end the culture of secrecy, is a good start for addressing the problem.
However, Vigano then falls into the error of many papal critics:
“But now that the corruption has reached the very top of the Church’s hierarchy,”
It is a grave sin to accuse any Roman Pontiff of moral or spiritual corruption. God does not permit any Roman Pontiff to become evil or corrupt.
Pope Francis erred in administrative decisions, whom to appoint where, and he erred in whose advice to trust. However, the repeated attribution to the Roman Pontiff of ill intent is a common error by papal critics. For example, Vigano claims that Pope Francis “took action [regarding McCarrick] to save his image in the media.” How does Vigano know the motivations of the Pope? He does not know, and yet he imputes bad intent to the Vicar of Christ.
I certainly share Vigano’s concern to eradicate sexual abuse from the Church’s clergy. But the fact that his is concerned and is seeking a solution, does not mean that his approach is right. A well-intentioned treatment can make an illness worse, not better.
There are three grave omissions in the approach of Vigano and those of similar perspective.
1. Most abusers are straight men.
He thinks to end this abuse crisis by removing homosexuals from the priesthood and seminaries. But many abusers are heterosexual men who abuse boys because they have access to them. This is a pattern seen in sexual abuse of children in society. Most men who abuse boys are not gay men; they are heterosexual men who treat victims like objects, and objects do not have gender. So removing gays from the clergy will not address a large portion of the problem.
“Many have wondered if the “crack down” on homosexuals in the priesthood is a response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church (Boston Globe Investigative Staff, 2002; Jenkins, 2001; Plante, 2005; Sipe 2004). Since 81% of the victims of priest child sexual abuse are boys (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, 2004), many have wondered if the clergy sexual abuse crisis might be best solved with the elimination of homosexual priests. However, many experts have also argued that homosexual orientation, by itself, is not a risk factor for sexual crimes against children (American Psychological Association, 1998). Furthermore, many have suggested that homosexual priests are often the scapegoat for the clergy sexual abuse problem (Plante, 2005). Sex-offending clergy frequently report that they victimize boys (even if they report being heterosexual) because boys are a victim of convenience (Plante, 2004). They often report that they have ready access to and trust with boys rather than girls.” [Homosexual Applicants to the Priesthood]
The work by Thomas Plante on this topic is particularly compelling. Abusers are generally heterosexual men taking advantage of post-pubescent boys because that is the group to which they have access.
2. Abusers are common in the laity and the general population.
Vigano does not seem to realize that we have so many ordained abusers because so many of the laity are abusers, in one way or another. Many of the laity have a poor sense of sexual sin; they commit objectively mortal sexual sins, without repentance or confession. They go to Mass. They have leadership roles in parishes and dioceses. They teach the faith to others. And they become priests. Priests do not grow on trees. They come from the laity. Any problem found among priests must be found among the laity.
Yet no one is addressing this true root of the problem, that grave sexual sins are common among the laity, including the abuse of children, but also including every other type of sexual sin. Oh, and why are there so many abusers among the laity? It’s because there are many abusers among the general population. Every neighborhood has child abusers. Every small town has dozens of them. Every city has tens of thousands of them. People don’t realize how widespread the CSA problem is in society.
3. False teachers create an environment where sexual sins thrive.
False teachers are one of the main reasons that grave sexual sins are common among the laity and the clergy. There are teachers who undermine and radically reinterpret the Church’s condemnation of intrinsically evil acts, especially sexual sins and sins of contraception and abortifacients. And there are teachers who approve of grave sexual sins within marriage.