The Laity bear some Blame for the CSA Crisis

The Bishops bear some of the blame for the CSA crisis in the Church. They have authority over the seminaries and the priests. They did not respond correctly when abuses came to light. They have not cleaned up the seminaries, not all of them at least.

But when I read so many of the laity speaking with harsh judgment against the Bishops, I cringe. The laity bear more blame for the CSA crisis in the Church than most Bishops do. (I said, “most Bishops”.) And this article will explain why the laity bear some of the blame.

1. First, there are sex offenders in the pews. The child sexual abuse (CSA) crisis is widespread in secular society, and has been for many decades. In any given year in the U.S., 2.2% of minors (1.6 million of the 73.4 million children under 18 year of age) will suffer sexual assault. [1] One child is sexually-assaulted every 20 seconds. There are many abusers in our society. And they are found in every town and neighborhood, in every social grouping or demographic. So there must be lay persons in the pews who sexually abuse children.

Where do you think priests come from? They come from the laity, so if there is a widespread problem among priests, it is found among the laity. See my other article: The Other Child Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Church. My estimate there is that 3 to 6% of adult men in our society have sexually abused a child at some point in time, or will do so. The above 2.2% figure is a snapshot of one year. For the whole population of minors in the U.S. of 73.4 million, about 15 million will be sexually abused at some time. [2] It would take millions of abusers to cover that many victims. And some of those abusers are Catholics.

2. Why are there sex offenders in the pews? Because they feel welcome. Why are there sex offenders in the clergy? Because they feel welcome. And they feel welcome because of the attitude toward sexual sins and sin more generally that has developed among the laity.

The lines for Communion are long, and the lines for Confession are short or non-existent. The laity have decided that they will not accuse themselves of any sin, will not consider any sexual acts they commit, interiorly or exteriorly, to be gravely immoral, and that they will not repent and confess. The laity have decided to be Catholics who do not live the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

This makes for an environment in which sex offenders feel welcome. “Few here acknowledge that sexual sins exist. Few here repent and confess any sexual sins. Few here believe the Church’s condemnation of sexual sins.” And that says: “Welcome, sex offenders! We are not so different from you!”

3. Many of the laity live a contradiction. Their lives are contrary to the teaching of the Catholic faith. They commit the sins of contraception, abortifacient contraception, and abortion. They commit the sin of heresy, and now rather commonly the sin of schism. And yet they continue to claim to be Catholic, to show up at church, and to take leadership positions in the parish. There are persons handing out Communion who have used abortifacient contraception for many years (including men who co-perpetrators of that sin). There are persons who go to Mass daily, and confession regularly, who never repent from or confess certain kinds of mortal sins.

They have just decided that those sins are an acceptable contradiction. “The Church teaches this, but I’m going to do that.” It is the same decision clergy who abuse must have made.

Yes, that is the way clergy who abuse minors are living: in contradiction to Church teaching. They live double lives, and they probably started living double lives, before they ever abused anyone, in the other, more common way found among the laity. Then they just progressed to graver sins that were in greater contradiction to Church teaching.

“Welcome priests who abuse children, you living hypocrites! We too are hypocrites, in one way or another. Welcome to the Church were most of the Mass-going Communion-receiving Catholics commit mortal sins they never admit are sins, never repent from, never confess. We are just like you! We turn off our consciences and commit grave sexual sins. And then we go to church and pretend to be holy.”

4. The worst example of this type of contradiction is found in certain theology of the body teachers. They are against gay men in the priesthood. They are further to the right on LGBT issues than the most conservative Republicans. They call the sexual acts of same-sex couples unnatural (which is correct, by the way). But then they approve of, and encourage married Catholics to use the same unnatural sexual acts, the same types of acts committed by same-sex couples. And, no, the fact that the persons committing these inherently non-procreative acts are husband and wife does not make the acts moral. It makes it more sinful since it is also a sacrilege against Sacrament of holy Matrimony.

What does this say to child abusers, who, according to the John Jay Report, commit mostly unnatural sexual acts with their victims? What does this say to priests who commit all these unnatural sexual acts that are approved by theology of the body teachers for marriage? It says: “Welcome child abusers, we commit the same perverse sexual acts as you do!”

The version of the theology of the body taught very widely, the one invented by Christopher West and others, not the original version, is sexual ethics without the ethics. It is literally devoid of all moral teachings, other than a few rules, such as don’t use contraception, and don’t use pornography. Ironically, books like “Holy Sex” by Gregory Popcak are literal pornography. So the meaning of “don’t use pornography” is “don’t use other kinds of pornography, other than theology of the body”. Yes, these false teachers have turned the theology of a Pope-Saint into pornography. And they have accomplished the pornification of the marital bed by approving of all manner of unnatural sexual acts. More here.

The theology of the body, in its most perverse form, is only slightly different from the behavior of priests who sexually abuse children. It says to sex offenders, “These are the acts we consider holy! Oh? They’re the same acts you perform on your victims? Wow, what a holy coincidence! Welcome!” That’s what it says.

The true theology of the body, if anyone is interested, condemns every type of unnatural sexual act. The true theology of the body approves of only one type of sexual act: natural marital relations open to life. That act alone is marital, unitive, and procreative.

Every non-marital, or non-procreative, or non-unitive sexual act is a grave offense against God. And every married couple who commits such acts must repent and confess. What does the TRUE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY say to sex offenders? “Get the Hell out of here, you pervert! We never perform the types of unnatural sexual acts that have marred your soul and harmed countless children. We reject those acts, by their very type, under all circumstances, regardless of intention, no matter who is doing what to whom. Your perversions are not welcome here!”

Unfortunately, the perverse version of the theology of the body has been welcomed joyously by the laity. “At last! Here is a type of sexual ethics that lets us do whatever we want, that puts pleasure first! And it lets us claim to be extra-holy while we abuse one another’s bodies! Welcome Christopher West and Gregory Popcak! Thank you for saving us from morality, from true marital chastity, and from the confessional. It’s too bad you can’t also save us from Hell.”

5. Contempt for Church authority.

I recall the news story of a nun, Sister McBride, who authorized a direct abortion at a Catholic hospital, and was excommunicated by the Bishop. As a result of her grave sins, she received an award from a group of heretical Catholics (‘Call to Action’) specifically for her role in authorizing that abortion. During her talk, she ridiculed the ‘hierarchy’ and ‘magisterium’ of the Church for their teachings, and the audience laughed. A whole room full of Catholic laypersons laughed at the idea that people would believe what the Church teaches precisely because it is Church teaching. They laughed that the authority Christ gave to His own Church.

In a different example, I recall news stories from Ireland, when they had the vote that eventually removed the constitutional protections on the unborn, paving the way for innumerable abortions. And there were Catholics speaking in favor of abortion. And the pro-abortion referendum passed, but only because very many Catholics voted for it.

Most Catholics, including conservatives, believe whatever they think to be true, justify their favorite sins with all kinds of excuses, and ignore Church teaching to the contrary. The Catholic laity have decided that they don’t have any obligation to believe what the Church teaches, nor to do what the Church says. Moreover, they think that the Pope and the Bishops are the ones who need to change, to become more like the laity. And among conservative Catholics, this same attitude is found, that instead of the laity learning from the Pope and the Bishops, the Pope and the Bishops should be judged and corrected by the laity. That is part of the problem. Pointing to part of the problem, and shouting, “Look here, I found the solution!” is not helpful.

Open contempt for Pope Francis has become common among leaders of the conservative Catholic subculture. They receive praise for treating the Vicar of Christ with contempt. They write books expressing contempt toward the Pope and the body of Bishops, and they are praised for this sinful work.

So what kind of Church does this produce? One where priests who abuse children walk among us, and we can’t see them because they are just like so many other Catholics, living lives of unrepentant grave sin, living a life which is an expression of contempt for the Church, Her teachings and Her rules.

6. Love, faith, and hope, and the State of Grace

A priest who abuses children cannot be in the state of grace — unless he repents, confesses, and gives up this sin. He cannot commit these acts with a sincere but mistaken conscience. So these priest sex offenders have been living among us, continually lacking in love and hope, lacking in habitual grace. And no one notices.

Why don’t we notice? It is because so many of the laity are not in the state of grace, and have not been for many years. The day-to-day behavior and attitude of a priest who is not in a state of grace should stand out, like a lump of coal in the snow, because it should be so different from the laity and the other clergy. But it is not so different. Many of the clergy who do not abuse children are nevertheless not in the state of grace due to other sins. Many of the laity, those who do not abuse children, are still not in the state of grace due to other sins. You see how few persons go to Confession. You know what lay Catholics are like from polls, news stories, the internet, and your own experiences. Priest abusers are able to hide in plain sight because so many other clergy and so many of the laity are not in the state of grace also.

7. Lack of prayer, self-denial, and works of mercy. The laity are not living the faith very well, and so our clergy lack grace, just as we ourselves lack grace. A population that has less prayer and less grace will be more welcoming to persons who commit grave sin, who have turned away from true prayer and have refused cooperation with grace.


The above are the ways that the laity are partly to blame for the CSA crisis in the Church. It is disheartening to see so many calls to blame the Bishops for the abuse crisis, from the laity who are also to blame. At least the Bishops have admitted that they are partly to blame.

But this idea that boards of lay persons, overseeing the Bishops, will solve the problem is foolish. The laity are more to blame that the Bishops. This idea essentially takes a worse part of the problem, and gives it more power. How is that a solution?

And if you say to me that it was the Bishops, not the laity, who moved the priest abusers around and covered up their crimes, my reply is, in secular society, that is exactly the most common behavior of lay persons who run corporations: hide the offense, move the offender to a different job (or retain him in the same job). The Bishops made the mistake of behaving like lay persons running a corporation. So giving the laity power over the Bishops is not going to work.

Of course, the primary blame for these crimes against children must be placed on the person who decided to commit the crimes. But in so far as any of us is to blame partially, by not doing enough, by not praying enough, by our various sins and failings that created an environment in which abusers thrived, we lay persons have a type of blame also.

More Reading: The Catholic Marriage Bed

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.