The continuing revelations about clergy sex abuse and cover-up have shaken faithful Catholics everywhere. Many people feel powerless to do anything constructive. At the Ruth institute, we have been dealing with the fallout from the sexual revolution for years. We have learned one thing for sure: The advocates of sexual license are better organized, and better funded, than we are. Right now, the advocates of traditional Christian sexual morality are not well-enough organized to do a good job supporting good bishops or protesting bad policies.
Let me give an example. Let us suppose we have a good solid bishop who happens to be assigned as bishop of Sodom and/or Gomorrah. Let’s suppose this bishop would like to confront some sleazy goings-on in his diocese, maybe gay-affirming ministries or dissenting speakers. But this bishop knows that more than half of the clergy in his diocese are actively participating in homoerotic activity or are in more or less open dissent against Church teaching.
This bishop might very well anticipate that he would lose a confrontation with dissenters. The dissenters quietly defy him. Or directly defy him. Even worse, they attack him, with the help of the press. Here is the question: Is the condition of this diocese better off before or after this confrontation?
Based on my parenting experience, I would say the diocese is likely to be worse off.
Years ago, my husband and I had responsibility for emotionally disturbed children. We were advised: Do not have a confrontation with a sick child unless you can win. If you back down, the child becomes sicker. They lose respect for you as a parent. They trust you less. And the wounded children for whom we had responsibility desperately needed to learn to trust.
“Pick your battles,” as the saying goes. That is why you do not confront an emotionally disturbed child over food, sleep or toileting. The child can control his or her bodily functions and you cannot.
The comparable situation is that the Church authority confronts dissent and loses the confrontation. The person defies the authority figure and faces no negative consequences. The situation is less healthy after the confrontation than before it.
The confrontation reveals weakness. The dissenter’s soul has not been helped, nor the scandal overcome. In the face of well-organized resistance, and disorganized support, the good bishop is likely to conclude that confrontation is worse than futile. Issues that should be addressed are left to fester.
What to do? Get organized. Suppose the faithful could put 500 people on the bishop’s porch to support him or on the doorstep of the dissenting priest to confront him. Now the bishop has a fighting chance.
Let’s say the faithful could generate 50,000 signatures in an online petition. Remember Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, who was ultimately forced to resign from the company he founded? Activists generated more than 70,000 petition signatures calling for his resignation. His supporters did exactly nothing to help him. (Wait: Did Eich even have any supporters?)
So, you might ask, how do we get organized? The first step is to get over whatever anxiety you may have. You do not see yourself as a rabble-rouser. You would rather focus on the positive. You don’t like confrontation. Political methods don’t seem appropriate for spiritual issues.
I get it. I really do. Look at it this way: You do not have to be mean about it. You don’t have to turn yourself into a political hack or a screaming talk-show host to get something done. All you have to do is get started. And you can start with prayer.
The Catholic Church has a long history of being renewed by prayer groups. St. Philip Neri and his oratories comes to mind. Yes, people got together and prayed. But don’t you think some of those people were inspired to take actions that wouldn’t have entered their minds otherwise? You can’t tell me they all sat around, prayed and did absolutely nothing else.
Catholics are pretty good at forming groups and organizations. We’ve been doing it for centuries. We’ve already got quite a few in place. Somehow, over the years, we have become more complacent and passive. I don’t know exactly why or how this has happened. But if the existing groups in your community are overly passive in the face of some of the great wrongs we are facing, gather some new people together and get started.
Your group could meet regularly for prayer and study. And in the process, you could keep track of local issues that need to be addressed, including but not limited to sex abuse cover-ups: things like inappropriate sex-education curricula in the Catholic schools, “drag queen story hours in the public libraries,” and, yes, flat-out heretical teaching and immoral behavior within the Church.
You could educate yourself about those issues as part of your regular meetings. The Ruth Institute has curricula, and so do other organizations. You will become better informed, more confident and better prepared to speak out when the situation warrants. You’ll be setting aside time regularly, so you won’t be so inclined to say, “But I don’t have time.” You will have your little email list. You can connect yourself to other similar groups. And when something needs to get done, you and your friends would be poised for action.
Our immediate situation with clergy sex abuse and cover-up has festered for a long time and demands action. One truly beneficial long-run consequence of the clergy sex-abuse scandals could be that the faithful get organized.
But this will not happen automatically. It will only happen if good people make it happen. What are you waiting for?
Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute and the author of The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and How the Church Has Been Right All Along.