The Catholic Church is a feudal institution that has covered up sex crimes by its own leaders — and that's according to people who say they love the church.
Speakers at an Oct. 4 workshop in Montgomery discussed the scandal of clerical sexual abuse and what to do about it. The Cincinnati chapter of Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) sponsored the program at Good Shepherd Church.
Before the keynote speaker took the podium, the voice of bravery filled the collective psyche as survivors of abuse stood to speak.
Claire Corcoran lost her brother, Joey Busam, after the priests entrusted to care for him abused him instead. Busam was born into his Catholic family mentally retarded. Hoping to end his frustrations of not belonging, his parents sent him to the Brothers of the Good Shepherd, a Catholic religious order serving men with mental disabilities. Years later the facility was shut down after sexual abuse was uncovered. In 1991 Busam was diagnosed with AIDS.
Busam was the "nucleus of the family," his sister said.
After his death, their mother, Claire Busam, sued the Brothers of the Good Shepherd. She used the settlement money to open the Joey Busam Foundation to support survivors of abuse. VOTF presented Claire Busam the Voice of Courage Award.
The speakers included a woman who had been abused by her family — and then by her priest.
The workshop was not without controversy. A priest gave an explanation of canon law, the law of the Catholic Church, saying it has been misused to protect abusive priests. When he said the church's laws must be honored, an audience member declared canon law itself unjust, saying the New Testament doesn't require priests to be celibate. At the priest's response — quoting Jesus' statement about "those born eunuchs, those made to be eunuchs and those who become eunuchs" — the audience booed.
"Bullshit, condescending, patriarchal, " one woman said.
The Rev. Donald Cozzens, author of Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Church, was the keynote speaker. A pastoral theologian and psychologist, his message of hope was that we might witness "the unraveling of the last feudal system in the West," namely the church hierarchy.
Cozzens offers two contrasting views of the church. The first is from Pope Pius X, who made a vast distinction between the pastor and the flock. He taught that the duty of pastors was to lead and the duty of the multitude clearly was to follow. This inspired boos that sprang forth from audience in the place of "Amen."
"Pay, pray, obey," mocked the audience.
"Stay, pray, inveigh," others offered.
The second view Cozzens shared was expressed in a document from the U.S. Bishops Conference: "The church is a gathering of those the Lord has called into a covenant of peace. Offices are necessary but secondary to the gathering."
Some audience members responded with the exclamation, "The body of Christ."
Cozzens proposes a thorough "transformation" of the church. He calls our society's awareness of sexual abuse a "gift" and the abuse itself "an age-old scandal." He cited Saint Basil's words from the year 300: "A cleric or monk who seduces youth is to be publicly flogged and shall never again associate with youth in private counsel."
As a seminary rector, Cozzens has prepared men for the priesthood. Yet he admitted he is unable to foresee the potential for abuse and pedophilia.
"Of course you never do," he said. "Nothing points at someone in great risk for sexual abuse."
How can the warning signs be so esoteric as to evade a clergyman with a doctoral degree? Perhaps more important, why are the warning signs often ignored when they do appear?
In searching for concrete reasons, we must consider the concrete evidence, according to Cozzens, who said that one of every four women and one of every six men are sexually abused by age 13.
Voices of the Faithful believes leaving the church solves nothing. While advocating "structural change," VOTF doesn't advocate "the end of priestly celibacy, the exclusion of homosexuals from the priesthood, the ordination of women or any of the other remedies (for sexual abuse) that have been proposed across the spectrum of Catholic thought."
Cozzens said he wishes he knew how to reach young adults who have grown understandably skeptical of priests and politicians alike. His final remark before exiting the stage was, "A feudal system tends to keep you adolescent. Adult education is the key."
Conference coordinator Nan Fischer turned the challenge back toward the hierarchy.
"That's all I want from my church — is to be adult," she said.
Fischer had opened the conference by summarizing the day's goals.
"We are here to unite our voices, share thoughts, prayers and the love of the church," she said. "Do what you will but always speak out. The time of the trial is always."
For more information about Voice of the Faithful, visit www.votf.org.