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Those Sinners are Our Sinners

The question of what counts as "religious practice" and its protected "free exercise" has dominated much of the Catholic conversation recently, and it has figured prominently on this blog and in the magazine. My approach to the question has been largely informed by a "religious studies" perspective, which attempts to think of "religion" as an object of academic inquiry and analyze the many ways in which it is performed and negotiated by those who use the concept. This includes both believers and non-believers. The former might argue either that "religion" is a 19th-century abstraction imposed on them from without, forcing them to define what they do in very restrictive and exclusionary terms (e.g. as strictly worship),or they might embrace it for the civil protections that it offers and seek shelter under its hopefully expanding exceptions. (The USCCB, it seems to me, is currently oscillating between both of these positions.) Non-believers also might either reject the concept as a 19th-century abstraction that has long been revealed to be a social or psychological pathology that we are (hopefully) outgrowing, or they might find it useful for describing certain communities and individuals that do, in fact, seem to preserve valuable beliefs and practices that set them apart and may provide important resources for a culturally impoverished post-secular society. Regardless of which of these four options one decides to take up, it seems clear that "religion" is indeed a concept that, like all inherited traits, we are stuck with, and thus, the question, "What is religion?" remains a live one, even if your answer is that it is an illusion.Against this "religious studies" background, Kathryn Lofton has a provocative post over at The Immanent Frame about a conference that she hosted last September at Yale on "Sex Abuse and the Study of Religion." The participants at the conference focused primarily on the epidemic in the Catholic Church, and looking at the archive of material compiled at, they asked, How [are] the sex abuse cases also cases of religion?"

This is, of course, a very controversial question for many Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who would likely protest that sexual abuse is the furthest thing from an instance of "religion," insisting that it must be a perversion of religion, if not a negation of religion. Acknowledging this, Lofton writes:

While it seems reasonable to imagine the celebration of the Mass or the substance of seminary education as subjects of analysis for the academic study of religion, turning to sexual abuse is a more awkward maneuver to make. However, scholarship pursuing popular religious experience offers some vocabulary to begin such a venture. The study of lived religion focuses most intensely on places where people are wounded or broken, amid disruptions in relationships, because it is in these broken places that religious media become most exigent, Robert Orsi has written. It is in such hot cultural momentsat the edges of life, in times of social upheaval, confusion, or transition, when old orders give way and what is ahead remains unclearthat we see what matters most in a religious world. Orsi invites us to observe the simultaneity of religious life and religious studies, how the scholars role to interpret what matters becomes especially important precisely when it seems that the system collapses in its effort to maintain what matters.

For many, the current public controversy over "religious freedom" seems like such a "hot cultural moment," when believers and non-believers are deploying religious rhetoric to stake out positions for themselves in the public sphere and to move people in their communities to action. The Bishops' call for a "Fortnight for Freedom" and the language surrounding it conjures images of religious persecution and martyrdom, encourages holy defiance, suggests a suspension of political order for the sake of a Higher Call, imagines an expansive vocational understanding, in which everything a person of faith does is in some way an extension of living his or her Catholic identity, and all of this is done in an "effort to maintain what matters."Was this not also true of the perpetration and cover-up of sex abuse? I am, of course, not suggesting that the Bishops' actions in seeking to protect what they see as the "religious freedom" owed to them and their flock are the same kinds of actions as the perpetration and cover-up of sexual abuse. Yet, from the perspective of one who is interested in "religion" in all of its manifestations, the question is: What do these "hot cultural moments" reveal about a particular "religion"? When it comes to the "cultural moment" of abuse in the Church, Lofton writes:

These hot cultural moments are rarely the ones accompanied by photographers flashbulbs or press releases. After reviewing the documentary record, the story of Catholic sex abuse that emerges is one of stunning intensity and intimacy. This was a series of crimes committed in quiet auspices, in recreational and domestic spaces, in vestries, campgrounds, and childrens bedrooms. This was a series of relationships that were, simultaneously, abusive and interdependent, public and private, possessive and devotional. Sexual abuse between priest and parishioner is, therefore, a form of lived religion. This is not only because religious contexts offer hierarchical social situations conducive to abuse, but also because abuse is, in this documentary record, shown to be an articulation of Catholic ecclesiastical authority, Catholic theological investment, and Catholic sociological change.

It seems to me that if we, as a Church, are going to get to the "how" and "why," and more importantly, the "how do we not let this happen again" of sexual abuse, we are going to have to deal with the "religious," and specifically, "Catholic" nature of the problem. Of course, as we've all heard, sexual abuse is something that happens in many different kinds of institutions, but as we have also been told more recently, the things done by Catholics in those institutions have a distinctively Catholic character, which should be all the more true if that institution is a church.So, when we look at the stories of sexual abuse and its cover-up, and we see and hear theological language being used to justify those actions, we have to be honest about the way in which our theology might be inextricably intertwined with all those things done in its name. To take a recent case, it seems that Monsignor Lynn understood is vows of obedience to cover all actions prescribed for him by his Bishop and to entail unquestioning loyalty in their execution. Similarly, the perpetuation of abuse was often aided by replacing the language of psychology and illness with the language of pastoral care and forgiveness. These were not simply weaknesses of individual moral judgment or misunderstandings of the pathology of pedophelia, but they were religious failures, insofar as they involved the use of theological language to destroy rather than build-up the faithful. Thus, if we are going to confront the abuse crisis head-on, Lofton writes, we must ask questions like:

Why did sex abuse occur? How did it occur? Why was it managed as it was by ecclesiastical authorities? What sacramental thinking and theological rhetoric has circulated during its duration? For example, how did Catholic understandings of the child and of the priest, or the distinctive Catholic construction of human sexualityin particular the requirement of celibacy for leadership and prohibition of masturbationcontribute to the perpetuation of abuse? What sort of sexual politics, gender norms, cultural logic, and social facts contributed to the unmitigated persistence and slow diagnosis of abuse? And how does the very way we interpret and define abuse relate to its experience and practice?

It's not enough to name sexual abuse as a lapse in "religious" practice and belief. In order to understand it in its specifically "Catholic" form, we must re-examine our theology and the ways in which we perform that theology institutionally and interpersonally. In this case, far from being a useless abstraction, Lofton is encouraging scholars and lay people to use the category of "religion" to examine the very particularity of lives lived in faith and doubt, redemption and sin. As she writes, "'Religion' as a category has no meaning if it is merely saved to designate ideal practice; it is a term that summarizes failure and fulfillment of prescribed relations." If Lofton is right, then, "religious studies" might actually be able to illuminate the failures of religion, which believers themselves might miss with their gaze fixed firmly on the promises, and not the perils, of their own traditions. And while some might even be tempted to shake their heads with sanctimonious disappointment at the few sinners that are spoiling the Church for the rest of us, perspectives from the study of religion might help us see that those sinners are our sinners, their words are our words, their victims are our victims, and, in this case, their abuse was Catholic abuse.


Commenting Guidelines

What a timely article! It seems that everything the church does is cast in the light of the sex abuse scandal. For instance, the Fortnight For Freedom is as you describe, Eric, but it is hard to get past its real meaning because the measuring stick will always be against the "sins of our leaders". One thing that comes to mind is our Catholic notion of our authority figures in the church. We are more apt to measure the tenents of our faith and the rules of the church in light of the frailties of these men. Thus, firm catholics cannot help but rely on their own conscience concerning matters of health care etc.; not what the church is calling violations of freedom. If anything, the sex abuse scandal has torn the church open, and those people who care about its survival will give positive input in spite of the flaws of our bishops or other powers that be in the church.

A few thoughts:"So, when we look at the stories of sexual abuse and its cover-up, and we see and hear theological language being used to justify those actions, we have to be honest about the way in which our theology might be inextricably intertwined with all those things done in its name. To take a recent case, it seems that Monsignor Lynn understood is vows of obedience to cover all actions prescribed for him by his Bishop and to entail unquestioning loyalty in their execution."I imagine that many or at least some bishops, priests, and lay people have held the notion of obedience which was apparently articulated or at least held by Monsignor Lynn -- i.e., the notion that obedience of one's religious superiors required was necessary even when obedience would mean going against one's conscience and/or doing something sinful (such as covering up sex abuse, breaking laws, etc.). However, this has never been official Catholic doctrine, has it? I'm not a priest or religious (though I'm still kind of saving myself for the Jesuits), but that was absolutely NEVER the understanding of obedience that I learned in all my years of Catholic grade school, high school, college, and grad school (I'm 30), or that I've encountered in various writers of the Catholic tradition. For those who do have such a defective understanding of obedience, where did they acquire it? For example, where would Monsignor Lynn have acquired it? Of course, we might also ask, was that REALLY his understanding of obedience, or is it the case that that was that more of a defense strategy and he really did know he was doing wrong?So far I've been discussing the issue of obedience and authrotiy on the part, basically, of bishops, priests, religious, and, I guess, lay people working in the Church. Of course, the issue also arises with regard to how ordinary Catholic lay people in parishes, and in particular Catholic children, have at different points in history and in different regions understood obedience and/or the authority and status of bishops, priests, and religious. And here of course there has probably been (at least in the past) a big disconnect between official Catholic doctrine vs. popular understandings and attitudes. I imagine there was probably also a difference between how more educated and/or better catechized Catholics understood the position of a priest, vs. how less educated and/or more poorly catechized Catholics understood it. For what it's worth, in my own case (again, I'm 30, and if it's relevant, I'm from the Philadelphia archdiocese, though I went to private Catholic schools, not diocesan ones -- Sisters of Mercy for grade school, Jesuits for high school), I think even from a young age I would have known exactly what was going on if a priest had, God forbid, attempted to abuse me: my parents and especially my Mom taught me about such dangers at an early age, and also, my parents are pretty liberal with regard to Catholicism, and I never had a very exalted view of priests, and I think I knew even in late grade school about cases of clergy sexual abuse. Of course, people in other times and places would have had very different experiences. To boil down and reflect on a lot of what I've said, I guess I'm saying that it will be helpful to distinguish between what is or has been official Catholic doctrine, vs. various defective theologies, whether such defective theologies are held by priests and religious such as Monsignor Lynn, or on a more "popular" level by Catholics growing up in past decades, etc. With that distinction in mind, I think this post and the article/post it quotes is helpful and interesting -- I think it will meet resistance among some, but I don't think it necessarily needs to.Another line that caught my eye: "Why was [sex abuse] managed as it was by ecclesiastical authorities?" -- Among other things, I wonder if part of the problem might be reluctance among Catholics, and among humans in general, to acknowledge publicly certain types of sins/crimes/faults/etc. I mean, I suppose many bishops in, say, the 1950s or 1960s, might have thought that it would harm people's faith if they turned abusive priests into the police, and such priests were put on trial, and the whole thing was all over the media, etc. But really, why should it have harmed people's faith? We're taught that all of us are sinners, in need of redemption (and of course sometimes those sins are crimes that lead to jail, etc.). Why this need to think that priests are always automatically holier? I mean, when a priest says "Lord, wash away my iniquities; cleanse me of my sins," he isn't just saying it for fun; it's true.

I think the root of the Church of Rome's sex abuse crisis is the doctrine that the Father sent his only begotten Son to die for us on the cross in order to effect our salvation. This was not part of primtive Christian belief, which stressed the importance of helping neighbor in need and remembering the self-sacrifice of Jesus' entire earthly ministry. Every Christian man and woman was part of a *priestly community* by virtue of his or her baptism. The liturgical presider --- not considered a "priest" as we understand this term today, by the way --- was unordained and fulfilled this role by virtue of his community leadership. Unfortunately, the idea of the crucified Jesus as (innocent) "victim" came about quite early in Christian doctrine, and the sacred liturgy came to be seen as a memorial/re-presentation of Jesus' "sacrifice" on Calvary. This scenario would require a "priest" to mediate between God on high and the people down below. Because of his position in the church, the "priest"thus came to occupy a higher place on the ecclesial totem pole. A church that initially saw Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and mixing with the "have nots" of his day and place eventually became a church of hierarchy: deacon, priest, bishop. The liturgy would eventually become the domain of the ordained, and the people might receive the eucharist once a year if they received it at all. Add to this picture the legalization of Christianity by imperial decree early in the 4th century, not to mention various civil perks and authorities granted to bishops over their Christian "flocks". With the aforementioned would come imperial/royal interference in the selection of bishops and other church officials because the earthly rulers recognized the influence that could come with ecclesiastical appointments. Let's not overlook, too, the interference in civil matters by the ecclesial hierarchs. As they say, "the rest is history".Today, we still identify our ordained liturgical presiders as "priests" who enjoy an "ontological" superiority by virtue of their ministerial ordination. They are said to walk "in the person of Christ the head". We still see the mass as the re-presentation of the sacrifice --- God's sacrifice of his Son --- on Calvary. Thus, we still see the essential role of somebody to mediate between God and man. If James Davidson and Dean Hoge's "Mind the gap: The return of the lay-clerical divide" is any indication, we've seen a resurgence of clergy ("JPII priests") who believe they are separate from --- and above --- the laity and, therefore, have the final word on matters of church. Adults have no problem addressing their ordained presiders (even the younger guys) as "Father"; it's the "priests on pedestal" mentality that infantilizes the laity. We cannot have mass without the "priest" (never mind this was not the picture in primitive Christian communities).The aforementioned groundwork provides ample opportunity for priestly sexual abuse of children, episcopal malfeasance, and papal indifference to --- nay, complicity in --- all the aforementioned. Those who fail to learn the lessons of psychology and history are doomed to see it repeated.Orthotoxy is the root of our sin and dysfunction.

Joseph -- Isn't all of that a little far-fetched? Can one really draw so clear a line between the belief that Jesus died for our sins, and clergy sexual abuse? (And of course there are so many variations on the doctrine that Jesus died for our sins, i.e., so many different models of redemption, and most of them are not necessarily problematic, as the penal substitution model would be.) Also, isn't the way you describe some Catholic Christian doctrines a caricature? Would any of the Church Fathers, or the scholastics, etc. have said that the priest mediates "between God on high and the people down below," with all that that implies? Would any have said that the priest "occup[ies] a higher place on the ecclesial totem pole" (of course they wouldn't have had the term "totem pole"), in the sense that you're using it, as if they're not meant to serve, etc.? It's one thing to say that bishops and popes have failed to actually serve rather than expect to be served; it's quite another thing to think that Church leaders and Catholic theology has ever actually said, "the bishops are meant to be served by the laity," etc. The problem is more hypocrisy than heresy.Basically, I don't think that the system of an ecclesial hierarchy itself leads to sex abuse and its cover up. Of course, I do think there should be reforms in things such as how bishops are chosen, accountability, etc., but I don't think you necessarily have to tamper with Catholic doctrine in order to do it.

Lofton's argument may be too subtle to summarize adequately in a blog post, but I am skeptical of efforts to connect clerical sex-abuse to basic features of Catholicism. If I claimed there was something about French culture that encouraged alcoholism, you might respond, "That's interesting -- are there studies that show that alcoholism is especially prevalent among the French?" If I answered, "I don't know, but I have noticed that whenever French alcoholics try to deny or rationalize their problem they do so in French," you would probably not be impressed. Of course Catholics who do bad things -- things the church condemns -- use the moral vocabulary available to them when they try to rationalize their actions. This fact alone does not make those actions distinctively Catholic. Unless there is solid evidence that sex abuse is more common among Catholic priests than among other adults who have regular contact with children, there is no point in asking what it is about Catholicism in particular that turns priests into abusers. Of course, the cover-up is another matter: one can plausibly argue that structural features of the church as an institution conduced to secrecy and an unwillingness to let law-enforcement officials do their jobs. That plausible argument has been made by many people -- including by those tasked by the bishops with investigating the causes of the scandal. But here, too, one must be careful not to introduce mere speculation as conclusive analysis. Eric writes, "the perpetuation of abuse was often aided by replacing the language of psychology and illness with the language of pastoral care and forgiveness." How does he know this? As a matter of historical fact, wasn't the replacement the other way around? The peak of the abuse crisis coincided with the ascendency of the therapeutic approach to pedophilia, both inside and outside the church. Bishops tended to be deferential to psychologists who claimed that pedophilia was primarily to be understood as a form of mental illness and that most pedophiles could be rehabilitated and safely returned to service. Of course, the idea that pedophilia is an illness is not incompatible with the idea that sexual abuse is a sin, but the lesson drawn by many bishops from the advice they received from experts was that pedophiles were not fully responsible for their behavior, that they were pitiable compulsives who needed treatment, not moral condemnation or criminal prosecution. In any case, it's far from clear that the "language of psychology and illness" was in this instance more compatible with law and order than was the "language of sin and forgiveness."

The fact remains that the sex abuse scandal has hurt the church more than a sex abuse scandal in another secular area of society precisely because it happened in the church--the area of our lives that is supposed to be holy and helpful. Any expression that tries to minimize the magnitude of the breech and its everlasting tentacles within our church here and now and into the foreseeable future is shortsighted at best. I think what Eric is saying is that any excuse was used even in the name of God, and that is what makes these sins so hard to forgive. The church needs to do more than pay millions of dollars; it needs to publicly apologize to all of the laity for falling short of its barest duties to carry out the mission of Christ. The Fortnight for Freedom is misdirected.

"After reviewing the documentary record, the story of Catholic sex abuse that emerges is one of stunning intensity and intimacy. This was a series of crimes committed in quiet auspices, in recreational and domestic spaces, in vestries, campgrounds, and childrens bedrooms. This was a series of relationships that were, simultaneously, abusive and interdependent, public and private, possessive and devotional. Sexual abuse between priest and parishioner is, therefore, a form of lived religion."What repugnant nonsense. To extend Lofton's concept, one could as well claim that abuse of an adolescent student by a teacher constitutes an educational experience, or a stepfather who molests his young daughter is engaging in an act of parenting.

"abuse is, in this documentary record, shown to be an articulation of Catholic ecclesiastical authority, Catholic theological investment, and Catholic sociological change."It's hard to characterize a statement like this except as anti-Catholic palaver of the most vile kind.

To act contrary to one's own religious standards is not a religious act. If murder my neighbor, that is not a religious act, it is counter-religious. Prof. Lofton seems to have confused an association with a cause.One's own religious standards can, of course, be mistaken interpretations of the standards of one's own religious group. The problems arise when the standards aren't clear.There is no such thing as a specifically Catholic sexual abuse. True, IF one of our rituals called for a specific sort of abusive sexual act, then there would be. But there is no evidence, is there?, of any sort of ritual. Or if there were a sub-species of sexual abuse peculiar to Catholics (acts done only by Catholics), then in an extended sense of "Catholic" ("acts done only by Catholics"), then there would be. But, again, there don't seem to be any of those. One could even stretch the language to cover sexual abuses prompted by *mistaken* Catholic beliefs. This latter kind of case seems to fit Msgr. Lynn.He thought, apparently, that his acts were acts of holy obedience of the Catholic variety. He therefore could claim that his actions were motivated by the "Catholic" teaching as he saw it, and, therefore, his were acts of religion. But he is wrong about Catholic teaching -- the Church does not tell us to obey unjust commands, in fact, it tells us not to. Or does the Church teach both -- that he should have obeyed but he also should not have obeyed? Or was it the case that the Church changed its teaching on the subject? (Here we go again.)

Why so often the wide brush to describe events? There is definitely a pathology in the way the RCC has addressed sex. At the same time there is a lot of pathology in the practice of sex with those who are not Catholics. While the church has always said the abuse does not take away the use it always seemed that the use was sinful. Certainly, Augustine condemned pleasure in sex and while others have found him wrong his opinion seemed to have prevailed. John Paul II extensive writings on the theology of the body seems to portray some kind of preoccupation with the subject. Not that they have it right but Protestants are generally not that preoccupied with the matter. To blame celibacy is not to condemn it because it seems to have been well placed with Paul and others. And Paul always saw it as a choice and perhaps preferred if one would work as he did for the gospel But when it became mandatory it seems to have produced so many miscreants that it muddled the whole area of sex.I have always maintained that the gathering of certain women around priests was because of their belief that the priest could not hold up to advances and that he would eventually concede as many did. No doubt many clergy were the aggressors but the priest as a "public temptation" is a phenomenon that few writers have adequately tackled.The Catholic literary world has been silent on the modern sexual novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Does that say something? At any rate there is something to the notion that sexuality in the church is poorly developed. But then again when it comes to sex many can become tongue tied. When pornography came up before the Congress some years ago one member instead of describing or defining it said "I know it when I see it." So Eric, You and Lofton may have to develop your thesis more cohesively. Right now it seems more conjecture than reality. It seems you know "Catholic sexual abuse" when you see it but may have trouble defining it or describing it. While we are all sinners it seems an awful stretch to include the whole church in sex abuse.

Jim -- I don't think Lofton's reflection/argument necessarily has to be read as anti-Catholic; it's hard to explain what I mean, but from what I read of this blog post, it didn't sound like that. In fact, I think according to her line of thinking, one COULD say that abuse of a student by a teacher constitutes an "educational experience," or "a form of lived education," or something. I could be way off, but I think she merely means that the abuse took place in the context of, and was expressed through, Catholicism. Similarly, a teacher abusing a student would take place in the context of education, and be experienced as having to do with education, etc.Speaking of which, in thinking about a lot of this lately (because of the Church scandals, the Sandusky trial, and seemingly every other scandal that occurs), a thought has occurred to me -- how much does gender figure into all of this? Suppose a teenage boy were being sexually abused not by a (male) priest, but by a female teacher? (And I suppose age could be a factor in here.) I.e., suppose a 35-year-old female teacher seduced, say, a 16-year-old boy, and intercourse regularly took place, as well as other sexual acts. Would the psychological damage be the same, or as severe, as it would if it were a 35-year-old male? Would the public outrage be as severe? What if at one point during intercourse, the female teacher changed her mind, and told the boy to stop, but he didn't -- would it suddenly switch to being a case of the boy raping the teacher? I know this is going off topic, but I have a sense that gender/sex and the relative power/privilege of different genders/sexes is a bigger factor in this than we normally think about, or a bigger part of the context. I mean, think about the oddities that occur if you were to take a transcript of a teenage boy's gut-wrenching testimony about being sexually abused by an older man, and try to change it to being about an older women: "I screamed for help, but nobody heard"? When you consider it, it just becomes apparent how much power and privilege is accorded to males, whether by society, by biology, or by both. Could this sort of contrast shed any light on the issue of clergy sexual abuse?

Brendan, the earliest Christian communities did not have *priests* as we understand this term today. On the other hand, folks back then did select or otherwise acknowledge community leadership, and it was this leadership, as Kenan Osborne has noted in his history of ordained ministry, that served as the basis for a person's liturgical leadership. As I've noted, with a change in the meaning of sacrifice --- to that of the sacrifice of the Son by the Father --- would come also the need for ritual/cultic *priests*. A priest, regardless of religious background, by definition mediates between God/gods and human beings. It is this religious positional status that elevates the priest above the people. As Jaroslav Pelikan observed, "Chrysostom [d. 407 AD] also spoke of 'the Lord being sacrificed and laid upon the altar and the priest standing and praying over the victim', summarizing the sacrificial language about the Eucharist which had also become accepted practice. Therefore the apostles, too, were represented as priests" (THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION: A HISTORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE, Vol. 1, THE EMERGENCE OF THE CATHOLIC TRADITION (100-600). Have Catholic leaders and theology, you ask, ever taught that the bishops (and, by extension, priests) "are meant to be served by the laity?" In fact, yes: Actions speak louder than words. Theology says that the ordinand is a "priest" (it also says the ordinand is a presbyter, but this Vatican II retrieval from primitive Christianity is generally downplayed). The phrase "priests on pedestals" comes to mind. We are told that the ordinand enjoys an "ontological" superiority over the laity. We have the "common priesthood of believers" (the only kind of priesthood in the primitive churches), on the one hand, and the "ordained priesthood", on the other. Only a priest can "confect the eucharist". In short:Revised understanding of sacrifice + Associated cultic priesthood + Imperial bestowal of episcopal civil authority over laity + Subsequent developments = Clerical culture, i.e., elevation of the ordained and subordination of the laity. If recent revelations are any indication, this is a recipe for disaster (and I'm not exaggerating). Organizational psychologist Edgar Schein has written that culture endures because it "works". The primitive churches were "flatter". Today, we have hierarchy --- indeed, in spades! And they dress and behave the part. Ain't for nothin' we hear complaints about the hierarchs' "lack of transparency and accountability". Arrogance comes to mind, as well.When we look at the institutional Church of Rome, and when we accept that a culture endures because it "works", one must ask, Works for whom?If you haven't already, you may wish to peruse two articles:+ Robert Egan's "Why Not? Scripture, History and Women's Ordination", originally published in COMMONWEAL and available at James Mackey's "Turning punishment into instrument of love" at Jimmie Mac)The problem is ecclesial culture informed by a theology that separates the laity below from the "priesthood" above.

Matt: One of the things I found so interesting about Lofton's argument is that it actually uses "religion" in the more expansive sense that the Bishops and others have been arguing for and that I have been arguing against in the "religious freedom" debate. My contention has been that the only practices that the government could competently identify as "religious" should involve worship or catechesis, but those so exercised about the threat to "religious freedom" posed by the HHS have been insisting that doctoring or educating is also a protected "religious exercise." To which I ask: How does one teach chemistry Catholicly? How does one perform an appendectomy Catholicly? Mutatis mutandis, you seem to ask: How does one abuse Catholicly? In the case of education or healthcare, the arguments seem to be that Catholicism forms the identity of those performing the profession and thus is an intrinsic part of what they do because it suffuses their understanding of who they are. Why couldn't this also be true of the sex abuse that happened in the Church? It seems to me that it is actually more likely that we could apply the label "religious" in this case, because the people in question were clergy and the institution they represented was a church. As for your French example, I don't imagine that you mean to suggest that theology is like a foreign language that could be quite easily translated into English? E.g. "God" in Christianese means some psychological reification of your father in English. This is a position that some take, but usually it is with the intent of showing that there is actually no real content or additional claims being made in theology that are not already covered by "secular" language. I expect that theological speech is different because of the concepts that it uses and to what and how those concepts refer. So, for instance, priests don't have a job, but a vocation. They aren't certified; they are ordained. Believers don't join the Church, like a country club; they are baptized into it. I take it that "vocation" is not just Christianese for "job," but it is actually saying something different. Also, what it describes is something different. So, if theological language is being used in the perpetration of abuse, then it seems plausible that something different might be going on. Just as we would not want to assume that some Catholic nurse saying she feels "called" to heal is simply a theological rationalization of her job, we might not want to so quickly assume that the theologically-framed self-understandings of either the abuser or abused are simply religious rationalizations.One of the difficult questions that Lofton raises is: When is "religion" synonymous with "rationalization," and when is it "authentically religious?" Catholics might want to say that the "religious" self-understanding of the nurse is "authentic," but that the "religious" self-understandings of the abuser and the abused are just "rationalizations." But, what are the non-circular criteria of analysis here? Who gets to decide that their "religious exercise" is actually "religious" over against those other apparent manifestations of "religion" that are not really "religious?" I think that Lofton is suggesting that if it looks like "religion" and talks like "religion," then scholars of "religion" ought to treat it as such. And, as troubling as it might be, maybe practitioners ought to as well. Otherwise, we might perpetuate a "religious" problem by failing to embrace "religious" reform.

Joseph--Your answers are touching on my comments about the erosion of the authority of the church. You are right in talking about infantalizing the laity and the priesthood above with the laity below. This has been the traditional teaching that has been implied in the church for years. My point is that the breeches occurring because of the sex abuse scandal has blown that theory. Melinda Gates this week said that she felt no compulsion as a Catholic to back away from her stance on making birth control widely available to third world countries. She said, and rightly so, that their situation demands it. Think of the rapes etc. that these women endure. Her point was dismissive about her role as a catholic. It has no bearing on the needs in these countries.

Eric states that "priests don't have a job, but a vocation." This says it all. That is precisely why the sex abuse scandal is worse in the church than anywhere else. The church had a standard of morality to uphold. The church will suffer for this scandal for many years to come, and it will undermine their authority. Eric's last statement about "perpetuating a religious problem by failing to embrace 'religious' reform" has truth in it. Unless the church sees all of the implications of this crisis, they are going to be hard pressed to irradicate the faulty thinking throughout the church that led to such agregious actions within its walls.

I tend to disagree with my good friend James Mackey that "blood sacrifice" is a late invention of the Constantinian Church. "I think the root of the Church of Romes sex abuse crisis is the doctrine that the Father sent his only begotten Son to die for us on the cross in order to effect our salvation. This was not part of primitive Christian belief, which stressed the importance of helping neighbor in need and remembering the self-sacrifice of Jesus entire earthly ministry."But the NT itself has Jesus say "The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for the many" and the Eucharist is presented as his blood poured out for the remission of sins. Stretching cause-effect reasoning so widely could lead to arguments against any reference to God, since it could be argued that the idea of God introduces confusion into the minds of sex offenders, who use religion to undercut the gravity of their actions.We need to carefully limit this kind of reasoning, because it can easily become quite nihilistic.

"As Ive noted, with a change in the meaning of sacrifice to that of the sacrifice of the Son by the Father would come also the need for ritual/cultic *priests*. A priest, regardless of religious background, by definition mediates between God/gods and human beings. It is this religious positional status that elevates the priest above the people. As Jaroslav Pelikan observed, Chrysostom [d. 407 AD] also spoke of the Lord being sacrificed and laid upon the altar and the priest standing and praying over the victim, summarizing the sacrificial language about the Eucharist which had also become accepted practice. Therefore the apostles, too, were represented as priests "The problem, however, is that Jesus himself is represented not only as a sacrificial offering (Romans 3.38ff. I Cor on "Christ our Pasch is sacrificed" etc. etc.) but also as a Priest, who offers the perfect sacrifice (Hebrews).

Eric Bugyis: I would say that Kathryn Lofton is engaging in guilt by association. Shame on her. She's going to give religious studies a bad name by engaging in such ridiculous nonsense.As to the Catholic bishops and their fortnight for religious freedom campaign, the Catholic bishops don't want to come clean about the role of bishops in transferring priests against whom allegations of sex abuse had been made. As a result, the bishops want to change the topic of the discussion from the priest-sex-abuse scandal to something else -- anything else! To Americans, freedom of religion sounds as American as apple pie. So the bishops have decided to try to use freedom of religion as a way to change the topic of the discussion, at least in Catholic circles.However, just because the Catholic bishops in the U.S. have been rather foot-loose and fancy-free in the way in which they have gone about formulating their "cause" regarding freedom of religion in the U.S., Kathryn Lofton and you should not interpret their bad example as a cue for you to follow their bad example and put together your own version of foot-loose and fancy-free thought about the priest-sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church.Instead of following their dubious way of proceeding to put together a patchwork of stuff under the heading of freedom of religion, you and Kathryn Lofton should recognize that the bishops are nutty. In short, you and Kathryn Lofton should not aspire to follow their nutty example by constructing a nutty case under the heading of religious studies.

The Fortnight for Freedom, the sex abuse scandals, One Direction, peanut butter and xylophones have this in common: none of them have anything to do with one another.

Thomas: I should make (have made?) clear that I am using Lofton's argument about taking "religious abuse" as a proper object for the study of religion from a scholarly, third-person perspective and thinking about its implications for my participant perspective as a Catholic. So, any concerns regarding "guilt by association" are mine, and I'm not exactly ashamed about them. If our religion abused, then we should be worried about that.Thomas and Jim: The connection to the "Fortnight for Freedom" is mine as well, and the point there is that the Bishops are playing the same "what is religion?" game as scholars of religion. So, if there are insights from religious studies concerning what constitutes a "religious practice," it would be helpful if the Bishops would take heed. Thomas, you seem to agree with me that the Bishops are making a category mistake in claiming that healthcare and education are protected "religious exercises." Jim, you seem to agree with the Bishops that protected "religious exercise" is more expansive than worship and catechesis. But how expansive and why? It seems to me that Lofton's analysis might help us think through that question. When, for example, do things done by clergy in the name of religion, like claiming institutional autonomy from legal authority, fail to qualify as protected religious practice? From a scholarly perspective, pace Lofton, when do they fail to qualify as religious phenomena at all?

Eric,The long series of questions in the last quote you give from Lofton in the post itself strike me as an amalgam of the straightforward, the muddled, and the tendentious.As for your own question (at 4;55 a.m.): "When is religion synonymous with rationalization, and when is it authentically religious? The title you give your post seems to suggest an answer with regard the sexual abuse of children.

"My contention has been that the only practices that the government could competently identify as religious should involve worship or catechesis"I believe you are mistaken in your contention. I'll explain why below."One of the things I found so interesting about Loftons argument is that it actually uses religion in the more expansive sense that the Bishops and others have been arguing for ... In the case of education or healthcare, the arguments seem to be that Catholicism forms the identity of those performing the profession and thus is an intrinsic part of what they do because it suffuses their understanding of who they are."I find Lofton's concept of religion, as described in your post, to be badly flawed, and to the extent that her analysis depends on her flawed take on what religion is, it may explain why I find her so offensive. That her notion of religion, and the bishops' notion of religion, are both more expansive than your constricted notion, doesn't mean that her notion and the bishops' notion are the same. I think it's pretty clear that the bishops don't consider "religion" to be what Lofton does. It is not mere "identity" - if you take "identity" to mean "the state of having been initiated into Catholicism" without all of the connotations and implications that flow from that sacramental reality - that is what Catholic individuals, and the leaders of Catholic institutions and associations like Notre Dame, Catholic hospitals and Catholic social service agencies, assert in protesting the HHS mandate. In fact, Lofton (and you?) wants to bracket out the very thing that makes Catholicism a Christian *religion* rather than a mere voluntary association of humans. You quote her as saying, "Religion as a category has no meaning if it is merely saved to designate ideal practice." In fact, it is the practices in conformance with the ideal - the principles, the standards, which were bequeathed to us by God, culminating in his Son who is God's Word and who came to fulfill the Law - that serve as the measure of our fidelity to our faith. Obeying that Word, in all its breadth and depth, is the essence of what it means to be Catholic and live a Catholic life. This explains how it is that a surgeon who removes an appendix can do so in a Catholic way: if she became a surgeon and maintains her professional competence in response to a call by God to this vocation; if she is performing this surgery as an act of love toward the ill patient; and if she is doing it in a way that respects the medical-ethics standards taught by the church's teaching authority; she is, in fact, performing a "Catholic" appendectomy. Her actions, her principles and her way of life well up out of her Catholic faith. And she should have wide latitude to live her faith this way in US civil society.Abusing minors, or aiding and abetting the abuse of minors, is a perversion of that fidelity. It doesn't well up in response to one's faith in God. It comes from some other source. It is, quite literally, not-Catholicism. Whatever it is - surely a crime and a sin, whatever else it is - it is the opposite of responding to, and obeying, the Word.

Robert Imbelli: I'm not sure what answer you are reading into the title of my post, but I should clarify that the claim that abuse and its cover-up can be an act of "religion" doesn't imply that this abuse is, was, or should be sanctioned by religious authorities. It simply means that religious concepts and practices shaped the culture in which such acts were made possible, and thus, to adequately deal with the problem, we have to address the specific *religious* culture in which it arose. It cannot be the case that there is ideal Catholicism, on the one hand, and all that sinful stuff the heathens do, on the other... Jim: You are right that Lofton brackets the theological content of Catholicism. But, if we were to replace it, the story might go something like this (h/t Augustine): Sin, as the failure to achieve an ideal state, can only be judged as a species of that ideal and the relationship in which the sinner stands to it. Unless we want to slide into a Manichean view of the world, in which Evil is the equal and opposite counterpart to the Good, we are always going to have to deal with sin as some failure of the Good. So, when sin occurs in the Church, this means that the Church is falling short of embodying the Good. It's not the case that there is some positive force called non-Catholicism that is attacking a religiously pure Catholicism, but within Catholicism there are more or less successful instantiations of the ideal, which we do not grasp fully (otherwise, it wouldn't be so hard to live it). When sin occurs, it behooves us to examine our collective Catholic consciences to figure out which parts of the religion are "non-ideal" and fix them.

A potential benefit: Lofton and her colleagues will learn how strange their vocabulary seems to non-academics. For sake of argument suppose they have discovered or are about to discover a root cause that has escaped notice until now. I suggest that if they want to publicize their discovery they will have to run their prose through a truth in advertising filter. For example, Lofton's statement "While our conclusions are preliminary, our clamor for more work in this vein is absolute. There will be no true healing, no true reconciliation, and no true justice, absent the practice of humane interpretation" converts to "We have no idea what we're talking about so clearly more research is needed. There is an urgent need for us to discuss our latest high-minded concepts with our like-minded colleagues at more well-funded conferences."Observe how the truly adept negotiate and perform.

I believe the answer given by Eric above is true. We cannot possibly address sins of the church unless we examine practices of the church that are less than ideal that may have fostered sinful behavior. The church cannot be on the defensive, but rather must be on the offensive in examining itself and rooting out practices, attitudes, and faulty ways of thinking which may have led to the sinful abuse.

It's not nice to have this turned around on you is it? How many people have tried to lay the blame for child molestation at the feet of the structural and cultural failings of secular liberalism? "The sixties made them do it" has been the working hypothesis of a lot of people. So the question is, are there structural pieces that contribute to the incidence and perpetuation of sexual abuse of children, and are any of those present within the Catholic Church? Calling them "religious" strikes me as moving to the conclusion way too fast, but you CAN deduce similarities among institutions involved in high profile abuse cases:1. Male centric 2. Clear hierarchical authority 3. Distinctive culture -- many who are part of the organization are convinced of its separateness and uniqueness and have a very strong motive to maintain that separateness and give it the benefit of the doubt when it is challenged by detractors and accusersThis is what the PSU football program and the Roman Catholic Church have in common, and I think Horace Mann has two out of three (all but the first). In other words, sexual abuse occurs in many settings, and is always first and foremost the responsibility of the perpetrator, but there may be some settings in which it is able to thrive and permeate an institution because institutional features make it difficult to address. Indeed, the same features that might make the institution strong in some respects make it vulnerable to opportunistic abusers in others. Individual perpetrators explain the incidence of abuse. What explains the failure to deal with those individuals as a forthright and normal law enforcement matter? If it isn't (one hopes) the fact that those in authority excused or encouraged horrible wrongdoing, what was it if not the gravitational pull of institutional norms and values?

Why the topic, with varying views here, is important is that man faithful are "tired" of the topic and wish it would end.They understand the humanity of their clergy but also expect professionalism in their dealing withe faithfulThis also involves also the management of clergy by their overseers, the bishops and up the line.The Sandusky case highlighted two important points here:-the desire by the institutions that oversee such people to tamp down the problem rather than confront it.-As the PA Atty General noted. we need to continue to strengthen the call to listen to the children first and foremost.Yet it strikes me that the Church leaders, despite nice words, continue to fight as hard as posible to continue institutional protection as in the continuing Lynn (possibly Bransfield to come) , Milwaukee civil suit and the KC Bishop Finn trial.The Chutch has its own governace and secrecy as a special problem in this and it's hardly resolved.Unless a better effort is made to tranparently deal with violations of public trust and their handling, the Church has a special problem = rooted in the nature of that trust.In reading this thread and others, I have little confidence we'll move forward in that direction as issues of internal loyalty and obedieince seem rather critical as opposed to the common good not to mention horrendous crime.

Eric,you write above: "It simply means that religious concepts and practices shaped the culture in which such acts were made possible, and thus, to adequately deal with the problem, we have to address the specific *religious* culture in which it arose. It cannot be the case that there is ideal Catholicism, on the one hand, and all that sinful stuff the heathens do, on the other "Evidently, in the matter under consideration, the failure was that "religious concepts and practices" did not shape the "culture" sufficiently. Let's start "simply" with Galatians 5:13-25.As for your reference to "heathens," I much prefer the discernment with which you began: sinners -- they and we.Nor is it some abstract "ideal Catholicism" that was transgressed, but Christ and his body in the bodies of those violated.

Robert, I'm not sure that we are that far apart, except that I would like to also entertain the possibility that the Church's culture was/is being shaped by the wrong "religious concepts and practices." If, as Augustine tells us, we "see now through a glass darkly," then sin does not only affect our will, but our intellect as well. So, the "sin" in question could just as easily be in the concepts as it is in the sinful actions "rationalized" by them.

Eric,You write, "One of the things I found so interesting about Loftons argument is that it actually uses 'religion' in the more expansive sense that the Bishops and others have been arguing for and that I have been arguing against in the 'religious freedom' debate."This is not quite right. At most, the bishops are arguing that everything Catholics do ought to be an expression of their faith. Whenever they do what Christ and his church bid them do, they are practicing their religion. Lofton is arguing that everything Catholics do, whether in accord with the church's teaching or not, counts as religious practice, since whatever they do, they do as Catholics. This is true but trivial. When I go for a jog, I jog as a Catholic; when I was the dishes, I was the dishes as a Catholic, etc. Catholics also sin and break the law as Catholics, but that does not mean that their sinning or lawbreaking is attributable to Catholicism and can therefore be reasonably described as "Catholic religious practice."If a doctor, having taken the Hippocratic Oath, uses his medical knowledge to poison someone to death, the murder is not to be described as an example of "medical practice." The important thing is not the connection between his professional formation and his knowledge of which pills in which combinations would be lethal. The important thing is that harming a patient is a violation of a physician's most basic duty.Because Lofton's definition of religious practice is actually more expansive than the bishops' definition, you cannot endorse the former while continuing to reject the latter as insufficiently narrow.

It simply means that religious concepts and practices shaped the culture in which such acts were made possibleThis may be the same question raised by Father Imbelli, but I would think the religious concept that made such acts possible is the Fall, no? Has it been shown that Catholics abused children more than other religious, more than others in position of authority, for example, school teachers, counselors, etc? If not, I'm not sure what could be particularly Catholic about it.

In addition to seconding my esteemed colleague's comments, I think it's worth noting that Lofton's bald assertion that most abusers repeated their behavior with multiple victims, often in multiple parish locations doesn't square with John Jay's research, which found that most priest-abusers were one-time offenders.

Matt, The concepts we use shape the way we think about ourselves, our actions, our responsibilities, etc. So, if a priest, for example, is encouraged by a clerical culture and theology of ordination to think that he is ontologically distinct in a way that colors his entire way of being in the world, it seems plausible that he might interpret his actions through that lens as being theologically legitimated by who he is. Some lay people might also share this interpretation, and then you have a situation in which the entire clerical-lay relationship is mediated in and through the performance of theological conceptions of what it means to be ordained or not. How is this not the *definition* of a "religious practice?" As for the physician example, would you not say that physician-assisted suicide is an example of medical practice, legitimated by certain questionable concepts of health and well-being? Furthermore, would it not be the task of the medical community to clarify and/or reject such conceptions, if they were found to support bad medical practice? Lastly, I'm not sure Lofton's concept is more expansive than the Bishops. She is talking about ordained ministers of the Church relating to believers often in ecclesial contexts (e.g., confessionals), and the Bishops are talking about lay people and non-Catholics (and a few clerics) relating to other lay and non-Catholic individuals in mostly non-ecclesial contexts.

Matt,Thanks for your response to Eric's original. Your take on this makes a lot of sense.A

In prisons other prisoners act with hostility to abusers of children and the elderly. These acts of abuse are truly abominations. Though the cover-up by the bishops and others is more serious I do not excuse any individual for abusing children. One really cannot blame the culture for it because then most in that culture would be doing it not a small percentage. Perhaps one could allow for those who have been abused though I am not sure. The whole idea relies on the baseness of human nature which succumbs to sexual or authority pressure whether in sex abuse or genocide. In that sense we might allow this notion to gel with the "we are all sinners" approach. At the same time no one can be exonerated from sexual or genocide abuse. The human person can resist the culture. And those who do give humanity hope. Even Jesus seems to agree that the we are all sinners approach does not apply when he said that a special punishment is in store for those who abuse children.

The notion that every single thing a Catholic does is a Catholic act seems to ground her claim that "sex abuse cases are also cases of religion." That reasoning could be extended in every direction to show its absurdity. It reads like dressed up guilt by association. When cops cover up for abusive cops, do we draw the conclusion that there is something about police work that causes abuses and cover ups? What about sexual abuse that takes place in a medical setting? In an educational context? Lofton doesn't adequately distinguish between the acts of abuse and the scandal itself. People aren't scandalized by abusive priests -- although their behavior is, let us all acknowledge, deeply damaging and criminal. People are scandalized by the failure of church leaders -- and not only bishops -- to respond adequately to the crime of sexual abuse by priests. And certainly the clerical culture is partly to blame. But there is something fatuous about calling a multivalent, pervasive destructive behavior like sexual abuse "religious activity." I can't imagine Lofton would feel comfortable calling sexual abuse in Africa -- which, according to a 2009 study, owns the highest rate of child sexual abuse in the world -- "African activity." Abuse happens because adults with disordered desires and impaired impulse control find opportunities to molest. They find such opportunities in many professions and vocations (including, not incidentally, that of the parent) across all settled continents.

Grant, Why couldn't one of the valences of the "multivalent behavior" of sexual abuse and its cover-up be "religious?" Why should it be treated by medicine, psychology, sociology, cultural and gender studies, anthropology, and every other discipline of human analysis, but preciously secured from religious studies and, I would add, theology? I imagine there are plenty of scholars studying Africa who are concerned with the particularities of sexual abuse and its prevention as it manifests itself in that context, which is no doubt informed by notions of identity, gender, and authority that are intertwined with the self-understanding of the people in that region. A quick Google search of "sex abuse in Africa" yields this well-footnoted article from Wikipedia:, which reports that "Anthropologist Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala has recognized the 'virgin cleansing myth' [the mistaken belief that if a man infected with HIV, AIDS, or other sexually transmitted diseases has sex with a virgin girl, he will be cured of his disease] as a potential factor in infant rape in South Africa." So, it's not completely "fatuous" to think that local beliefs might contribute to the perpetration and perpetuation of sexual abuse.

John Jays research, which found that most priest-abusers were one-time offenders.Grant, I am sure you can cite the relevant stats for your assertion. In a cursory search I find that figure to be 56% which applies to single allegations rather than single time. At any rate if you can help give me the citation I would appreciate it.

Having dealt with abusers in severa; professions, it's surely true they are predatory opportunists.But how they were and are managed is a real question in violations of trust.I still think the Church suffers here due to the fact that its principle m.o, is its own law code which (despite the many legal counsels that help insulate folks up the chain of command in civil society ) seem to insulate them more from accountability but also because ,despite pleas they are "doing all they can," fight very hard to retain their their security.Grant is right that this is not only scandalous but criminal and, despite what happens eleswhere (I'll be very interested in Mr. Freeh's work on the Penn St. Administration) the question of justice within the Church resonates -given its status in regard to value issues.BTW, saw on the news last night that alumni contributions to Penn St. have increasedf!Where your treasure is... The god of football does wonders.What about the God of our Church who is thought to speacially grace those who govern??????

Eric,You write, "As for the physician example, would you not say that physician-assisted suicide is an example of medical practice, legitimated by certain questionable concepts of health and well-being?"This adaptation of my analogy would only pertain to the current discussion if the church, or some non-negligible part of it, taught that because of the special ontological dimension of the priesthood it was OK for priests to molest children. Of course the church has never taught this, nor does its theology of ordination imply it.Any theology can, with a little imagination, be abused by those looking for excuses, or blamed by those in a hurry for an explanation. So an anti-Christian responding to any crime committed by any Christian might say, "What do you expect from people who call themselves the children of God, and believe they have been ontologically elevated by their baptism? Those specially favored by the Creator Himself naturally consider themselves better than the rest of us and can hardly help believing they are exempt from certain constraints that apply to mere pagans." Silly, yes, but not much sillier than the travesty of Catholic moral and sacramental theology according to which a priest's sins are "theologically legitimated by who he is."

Bill: It's in John Jay's "Nature and Scope" report. From page 6:

The majority of priests (56%) were alleged to have abused one victim, nearly 27% were alleged to have abused two or three victims, nearly 14% were alleged to have abused four to nine victims and 3.4% were alleged to have abused more than ten victims. The 149 priests (3.5%) who had more than ten allegations of abuse were allegedly responsible for abusing 2,960 victims, thus accounting for 26% of allegations. Therefore, a very small percentage of accused priests are responsible for a substantial percentage of the allegations.

That last fact is one of the reasons I resist single-explanation theories of the crisis.Also note this from page 4:

We detected 310 matching encrypted numbers, accounting for 143 priests with allegations in more than one diocese, eparchy or religious community (3.3% of the total number of priests with allegations).

That also contradicts Lofton's claim about the behavior of "most abusers."

Eric: Perhaps what Lofton plans to post will clarify what she means when she describes sexual abuses committed by Catholic priests as "cases of religion," but what you linked to doesn't go much beyond assertion. I didn't say that nothing about Catholicism can help us understand why the abuses occurred and why church leadership failed miserably to address them. It doesn't take a PhD in religious studies to recognize the way clerical deference contributed to the crisis, or they way it compounded the ambient culture's aversion to acknowledging sexual abuse (or much about sexual behavior at all) -- especially at the height of the crisis -- to say nothing of its tendency to trust institutional authority in a way today's would not.

Eric --I think that problems with the meanings of "Catholic" might be alleviated somewhat by contrasting the uses of "Catholic" as a noun and the uses of "Catholic" as an adjective. As a noun it often signifies something which *constitutes* a Catholic as as Catholic, e.g., participant in the Mass or believer in infallibility. These are essential characteristics (given the usual uses of the term). As an adjective it often describes a distinctive Catholic characteristic (e.g., wears ashes on Ash Wednesday), but it sometimes describes a characteristic which is only highly associated with Catholics. An example of the latter: an Thai agnostic might enjoy celebrating St. Patrick's Day with his friends while not be a member of the Church. Would his celebration be a Catholic one? No, not in any *essential* sense of "Catholic", but in a cultural sense of "Catholic", I think the answer is yes. Ambiguity, ambiguity..

"If our religion abused, then we should be worried about that."Eric --You seem to assume that "our religion" is some subsistent reality which has the prooperty of being able to decide to do x or y. But it isn't. It's a complex process with individual humans who decide to do x or y.If that's not your meaning of "our religion", what is? (Yeah. Hard one :-)

Matt, I think many people feel that a "non-negligible" part of the Church, i.e. the hierarchy, obviously thought that the way they were handling cases of sexual abuse was "OK," not to mention that the "non-negligible" clerics who committed acts of abuse must have thought at some point that what they were doing was "OK." And if either party used theological concepts to get to these "OK" conclusions, it seems important to examine these concepts.Grant, I certainly didn't mean to imply that anyone needed a PhD to follow this discussion. I do not think that it is a trivial point, however, to see that things like "clerical deference," "aversion to...sexual behavior," and the "tendency to trust institutional authority" were/are underwritten by theological understandings of clergy, sexuality, and ecclesiology. So, an analysis of these theological loci, and others, seems appropriate in addressing the specifically "religious" dimensions of the crisis.

Eric: When I mentioned aversion tosexual behavior, and the tendency to trust institutional authority, I was referring to the wider culture.

Ann, I totally agree: "Ambiguity, ambiguity..." As for religion being a "subsistent reality," I take it that concepts shape us as much as we shape them, and so, it's not entirely clear that religion is just a matter of "individual humans who decide to do x or y." Take the Cologne circumcision discussion, for example. Some have argued that circumcision is not a question of individual autonomy and choice, but it is about group identification and "being chosen." I'm not a big fan of this argument, but I understand its plausibility. We are determined by our religions as much as we determine them.

Grant, I see. But those became/become theologically buttressed within the Church, independently of the wider culture. No?

Is everything that is "Catholic" also "religious"? Again, ambiguity rears its ugly head.

"But the NT itself has Jesus say 'The Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for the many'and the Eucharist is presented as his blood poured out for the remission of sins."In his FROM AGE TO AGE: HOW CHRISTIANS HAVE CELEBRATED THE EUCHARIST, Edward Foley observes:"The word 'sacrifice' occurs often in the New Testament, especially in the letter to the Hebrews and in the book of Revelation...While comfortable with sacrificial language, the New Testament writers are not literalists and do not equate Jesus' dying with any temple or Passover sacrifice; nor do they give the impression that Christian table fellowship is in continuity with the practice of Jewish sacrifice. Rather, they evoke and build upon an authentic and *spiritual* understanding of sacrifice."The Old Testament provides very clear guidelines regarding the physical aspects of sacrifice, as this practice was at the heart of temple worship. Yet, it is clear in Jewish theology that the physical aspects alone, especially the destruction of the victim, were not the central point of sacrifice; rather, the interior disposition of the offerer was critical. The prophets, in particular, made this point..."One of the theological lenses that the early Christian community employed to think about Eucharist was sacrifice. This sacrificial lens, however, in no way implied any literal or physical understanding of the Lord's Supper as a sacrifice. Rather, it betrayed an understanding of the Lord's life and death --- and the summation of his life and death in meal sharing --- as fundamentally self-giving. The table gatherings of the early community celebrated the complete self-giving attitude of the incarnate Word, and rehearsed a similar attitude in the follower of Jesus through the breaking of the bread and the sharing of a cup of wine..." (pp. 30-31). Translating this insight into modern-day application, it would be no different than someone exclaiming, "I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into this project" --- a statement not to be taken literally. From the above, we should take away two points: (a) The scriptural passages use metaphorical language, and (b) Jesus' entire life including passion and crucifixion is an act of self-sacrifice. Jesus is not being sacrificed by the Father. It would stand to reason that primitive Christian communities would not have "priests" since (quoting Hebrews 7:26-27) "Jesus, then, is the High Priest that meets our needs...He is not like other high priests; he does not need to offer sacrifices every day for his own sins first and then for the sins of the people. He offered one sacrifice, once and for all, when he offered himself." Elsewhere in Hebrews, we read, "Let us, then, always offer praise to God as our sacrifice through Jesus, which is the offering presented by lips that confess him as Lord. Do not forget to do good and to help one another, because these are the sacrifices that please God" (He 13:15-16). It's interesting, too, that Hebrews was written about the time of the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple, an event that would mark the decline and eventual end of the Jewish priesthood. Even before then, as James Burtchaell has noted in his FROM SYNAGOGUE TO CHURCH: PUBLIC SERVICES AND OFFICES IN THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES, "t]he local synagogues had already chosen to deny priests any special privileges or position..."