Wineke: Ordination may be the religious problem

Wineke: Ordination may be the religious problem

An Australian court has convicted Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell of child abuse.

Pell, who until several months ago headed Vatican finances and was considered the third-most powerful priest in the church hierarchy, is just the latest prelate to be convicted on such charges. He follows in the footsteps of former Washington, D.C., archdiocese Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

A week ago, Pope Francis presided over a meeting of the world’s bishops called to devise a Catholic answer to the worldwide question of clergy child abuse.

From what I can see, the bishops concluded that, this time, they are finally serious about facing the issue. They seem to conclude that every time they face the question.

The Catholics are not alone. Headlines a week ago noted the Southern Baptist churches in this country have their own histories of prominent clerics behaving not just badly, but criminally.

But we single the Catholics out because they have such a long history of confronting the problem, raining down crocodile tears of remorse and promising to root out evil in all its forms. Then we find out the people promising to do the rooting are also culprits.

The anti-Francis movement in the church blames a culture of homosexuality within the church for the problem. But homosexuality does not lead to child abuse.

What leads to child abuse is proximity to children and a likelihood that you will never get caught.
And I think part of the problem is ordination. In the Catholic church, ordination is a sacrament. It is called the holy orders, which form the basis of the entire hierarchy. The sacrament sets aside deacons, priests and bishops and invests them not just with authority but with an air of holiness.

Most priests see ordination not as license or privilege, but as obligation. One reason the system has been so unable to change its culture is that it believes the hierarchy is heaven-sent. When it is challenged, the whole structure of the church is threatened.

As for the rest of us, and those of us who are Protestant preachers, I don’t claim we are superior. One reason you don’t hear more about our foibles is that there are comparatively fewer of us, split into a myriad of denominations.

We aren’t morally superior to priests. But our ordination calling doesn’t shield us from public scrutiny in quite the same way.

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