Secrecy and Celibacy: The Catholic Church and Sexual Abuse (a History Talk podcast)

By | September 3, 2019

Eric Michael Rhodes: Welcome to History Talk,
we’re the podcast that brings together experts to discuss current events and historical perspective. My name is Eric Michael Rhodes and I’m here
with my co host, Lauren Henry. Lauren Henry: Hi, Eric. Over the last two decades, the Catholic Church
has been buffeted by a series of sexual abuse scandals. High profile investigative reports have uncovered
cases of sexual abuse of minors, both boys and girls by Catholic priests, nuns and members
of religious orders. In 2002, the Boston Globe’s investigation
of sexual abuse committed by priests in the Boston area brought the issue to national
attention in the United States. Yet the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic
Church is truly global in scope, with cases reported in Australia, New Zealand, Canada,
and countries in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. What makes the Catholic Church such a rife
environment for sexual abuse? How did these scandals reflect the history
of the church? How does the church respond to this problem? And how might the scandal shape its future? Eric Michael Rhodes: In this episode we’ll
seek to answer these questions and more and an exploration of the historical context and
contemporary ramifications of the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church. We’re very fortunate to be joined today by
two highly esteemed experts on the subject. First, we have Professor Wietse de Boer who
teaches history at Miami University. Professor de Boer is a specialist in medieval
and early modern Europe and is the author of this month’s Origins feature on the longer
history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Thanks so much for joining us in the studio
professor. Dr. Wietse de Boer: It’s a pleasure to be
with you. Thanks for inviting me. Lauren Henry: We’re also joined by Professor
Alexander Stille of the Columbia School of Journalism. Professor Stille has worked as a contributor
at publications including the New York Times, La Republica, The New Yorker magazine, The
Boston Globe and the Toronto Globe and Mail where he’s published extensively on the churches
sexual abuse scandals. We’re so happy to have you on professor. Dr. Alexander Stille: Thanks for having me. Eric Michael Rhodes: So to start off, how
did allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church first come to light? Dr. Alexander Stille: In the recent history,
sexual abuse allegations have a particular departure point. In, I think it was 1984, or 1985, a lawsuit
was brought against an abusing priest in the state of Louisiana in the United States. And that tipped off the papal nuncio in Washington,
that they had a problem. They had to hire a lawyer and the lawyer began
to look into it. And they also appointed a Canon lawyer in
the Washington embassy in effect to the Vatican, a man named Thomas Doyle, who began looking
into this question. The lawyer on the case and Doyle, the more
they looked into it, they reported back and said the church has a big problem. There are many more of these potential suits
out there. We better do something. So that was the beginning of it. And in fact, during the late 80s, and during
the 90s, particularly in the United States, cases of this kind began making their way
through the legal system. Most of them were settled out of court for
substantial sums of money in order to keep them quiet. The court records of those cases were generally
sealed and people signed nondisclosure agreements not to talk about the contents of them. But bit by bit, some of these things came
out into the open. There were groups formed in the United States,
one called SNAP, which was a group that was meant to support people who had been victims
of priestly abuse. Parallel investigations began to happen in
places like Australia, Ireland. And so by the late 1990s, early 2000s, there
was quite a lot of information that was making its way into the public. And then, as you mentioned in your intro,
a spotlight case in Boston, which was a big investigation carried out by the Boston Globe
newspaper, brought things out into the open in a very, very substantial way, and also
indicated that people in the church in a very high level had covered up and known about
the levels of abuse, generally transferred offending priests to other places in order
to keep things quiet. But it should be said that there was a great
deal known already. Even before that the allegations against the
founder of the Mexican Order of Legionaries, Marcial Maciel, were very well-known already
in the 1990s. It’s been making its way into the public arena
for nearly 30 years. Eric Michael Rhodes: So Professor Stille we’ll
be diving into the deeper history with Dr. de Boer, but sticking with this most recent
history, why did it take until the 1980s for this to be investigated? Dr. Alexander Stille: I think that because
there were a series of cultural changes that needed to happen for these kinds of things
to gain public attention. Number one, pedophilia and sexual abuse of
the young was something that had, in general, been ignored legally and in society. And there began to be a greater consciousness
of that as a crime that needed to be pursued vigorously. Number two, the church of the past had enjoyed
an incredible degree of impunity for things that priests did. Classically, there were cases for decades
in which if police learned about a wayward priest who had done something wrong, had a
drinking problem, was arrested in the gay bar, was accused of getting a girl pregnant,
or molesting a boy, this was brought to the attention of the bishop. The bishop was a very respected person in
that area. The police in a sense, let them handle it
privately, as assumed to be church business that would be settled quietly. And of course, many of the police, at least
in the United States, in many diocese were themselves Irish and Italian Catholics. So they were kind of part of in a way of a
cultural system that allowed this to stay in house. Newspapers didn’t pursue these kinds of stories
for similar reasons. And that culture began to change. The church could no longer count on the same degree of impunity, when things like this happen. And so families that in the past would have
accepted a bishop’s admonition not to talk about this, was no longer willing to do it. And then you also have things like the Internet
happening in the 1990s, that greatly facilitated communication so that people in Arizona would
know about cases in Minnesota, would know about, you know, victims in New Jersey, who
could then get together and communicate in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to in the past. So a number of different things coming together
to make it hard to do. And then there’re also from what the studies
that have been done, priestly abuse, particularly when it comes to the young, appears to have
increased and peaked in the late 1970s, we can later get into why that might be. But the problem itself certainly existed before,
but it may have increased in the period just before these abuses then began to be made
public. And so the frequency may have also been a
factor in bringing it to light. Dr. Wietse de Boer: Well, one thing that I
would like to to emphasize and to confirm is that up till quite recently, cases of sex
abuse, as well as other offenses committed by clergy were very much considered to be
an internal matter of the church. And we can talk more deeply about the system,
and particularly the legal arrangements that led to this kind of handling of these cases. Professor Stille is absolutely right about
this. Eric Michael Rhodes: So we’ve talked a little
bit about the United States context. But what is the scope of the sexual abuse
scandal in terms of regions affected? Dr. Alexander Stille: Well, the truth is that
almost everywhere, where there are substantial numbers of Catholics, this problem exists. You know, when you read the works that were
done in Australia, when you read the report that was done in Great Britain brought before
the House of Commons, when you read about the things that happened in Irish convents
and monasteries you read about South America or Malta, Germany, it’s always the same story
because the clerical system that is in place in the Catholic world throughout is very,
very similar. And so we can’t quantify the degree of abuse
with a great deal of precision. But the pattern seems to be remarkably consistent,
which is that you have a world in which, which is homo-social in the sense that it is an
all male priesthood that is often given considerable responsibility over small children. There are various environments in the world
that tend to lend themselves to abuse. I mean, in some cases, you see it in summer
camps and prisons and men who are supposed to be not sexually active and therefore, whose
sexuality has been repressed, its normal channels forbidden, are suddenly in charge of the lives
of children and of centenarians. So abuse takes place when abuse is reported. You have a system that is set up to enforce
silence, the church has a deep tradition of wanting to avoid scandal, the good of the
the church is considered to be superior to the particular harm done in this or that individual
case. And so even if people were to complain, it
would come to the attention of a Bishop or Archbishop. That person’s attitude would generally be
for the good of the church, we shouldn’t talk about this. They would try to convince the complaining
family to keep quiet about it. And when that didn’t work, they would then
hire lawyers, would try to discredit plaintiffs, in some cases, intimidate them by the legal
power that they could bring to bear. And when that didn’t work and the case moved
forward, they would come to a settlement, make a financial settlement and insist on
a nondisclosure agreement. And then they would generally deal quite lightly
with the offending priest. One thing we didn’t mention in the earlier
discussion that I think changed and was a contributing factor in this problem growing
in the way that it did is the church itself, I think, also didn’t understand the nature
of sexual abuse as well as it needed to. They were sort of operating on a kind of sin
model. The people doing this were guilty of the sin. If they repented or got treatment, they could
then be put back on the straight path. They were not well acquainted with the psychology
of people who tend to commit these kinds of crimes. You don’t easily reform somebody who is a
serial sex abuser and pedophile and so operating on this kind of sin and atonement model. They then kept these people in the church,
they didn’t de-frock them, they transferred them somewhere else, maybe gave them a little
counseling. They began to have centers where these people
could have treatment. But they rarely accomplished anything and
these people then would commit the same kind of crimes again. And that pattern is true in virtually everywhere. Where we’ve seen cases is almost always the
same story because the system is remarkably uniform around the world. And the system is set up to protect the institution
of the church and not the people suffering these kinds of abuses. Dr. Wietse de Boer: It’s correct that this
has a very deep history, and it goes back centuries, all the way to the Middle Ages,
when effectively the Roman Church developed a parallel legal system that is still called
canon law, which had a remarkable degree of jurisdiction, particularly over the lives
and the rights of clergy. And so clergy enjoyed remarkable degrees of
immunity from prosecution in civil courts. What that means is that cases that came before
Bishops or other ecclesiastical courts, such as the Inquisition, which comes to take on
responsibility for the prosecution of what is called solicitation cases, and that is
sexual abuse cases, that these institutions, Catholic institutions, prosecute these cases
internally under the strict obligation of secrecy. Then what happens to the accused, whether
found guilty or not, remains behind closed doors. And again, we can talk a little bit more about
the circumstances in which this culture of secrecy became even more, let’s say, institutionalized
over the century starting with the time of the Reformation. Lauren Henry: What is the history of secrecy
in the church? How does it function? What are the reasons for it within the church,
and how does it really enable these kinds of situations? Dr. Wietse de Boer: The fundamental issue
is that in the history of the Catholic church, there’s been a very long pattern of deep seated
pattern of tensions between states and the church. It goes back to the Middle Ages, when the
European monarchies and other territorial states begin to object to the forms of what
they see as judicial interference. And that ranges from the right to tax to the
right of jurisdiction, property rights, but also as is most relevant here, the rights
of clergy. That issue, that kind of tension becomes full-blown
during the time of the reformation. What you might call the 16th century sexual
abuse crisis is very much at the heart of that issue. The situation is that in the early 16th century,
there is a great amount of criticism of the church as an institution. There are charges of corruption. Most people have heard of the indulgence affairs
that Martin Luther objected to, but there’s also a pervasive form of anti-clericalism. Priests are often accused of being ill-trained,
of displaying immoral behavior, of being drinkers and gamblers, as well as abusing women. The image of the lecherous priest is almost
a stereotype in the early 16th century and a famous humanist like Erasmus makes jokes
about it, and publishes these jokes. What happens then, is that as the Reformation
unfolds. This becomes part of the wide array of charges
that reformers launch against the Catholic church. What happens then, is that the Catholic church
is thrown into the defensive. There is a sense among reform-minded Catholics,
and including in the higher levels of the leadership, that some form of response is
appropriate. However, those responses are to be pursued
internally behind closed doors. This becomes a pattern over the following
centuries. These confessional disputes polemics, these
controversies don’t stop. Quite the opposite, they linger on for centuries. So let’s say managing this issue, the abuse
of particularly women is what is mostly under discussion in the confessional and in other
environments in conference and becomes also a matter of managing the public relations
of the church. And that continues in the Enlightenment period
with new waves of anticlericalism is revived again the 19th century when the church, after
the revolutions of 1848, develops that kind of empty modernist stance. It’s very concerned about anticlericalism
in various parts of Europe, as well as in the United States. In other words, this culture of secrecy becomes,
let us say, part of the genetic code of clerical culture. Eric Michael Rhodes: Dr. de Boer, would you
just elaborate a bit on an early scandal that emerges in the 1500s, which you write about
in your Origins article? Dr. Wietse de Boer: Right, right. Right at the center of the concerns in the
16th century is the relations that some priests had with women who came to them to confess. Sacramental confession was and is a key part
of Catholic religious life. It was a requirement for all Catholics of
adult age to confess their sins at least once a year to a priest, a licensed confessor since
2015. So it goes way back into the Middle Ages. And then over the course of the Middle Ages,
confession in some environments, particularly urban environments, and among let’s say circles
of the devout takes on a bit of a different character. So the frequency of confession increases in
these circles, and it becomes a regular kind of devotional practice. Confession catches on in form of spiritual
direction as its as it’s called, particularly among devout women, whether nuns or other
religious women or lay women. What that almost inevitably meant is that
you get confressors who established relationships with women. The concern is that this leads to sexual abuses,
urban authority, civic authorities get wind of this and hear stories from families that
are upset an early Inquisition case in Italy that I’ve studied is from the city of ordinary
women that were there was an office of the Inquisition. They receive a furious letter of two male
members of a patrician family in the late 1500s accusing one local brother of having
abused a younger daughter in their family. So at that point, the Inquisition is not even
formally charged with prosecuting these these cases, but they feel compelled to do so because
there is a prominent family that has lodged these complaints. And so at that point, you get the question,
how do we respond to this? One of the big issues having to do with confession
is that confession is protected by the seal of secrecy. So there are all kinds of debates about whether
the seal of confession can be broken or not. And the answer in the end is yes, under these
circumstances, it can and certainly a confessor should tell a penitent a female penitent or
male for that matter who comes up with this kind of allegation that she or he should report
these cases to the authorities. Initially, it’s the bishops but from the late
16th century onwards, this becomes an official charge of the Inquisition. Lauren Henry: The period of the late 15th,
early 16th century, this is a sort of high watermark, right, for Popes having illegitimate
children, sexually active Popes? Isn’t this also part of the kind of allegations
about the corruption of the church? Would that have played a role? Dr. Wietse de Boer: Certainly in the background. One thing that’s very hard to disentangle
in studying these cases is that the Reformation and the Catholic response to the reformation,
often called the counter reformation, is a war of words. So accusations are launched left and right,
back and forth. It’s not always easy to separate fact from
fiction. Lauren Henry: Of course, of course, the historian’s
dilemma. So we have this issue of secrecy and then
we also perhaps have the question about the connection between clerical celibacy and the
sexual abuse scandals. Professor Stille, you wrote in The New York
Review of Books last year that the Catholic dogma of clerical celibacy has, quote, contributed
to the present crisis, endquote. Could you elaborate on maybe how that might
happen, and what the connection there would be? Dr. Alexander Stille: Well, I think it’s really
central to this whole issue. And as the history that professor de Boer
was talking about in the Reformation period indicates the reality is that it’s very difficult
for most human beings to be celibate for their entire life. People are put on the earth to reproduce,
most people seek out sexual partners in their lives. And it’s been the plain reality that people
who have entered the priesthood, many of whom, particularly in previous years, entered the
priesthood for a variety of reasons, other than religious devotion. Had sexual relations with people in a sense,
the church for a long time understood this and turned a blind eye to it. They would periodically try to crack down
on it. But the reality is that throughout the ages,
priests violated their vows of celibacy with regularity. And as Professor de Boer indicated, it was
the licentious or randy priest or monk was a trope, or stereotype in literature going
back many centuries. The problem is that when you outlaw sexuality
and a solid plurality or majority of priests are sexually active, then you’re going to
have sexuality that is, by definition, deviant and out of bounds. In many cases, particularly, you know, during
the period Dr. de Boer’s, talking about it involves priests abusing the confession as
a way of forming intimate relationships with parishioners and then using that to seduce
them. The problem, I think gets even worse when
you go forward in time, into the 20th century where, you know, for many centuries, it was
well-known that many priests had a woman to whom they were close, housekeeper between
quotes, who lived with the priest acted as a housekeeper, but was in fact the common
law wife of the priest. Or you would have these local scandals that
are priests who have a relationship with a parishioner. There was a child born out of wedlock, but
it was hushed up, things of that kind. In the modern era, that became harder to deal
with. At the time of the Second Vatican Council,
you know, which is convened at the end of the 1950s beginning the 1960s. It was the hope of many people and many of
the Bishops attending the Vatican Council that the church would finally deal with this
problem of priestly marriage and at least allow priests who were in effect common law
husbands to legitimate their relationships, allow priests who were not able to live by
the vows of celibacy to remain priests, but do so as married people. Pope Paul the sixth took over the Vatican
Council after the death of Pope John the ____ and despite widespread agreement that there
was nothing doctrinally prohibiting a priestly marriage Pope Paul the sixth closed the door
on that. Remember, this is also happening at the time
of the encyclical against contraception, ________ and a kind of general sort of anti-sexual
moment in the church’s history. And so making priests then live up to the
vows of celibacy, with a greater rigor and than had been practiced before, the hypocrisy
of the past was no longer as acceptable. Also, modern media tended to publicize these
cases, more than was the case in the past. Long and short is I think there was a substantial
exodus of straight priests out of the clergy in the 60s and 70s, and that the clergy increasingly
became, in a way, a closet for gay Catholic men. It was much easier to hide your sexuality
in an all-male environment than to hide a relationship with a woman, because the people
you might be having sex with may work may have been part of your own ____________ may
have lived in the seminary, where you lived, and so on and so forth. Many of these people, I think, entered and
there was interesting long article on this, just in today’s New York Times, based on interviews
with Catholic priests, gay Catholic priests, many of these people entered the priesthood
believing as good Catholics, that their homosexual tendencies were sinful and wrong. They were hoping that by entering the priesthood,
they could remain celibate, and, in a sense, avoid the crisis that their homosexuality
presented to their faith. And then at some point, they failed, because
it is very, very difficult to deny that part of your personality and the church, in my
opinion, has never dealt in an honest and forthright way about the fact that the institution
of celibacy has failed. And it’s failed historically and in almost
every era. In the early centuries of the church, priests
and bishops were routinely married. The gospel indicates that Saint Peter was
married because there’s an episode that refers to his mother and his mother-in-law. St. Paul, in one of his letters is asked whether
by his early parishioners whether it’s alright to have sex or not, and he says, “You know,
I remain unmarried. But this is not something that everyone can
do. It is better to marry than to burn,” he says. That wisdom was lost somewhere along the way,
in an attempt to enforce the policy of celibacy. Keep in mind, of course, that the eastern
church, one of the reasons for the schism between the eastern church and the western
church based in Rome was over the issue of priestly marriage. So priests in Greece or Russia or in the Slavic
world married then, of course, with the Lutheran reformation Protestant ministers married. So the church’s position is not based in Christian
doctrine, is based on Catholic tradition. And as a practical matter, it’s failed. And then in the current environment where
it is much harder to maintain the code of secrecy, it’s actually favored a particularly
unhealthy, closeted environment in which sexual abuse tends to thrive. One of the issues I wanted to bring up in
that article I wrote is that even though a minority of priests are abusing children,
if other of their brothers are having illicit sexual affairs, they’re not in the strongest
position to discipline those who are abusing children and secrets they want to protect. They’re vulnerable to blackmail. Everybody knows a lot about everybody else
inside of that very closed world. It’s not an environment that lends itself
to self policing. Dr. Wietse de Boer: One of the unfortunate
things that this has led to in recent debates within the Catholic Church, is the conflation
of the phenomenon of gay priests within the Catholic Church with the sexual abuse crisis. That’s very unfortunate, because studies have
shown that there is no link there between the sexual orientation of the abusing priests
in question and the degree to which they they abused children. So the other thing that I think from a historical
perspective is interesting to note is that we’re, as you know, within conservative circles
in the Catholic church, there has been something of a backlash against the phenomenon of gay
priests within the church, essentially accusing them as the root cause of the crisis. When you look at the longer perspective, you
can see that it’s not same sex abuse, that is the dominant pattern. In fact, when you look at the cases of the
Inquisition, in cases of sexual solicitation, ranging from the late 16th century, all the
way into the 18th century, practically all of these cases are about the abuse of women,
young women, marriageable women, as well as married women or nuns. Obviously, the question is, why is that? Does that mean there was no abuse of boys
or young men? Obviously, that’s not necessarily the conclusion. What is the case is that it was particularly
those offenses against women that made it into the legal system, right, that made it
to the Inquisition in this case. In other words, there’s a very complex history
here, but certainly one that, you know, helps us to put it into perspective, these charges
against gay priests today. Dr. Alexander Stille: But there are a couple
of points I wanted to add on, one to your first point, which I think is very important
to make about the false equation between paid priests and sexual abuse. One of the most interesting but little publicized
findings in the John Jay report that the Catholic church commissioned after the spotlight period
was that the people who abused, they found that among the people they interviewed, the
piece they interviewed, there was a sizeable component of priests, that identified as gay. There were a certain percentage that identified
as straight and a certain percentage that weren’t sure. The abusers were people who are confused about
their sexuality. The priests who identify as gay tended to
have sex with other men, adults. The people who identify as straight tended
to have sex with adult women. It was the people who were in crisis effect
had uncertainty about their sexuality. That so I think it’s again, this to my view,
very unhealthy, any sexual culture within the church, which has in part contributed
to people who have, in a sense a disturbed sexuality. Your point about the fact that in the past,
most of the abuse cases that were least reported were involved women makes a lot of sense. It’s important to remember that, you know,
particularly during previous eras, many people enter the priesthood for nonreligious reasons. You know, there’s sort of a classic case of
in the world of ________, that the first son inherits the estate, the second son goes into
the army, and the third son goes into the priesthood still was a vehicle of social advancement. In many cases, it was an avenue of learning. It was an opportunity to get an education. It was an opportunity to occupy up a place
of prestige and society. There were all sorts of nonreligious reasons
to be a priest, or simply to infer some poor people just to have three meals a day and
a roof over your head. So these people were ordinary men without
that particular dedication, and they ended up doing what most men do, which is to seek
out sexual partners. As I said, I think that the shift that happens
in the 20th century, which increases the percentage of gay priests has to do with the unwillingness
to accept what the church accepted in previous eras, which was that you had a lot of men
who were chasing women and that became intolerable. The church couldn’t deal with either that
or the possibility of married priesthood. And that pushed a lot of straight men out
of the priesthood and made seminaries and monasteries sort of safe closets for gay Catholic
men. Eric Michael Rhodes: How central has celibacy
been to the clerical dogma of the Catholic Church? How has it changed over time, Professor de
Boer? Dr. Wietse de Boer: So as Professor Stille
already said, for many centuries in the early church, celibacy was not established doctorine
at all. That changes in the 11th century, which is
the time exactly of the split with the eastern church, the Orthodox Church. It’s the time of an important reform movement
in the west called the Gregorian Reform. And it’s from that point onward, that celibacy
comes to be an expectation of the priesthood and that there are several aspects to that
and several rationales. One clearly has to do with an association
of abstinence from sexual activity with an ideal of holiness. Priests were supposed to be holy men, the
same way that nuns were supposed to be holy women, to whom the community could look up,
who would pray on their behalf in monasteries, or in parrish churches, and so on and so forth. There is a certain concept of holiness that
gets promoted by these reform circles in the western church. The other thing is, and that’s not something
that’s typically talked about, the church for its existence for its survival depends
on the donations of the faithful in the form of legacies, in the form of charitable gifts,
and so on and so forth. Having a married priesthood would make it
very hard for the church to be able to perpetuate its control over its belongings or over its
possessions, which in the Middle Ages, and the early modern period, consisted largely
of land. So by the end of the Middle Ages, that the
church is the largest land owner in Europe. What that meant was that the expectation,
the rule of celibacy, also had very important implications for the legal rights, the property
rights, and thereby the possessions, of the church. So in technical terms, whenever a person left
a bequest that included a gift to the church, that went into the dead hand as it was called,
which meant that it was perpetually owned by the church. This made it imperative for the church, not
to give rights of bequest to its clergy. Giving priests the right to marry would almost
inevitably entail that instead, priests, parish priests, other kinds of priests, up to the
highest levels of the of the church Cardinals, Canons of cathedrals during their careers
and during their active years, would receive as material support so called benefits is
right. They would obtain often pieces of landed property
from which they would enjoy the fruits as long as they were active and worked his priests
but upon that death, those benefits would revert to the church. So in other words, there are very important
material and legal reasons behind this entrenched system of celibacy. Whether or not of course, those rules were
followed, that’s immaterial to this conversation. Lauren Henry: Well, this has been a fascinating
look into the deeper history of concepts that are often presented as doctrinal requirements. What I’m curious about is the question of
how the sexual abuse scandal fuels and feeds into these divisions within the church. We’re now 50 years after the Second Vatican
Council and those reforms and it seems as if there is as big a divide between different
parties of what the church should look like as there ever has been, or at least in modern
memory, and I wondered if we could talk a little bit about how sexual abuse scandals
may have fed into the divisions within the Catholic Church and how different camps or
different sides have used the sexual abuse scandal as evidence for what they think the
church should look like in a 21st century. Dr. Alexander Stille: For example, the hardline
conservatives in the church blame the Second Vatican Council for, as Pope Paul VI says,
sort of letting the smoke of Satan into the pupil of St. Peter’s. That the Vatican Council, a second council
introduced to kind of the era of moral relativism, anything goes that went well, with the permissive
1960s that led to increased sexual activity. And priests and therefore sexual abuse by
priests increased liberalism with the church lead to people turning a blind eye to the
increasing number of gay priests in clergy and so they see their worst fears about Vatican,
too, confirmed by what’s happening in the current crisis. Similarly, the liberals in the church would
say that the unwillingness to consider a married priesthood has closed the avenue into the
priesthood for hundreds of thousands of men who might willingly come priests and otherwise
are discouraged from doing so. The unwillingness to consider the ordination
of women and the role of the women of the church has contributed to calamitous drop
among nuns and the ban against divorce, against birth control, has contributed to kind of
moral sexual panic within the church, which has created some of the unhealthy atmosphere
that one sees in the contemporary church. So both sides see a confirmation of their
own ideas about what is wrong, and what should happen with the church. So I think you’re I think you’re right that
yes, different ways of reading this crisis has deepened the divisions within the church. And you see quite notably in the letter of
Monsignor Carla Maria di Viganò who actually called for Pope Francis’s resignation, and
blamed him for ignoring cases of sexual abuse in the church. That very much as part of this thing. There now is a quite recognizable cadre of
church conservatives who are working hard to oust a pope they consider too liberal,
even though he’s in fact not changed on the important doctrines on these issues at all. Church liberals are disappointed that the
seeming openness and tolerance that he displayed early on in his papacy hasn’t had a lot of
follow up, and that he has not been as vigorous about pursuing sexual abuse as they might
have hoped as well. You have in some ways, kind of worst of all
possible worlds scenario in the church were both liberals, both conservatives are unhappy,
deeply divided, and it’s very difficult to see what the way out for Pope Francis is without
aggravating those traditions even further. Dr. Wietse de Boer: The current moment is
one of an extraordinary crisis, which I think is also very significant if you take the longer
historical view. So amidst the current culture wars within
the Catholic church, I think it’s possible to receive some very significant and dramatic
ruptures with that very long past of the Catholic church. One is that it’s no longer really credible,
as has happened for decades for church officials to blame the world, quote unquote, for what
ails the church. And particularly when it comes to explaining
the background of the sex abuse crisis. It’s become evident now that there are fundamental
problems within the church. Professor Stille has already commented extensively
on the very understanding of human sexuality and the ways in which it has been implemented
within the structures of the Catholic church and the doctrines of the Catholic church that
has had very serious consequences for the ways in which this crisis has been handled
or has not been handled. The other thing I would say is that we are
now beginning to see the breakdown of the culture of secrecy that we’ve talked about
earlier in this broadcast. It is in a sense, ironically, due to these
internal disputes that have become ever more virulent within the Catholic church, that
calls are being made for openness and accountability by Catholic leaders, regardless of their ideological
stance. So that also goes hand in hand with an increased
willingness on the part of the leadership in the last 15 years or so, particularly in
the United States, to make sure that these cases of sex abuse are no longer handled internally,
but that they are automatically referred to civil authorities. That is really a tremendous change in the
culture and the practices of the church. Implementation is another matter of course,
but nevertheless, this is a major change. Lauren Henry: Thank you to our two guests,
Professors Wietse de Boer and Professor Alexander Stille. Dr. Alexander Stille: Thanks for having me. Dr. Wietse de Boer: Thanks very much. Eric Michael Rhodes: Thanks, everyone. This episode of history talk was brought to
you by Origins, Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication by the
public history initiative, the Goldberg Center and the history departments at The Ohio State
University in Columbus and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Our main editors are David Steigerwald, Steve
Conn and Nicholas Breyfogle. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer
our audio producers and hosts are Lauren Henry and Eric Michael Rhodes. Song and band information can be found on
our website. You can find our podcasts and more on our
website,, on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and anywhere else you get your
podcasts. As always, you can find us on Twitter @originsosu
and @historytalkpod. Thanks for listening. Lauren Henry: See you next month.

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