St-Peters-Basilica

February 11, 2014

The “Corporate” Catholic Fallacy

If I may be allowed an Olympic metapor, had the press covered the Opening Ceremonies in the same fashion with which they covered the concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; they would have lingered on the statement of Thomas Bach, who said: “Yes, it is possible — even as competitors — to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.” They would have done this at the expense of a stellar performance by the Russian performers and the engineering genius that created animatronic constellations of athletes floating through the air of the Sochi Stadium. To put it another way, the words of Mr. Bach, affirming “tolerance,” like those words of the Committee condemning “sexual abuse,” are hardly the main story.

Yesterday, I argued that the core of the Committee’s statement was by-and-large an incoherent criticism of Catholic moral teaching. That controversy does not concern me here. Rather, in the statements of the Committee which actually address the sexual abuse of children, there is an implicit fallacy. We will call it the “Corporate Fallacy.” It’s proponents, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, believe, in the words of Dr. Robert Kennedy: “That the Catholic Church operates like an international company, with its headquarters and leadership in Rome and its subordinates scattered about the globe.”

Consider the following remarks from the report:

While being fully conscious that bishops and major superiors of religious institutes do not act as representatives or delegates of the Roman Pontiff, the Committee nevertheless notes that subordinates in Catholic religious orders are bound by obedience to the Pope in accordance with Canons 331 and 590. The Committee therefore reminds the Holy See that by ratifying the Convention, it has committed itself to implementing the Convention not only on the territory of the Vatican City State but also as the supreme power of the Catholic Church through individuals and institutions placed under its authority. (pg. 2 par. 8)

The Committee appreciates the numerous activities taken at grass-roots level and funded by Catholic churches,… The Committee however notes the absence of a comprehensive child-rights based approach to the allocation of resources to children and the lack of a system to track the spending on children by the Holy See, as well as by church related organizations and institutions, in other States parties where the Holy See has influence and impact. (pg 3 par 17)

The Committee is however concerned that the Holy See has not established a mechanism to monitor respect for and compliance with children’s rights by individuals and institutions of a religious order under the authority of the Holy See, including all Catholic schools, as well as the Vatican City State. (pg 4 par 19)

Amend both Canon Law and Vatican City State laws to explicitly prophibit all corporal punishment of children, including within the family; Establish mechanisms to effectively enforce this ban… (pg 8 par 40)

…the Holy See has still not adopted a comprehensive strategy to prevent abuse and neglect in the home. (pg 8 par 41)

Develop comprehensive procedures for the early identification of child victims of sexual and other forms of abuse… (pg 14 par 61)

“Comprehensive,” “mechanisms;” what do these words mean? I admit, I don’t know. Perhaps the Committee desires that the Church should establish committees in the spirt of the UN to deal with abuse problems. They seems to believe that each instance of abuse, every violation of a child’s “rights” can be avoided if only there was some office or department assigned as a watchdog and enforcer. Strange that this should come from the UN, who ought by know simply by virtue of its own existence, that a multiplicity of committees and departments is no guarantee of effective performance.

The UN in its resolutions and actions relies not only on its own infrastructure, but upon the governments and various non-governmental organizations which exist in each of the member states. How many people does it take to carry out the will of the UN? Between Ban Ki Moon and the bureaucrat who actually enforces a resolution are thousands of lobbyists, representatives, lawyers, journalists and world leaders. Now consider the Catholic Church. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. The Vatican, simply by virtue of its limited size could not institute the type of “comprehensive” changes the Committee wishes, because the Church doesn’t exist as a centrally planned organization.

There are two ways to be “comprehensive.” At a summer camp, where I worked for a time, each campsite needed to be cleaned every week. This included the latrine, the beachfront, the bear box, the campfire ring, etc…. The staff was simply too small in number to carry out this massive operation every week, so we enlisted the scouts to do it. Because every single scout took it upon himself to clean up his tent site, the whole camp was cleaned in a matter of minutes. This is how the Church gets things done, through the work of her clergy and laity spread throughout the world. There is no office in the Vatican which has decreed that Mrs. Brown in room 207 at the Pleasant Valley Senior Living Center needs hotdish brought on the days she has dialysis; a good member of a local parish figured that out and took the responsibility upon herself to make it happen. The Vatican exists as a means of ensuring theological consistency and ecclesial unity throughout the Church. They cannot possibly, however, be expected to keep track of every priest, in every country, in every diocese. There has to be another way to be on the watch for abusive priests.

If I may speak more broadly for a moment, there is also some considerable stupidity bandied about concerning how the Catholic Church should treat priests who are guilty of sexual offenses. “De-frock them!” comes the cry from certain critics. Thats all well and good, in so far as it satisfies a rather primitive desire for justice. But the proponents of de-frocking (and possibly excommunicating) offending (or even suspected) clergy overlook the most obvious fact. Should the Catholic Church defrock these priests; they would lose all (that’s right, all) control over their activities. By maintaining as members of the clergy these men who have committed both sin and crime, the Church is in a position of influence over what they do and where they go. To that end, in my own diocese, the media leveled criticism against the local bishop and his chancery because a priest who abused young boys was paid retirement and bonuses totaling over $2,500 a month. The obvious point is that if a priest is financially dependent on the diocese, the diocese can, in a manner of speaking, keep that priest on a leash. As any college student will admit, the requests of mom and dad are all the more potent after they have alleviated the financial woes of their children. Thus, you cannot demand that the Church control the slim minority of priests who abuse children while at the same time criticizing the Church for letting them keep their collar and their paychecks. Those are the means by which the Church controls her clergy.

What does the UN’s confusion about the Church’s structure mean for lay Catholics? What can a single concerned parishioner do to respond to problems within the Church, it is those questions I turn to tomorrow.


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  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    Excellent! Thank you for your spirited words!

  • Bob Fauteux

    Mr. Goerke: I am a practicing 69-yr-old Catholic, a grad of Cath primary and secondary education, and, at undergrad level, of Georgetown (1966). I take my God and my Church seriously, read and pray and think about these matters (almost) every day. Fact of the matter is—no matter what the eccesiology or theology may say—the R. C. Church operates in many respects (inappropriate word, given the circumstances) like multinational corporations. So Dr. Kennedy’s “corp fallacy” quotation is more accurate in fact than however accurate your allegation may be in theory. I have to laugh bitterly when litigation-vulnerable U.S. dioceses have proclaimed that the bishop doesn’t control the parish properties throughout the diocese—to limit, of course, their seizable assets—when the bishop is, at least often, the legal president of each parish corporation and his pastors have less legal/financial authority (perhaps prudently) than low-levels managers in most businesses. No, the U.N.’s “confusion about the Church’s structure” is more the curia and global episcopate’s sad confusion about what being a servant of Christ and his faithful means.

    As a young man way back in the early 1960s I considered a priestly vocation (not, I might add, a CAREER in the clergy). Looking back in recent years, I have considered it a gift of Providence that I did not pursue the priesthood because of concerns that I might not be adequately obedient to my clerical superiors. And, each time I reflect on this prescience, I say a prayer of thanksgiving to God (not a toast to any special intelligence of my own).
    Best,
    Bob Fauteux