Fire in the Catholic Church

In April 2019, while the world stared with astonished eyes, the flames destroyed a seizable part of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, the most beautiful cathedral in the world, the one I had visited so many times with deep emotion. But those flames were nothing compared to the devastating fire the Sauvé Report just set on, in the French Church, “the eldest daughter” of the universal Church. It is an overpowering hurricane, an erupting volcano.

The towers of Notre Dame were not damaged, and the rest will soon be reconstructed. But I doubt that not only the French Church but the entire catholic institution may be able to overcome this earthquake, of a shocking scope and reach. The scope and reach of the pain caused by a Church that preaches the Beatitudes of Jesus. Considering what is known and what remains unknown, is there any part of the eclesiastical structure that deserves to remain standing?  Does the disgrace not exceed the blessing? The question may seem unduly important, but it springs from the heart and the lips of many, as if it were a sudden flare-up.

No matter how demolishing are the conclusions of the Sauvé Report about sexual abuses to minors in the Church of France, the diagnostic of the situation is even more demolishing and the report states it in no ambiguous terms: SYSTEMIC. It is not a question of “wickedness” –in which I do not believe- of some sick individuals, even if so many. It is a question of a systemic malady, a pandemia, inevitably derived of the very system on which the old and present ecclesial institution rests. He or she who wants to understand may do so, and may nobody get mistaken about the treatment.

They are not incidents, sporadic insignificant anecdotes, diluted among the countless mass of clerics and religious of the Catholic Church. No. Eclesiastic sexual abuses are systemic, and how should we be surprised when many people consider them “systematic”?. There we have the numbers, the horrors uncovered by them. Clerical and religious pederasty is behind that within the family sphere and friends’ environment –milieus in which, according to sociology, we would find more catholics than non-catholics- ahead of all other social areas: sports, education, free time and entertainment… And anybody can guess that the numbers provided by the Report are too small, because it only gathers those cases for which direct, personal witnesses are available.

Even though we applaud that the very French Episcopal Conference started a strictly neutral investigation, it makes one shudder that it took so long (that we all took so long…), and it makes one wonder if now it did it on its own initiative. And it sends the chills down one’s spine to wonder what the numbers would be if all countries, beginning with those with more Catholics –or this very Spain of yesterday and still of today- would investigate the facts as France did. Against the words that the Gospel by Matthew has Jesus say, “the gates of hell have been able to defeat the Church”. Of course, Jesus could not have known it, because he had never imagined that that movement of spiritual, social and political transformation which was sprouting from those words proclaimed on the hills and plains of Galilee (“blessed are those, the poor, because the Kingdom of God is arriving and it is yours”) would become the system we have today.

The problem is systemic. The perpetrators of the abuses are individuals, but the origin of their behaviour is the ecclesiastical system. The individuals are sick, but the system is wicked. The Manichaean anthropology of sexuality is unhealthy and evil, not to say wicked: the condemnation of all sexual relations as sinful except within the canonical marriage, the taboo and demonization of pleasure, the exaltation of chastity, the obsessive guilt, the repressed desire, the frustrated sublimation manifested in sexual abuses which seeks its compensation in the authority over souls and bodies. The clerical system is unhealthy: the mandatory celibacy, the sacralization of that status, the exclusion of women, the profound homophobia which is so characteristic of homosexual clerics.

The discourse about sin as guilt instead of pain inflicted is unhealthy and even wicked, and so is the discourse about pardon as absolution of the guilt instead of repairing and healing of the pain inflicted. The canonical practice of confession  -which did not exist until the XIII century- is alienating and neurotizing: someone commits a sexual abuse or even rapes someone, finds a priest, confesses having committed a “sin against chastity”, receives God’s pardon from the priest, becomes free from guilt and recovers his/her peace of mind until the next occasion. And as a result of an evil but logical transfer, the abused child or raped youth continues torturing him/herself, continues feeling guilty of the abuser’s or rapist’s guilt –who received absolution in confession. That is hell.

It is all right that the pope, France’s Episcopal Conference and the Conference of Religious recognized their deep sorrow and absolute shame. But it is not enough. Just as hardening the punishment for the “guilty” will not be enough. There are no guilty people, but wounded people, and those who hurt are also hurt. And we have to cure all: first, the victims and then those who inflicted all that pain. Abolishing the secret of confession will neither suffice (it would be better to abolish the very sacrament of confession or penitence in its actual form). If we want that hell will not continue to defeat the Church said to be of Jesus, it is necessary to let the flames devour the system, its roots and theological and canonical bases, and transfigure it completely with its Canon Law, its clerical model of church and all its theology and its patriarchal and Manichaean anthropology. “I came to bring fire to Earth and how I desire it were burning!”: Jesus did say that, although it should not be necessary that he would have said it.

And that the Church be –I do not say that it be again- what Jesus dreamt for that Galilean movement, with no borders, or taboos, or power systems. And that not worrying about itself, its dogmas and canons, should dedicated in body and soul to the most urgent and necessary task: the respect, care, and healing of all those wounded, the holiness or the health or the salvation of life on Earth.

Aizarna, October 7th, 2021
Translated by Mertxe de Renobales Scheifler