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image Stephen Boehrer gives a studied voice to those who care about the abuse of clerical power; who want to see the church leadership return to its original servant character. He writes of people abused by this leadership with the force of someone who believes bishops can change their culture.

Steve is available for speaking engagements and for reading group meetings via phone conference or personal appearance.

Voice of the Faithful
To support survivors of clergy sexual abuse; To support priests of integrity; To shape structural change within Church

SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)
The nation's largest, oldest and most active support group for women and men wounded by religious authority figures (priests, ministers, bishops, deacons, nuns and others).

Call To Action
A Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the Church and society. CTA believes that the Spirit of God is at work in the whole church, not just in its appointed leaders.

Richard Sipe: Priests, Celibacy and Sexuality
Serious discussion of problems highlighted by the sexual abuse and betrayal of minors at the hands of trusted clergy.

Collecting information that exposes bishops who have abused children or vulnerable adults, or have aided abusers.

Commonweal Magazine
The oldest independent lay Catholic journal of opinion in the United States.

America Magazine
A Jesuit magazine; The only national Catholic weekly magazine in the United States.

American Catholic
For Catholics, all Christians and seekers.

U.S. Catholic magazine
Committed to voicing and raising the questions American Catholics grapple with.

LCWR (Leadership Conference of Women Religious)
Association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States.

National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management
Organization of laity, religious and clergy working together to promote excellence and best practices in the management, finances and human resources development of the Catholic Church in the U.S.

USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Child and Youth Protection

Crusade Against Clergy Abuse
To inform, seek support and encourage others to be active in seeking long term church reform that will protect children, support victims, and make the hierarchy of the church accountable for their actions and inactions.

Rescue and Recovery International
Assists survivors of clergy abuse with their emotional, psychological, financial, and spiritual needs as they attempt to recover from the effects of sexual abuse.



In our time the facts of the clerical sexual abuse scandal too often leads Catholics to hope the horror disappears from the media and quickly move out of our memories. We should rather, I suggest, stare at the facts and magnitude of the scandal and ask why, and keep asking why until we know its cause, and know how to stop it from continuing. According to scholars like Richard Sipe and Thomas Doyle, sexual abuse of children by the clergy has been with the Church for centuries.

I hope in my talk today to increase our understanding of the "why." Why did it happen?

So, we will start in that dark place, and move toward the light.

My talk will be in three parts. The first part will be a brief review of the scandal to put us all on the same page. The second part will look at the relationship of the laity to the bishops, following an historical trail from the first century to the era of revolutions, the American and French revolutions. In part three we will look at revolution as an historical fact and its relevance to our discussion. We will conclude with the state of the relationship - laity to bishops - in our times, what we might do to improve it and wherein lies hope.

PART 1 : A quick review of the scandal in three scenes:

Scene 1: The victims of child sexual abuse - to put us all on the same page as to the horrors of this victimization.

Scene 2: The priests: the pedophiles.

Scene 3: The behavior of bishops, world-wide, as they related to both pedophiles, victims and parents of victims, and to the general public..

Part 1, Scene 1: The Victims: Thousands upon thousands of children (Over 11,000 known; estimates to 200,000): from infants upward through adolescence, boys and girls. Father pedophile didn't just touch these children, an over-exuberant hug, or some such touch. In many instances, Father Pedophile raped, fellated and sodomized them. The horror for the children penetrated deeply precisely because they were betrayed by someone who was on a pedestal, put their by their parents, and by their Catholic culture. They were victimized by men who were considered more than pure by a laity conditioned to think that way. Trusting and admiring the priest, the children were helpless in the abusive situations. The consequence to the children has been psychological debilitation of varying degrees and longevity, sometimes lifelong, and too often life-ending in suicide.

Part 1, Scene 2 : The priests . (Over 5,600 accused or convicted in USA). First, we must remember that at least ninety-one percent of priests were not pedophiles. If some broke their promise of celibacy, they did so with consenting adults, men or women. Richard Sipe, (A psychotherapist, author and former lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a scholar who has spent over forty years studying celibacy and violations of celibacy by priests) estimates that fifty percent of all priests honor their celibacy promise, and at one time or another, fifty percent do not. "Of the latter fifty percent, thirty percent are involved in heterosexual relationships, fifteen percent are involved in homosexual relationships, and five percent are involved in problematic sexual behaviors such as transvestitism, exhibitionism, pornography, or compulsive masturbation". He now estimates that nine percent of priests have involved themselves sexually with minors, up from a prior estimate of six per cent.. "The minor may be either male or female, so the behavior can be either homosexual or heterosexual depending on the sex of the victim. Twice as many victims are adolescents as are prepubescent children. Of the nine percent of priests involved with children or minors, both heterosexual and homosexual orientations are represented." In this regard he adds that the predominant factor is the sexual attraction to children and minors, and that homosexually oriented priests, even though more victims are boys than girls, are no more likely to be abusers than are heterosexual oriented priests.

As to the priest abuser. Again from Richard Sipe: From his practice and a review of nearly 500 histories of priest abusers and nearly 1800 victims he sees a division of abusers into four types. "1. The genetically programmed. Like intelligence, the psycho-sexual development of some people is genetically programmed to stop at some level." He gives the example of the priest who repeatedly victimizes only high school sophomores. 2. "Abusers who are programmed by early relationships." For example, they themselves were abused as children. 3. The specifically clerical type." "It is clear," he says, "that the institutional church fosters a pre-adolescent stage to psycho-sexual development. This is a period, typically prior to 11 years of age, when boys prefer association with their own sex. The institutional church structure, although it surely includes individuals who have matured beyond it, is dominated by and entrenched in a level of functioning that cannot face the sexual realities of adolescence, let alone mature male and female equality and sexuality." 4. "The coldly immoral group." These men "coldly, calculatingly, by design, involve themselves sexually with minors because they want to. They choose it, not compulsively, indiscriminately, or impulsively. They make a moral choice, a choice for evil."

Because of the mystique of holiness and purity surrounding the priesthood, the abuser was welcome in families, often single mothers who saw him as a substitute father figure for her children. Single or married, they trusted their children to this priest in the privacy of the rectory, on excursions like camping trips, even as baby sitters. Father Pedophile violated those children and imprisoned them in secrecy by threat of penalties up to and including damnation for both the child and for the child's parents. When children did tell their parents they were often not believed. Father would never do such a thing! When they were believed, and the parents tried to get help for them, they often went to their bishop. His reactions bring us to

Part 1, Scene 3 : The Bishops:

*You are a good parent. You protect your children. You move them carefully from safe zone to safe zone. It never enters your mind that your parish is anything but a safe zone.

*One day your nine year old child is taken from the playground by the pastor, Father Pious, to the rectory, where he sodomizes the child, threatens the child with hell for himself and his parents, and other dire consequences if he tells anyone.

*You see a change in your child, uncharacteristic behaviors, quiet and withdrawn or acting out. You persist in questioning the child until you get beyond the child's fears and the story comes out. You work through your initial disbelief, and realize the child is telling the truth.

*What to do? Seeing your seriously damaged child you want to kill the abuser, but work through that. Do you go to the police or the priest's superior, the bishop? You decide that you will start with the bishop. Surely he will get the rapist off the streets and offer you some help with paying for the care required by your emotionally damaged child.

*You probably won't get to see the bishop. Rather some chancery official will meet with you, listen to your story, nod sympathetically, and promise you that he will give all the information to the bishop. He's confident the bishop will take action.

*If you do get in to see the bishops, he will listen. At first he is conciliatory, verbally sympathetic. He will tell you that this is the first time anyone has made such an allegation against Father Pious. However, he will talk to Father Pious, and get his response to the charges. Should he find them factual, he will see that the priest will never again have the chance to violate a child. It is, of course, vital that the whole matter be kept secret. It will do no good to bring scandal to the church. So, if you promise not to make the matter public, i.e. take it to the police, and promise not to sue, he might be able to help financially with the child's care.

*You don't see where your rights have to be compromised, and you tell the bishop that. The bishop stops being conciliatory. He turns from sweetness to hard ball and orders you to be silent about the matter, under threat of ecclesiastical penalties.

*Within days you are contacted by the bishop's attorneys They really play hardball. If you sue, it will be the child's word against that of the pious Father Pious. Moreover, they would counter-sue to protect the priest's good name. They will, they insinuate, bury you in debt forever.

*Where are you? You are out in the cold, and so is your child. Father Pious has the bishop and all of the resources of the church on his side. What you don't know then is that there are thousands of abused children like yours, and thousands of parents like you across the country.

*You later discover that Father Pious has been transferred. At first you don't know where to. Then you find out he's in a parish across the city, or in another county, or in another state. In every case, he has access to children. You also discover that the bishop's statement to the effect that your complaint against Fr. Pious was the very first complaint was a bald faced lie. It was a common ploy used by bishops.

In short, the bishops did nothing or nothing effective to protect your child and other children. And they had the ability to do so.

*The bishops had another audience to deal with once the scandal broke in the secular press. Revelation after revelation of abuse happened. All over the country. Their actions to cover up were also revealed. They mounted a campaign to contain the damage, and transfer responsibility away from themselves.

1. They hired costly attorneys to help prevent disclosure of diocesan records that supported victims' claims. And attorneys to minimize the costs of court awards to victims.

2. They marshaled costly public relations firms to spin the damage down. Soon we heard excuses like:

-most priests are good priests. The implication being there are always a few "bad apples."

-priests are only human. Raping a child is human???

-what would you expect from the liberal spree and permissive attitudes unleashed by the second Vatican Council? (Ignoring the fact that pedophilia has been a church problem from the earliest centuries)

They turned to scapegoating:

-the gays did it. The idea being that since most of the victims were boys, it must be a homosexual thing. (The idea was shot down by knowledgeable psychotherapists with long experience of dealing with the priest abusers). Still, the bishops mounted a campaign against homosexuals as in "They shouldn't be ordained."

-we were told to understand that children can be very seductive temptors and temptresses, sexually enticing. Suddenly, it was the childrens' fault.

-they tried to project the abusers as the real victims.

-bishops tried to project themselves as fighting for the "common" faithful. (Common is their word- we'll come back to that). The common faithful would be the real victims since they would have to pay the bill to these money-hungry complainers. Where's the justice in that? So, they said, it isn't about justice.

-the victims want the money that would go to our catholic charities. Is that fair?

-the church is on the verge of bankruptcy because of these money grabbing victims.

-why don't they just 'suck it up" and get on with their lives. Life isn't fair.

-The truth is the bishops lied. In deposition after deposition, with proof of their complicity staring them in the face, they denied it. The lied under oath.

That brings us to:

The Question: How could bishops behave in this manner?

That's the real mystery in all this. How could bishops behave in the way I've described, the way they actually behaved. Why no real empathy for the victims? Why never a face to face apology between a bishop and a victim? Why did they keep transferring sexual predators to places where a new supply of potential victims, children, waited unaware of the horror to come? Why are they still fighting input from the laity (with the exception of attorneys - who by the way have an interest in winning, not justice), in a host of matters. Quote from Peter Isely, our Wisconsin SNAP leader, in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin (2002). "The bishops have claimed time and again that they have changed. But over the last decade, they have inexplicably left out of their equation for change the victims of the sexual abuse crimes, the very voices they need most to hear from." Why didn't bishops bring victims into the solution at the very beginning?

I hope in the remainder of this talk to shed some light on exactly "How could they!" Where did their behavior stem from? Were the bishops simply ignorant that keeping pedophiles loose among children wasn't the "moral" thing to do? Ignorance may be part of the why, but these are men with advance degrees who posture as moral leaders. Were they simply evil ? All these bishops in the western world? I don't think so. We're not dealing with an exact science here, but I am persuaded that the answer to "how could they?" is also the answer to other questions. E.g.: What are the obstacles to structural reform? What specifically should be the target of reform? Why aren't women given full equality in the church? Why is the wisdom of the laity treated as not worthy of a hearing?

I suggest that the answer lies in the unique culture and the behaviors that bishops have been conditioned into. In a homily I heard recently, a Milwaukee priest related a science teachers lesson. If you throw a frog into boiling water, the frog will instantly leap out and save itself. But if you put the frog into water at room temperature and slowly bring the water to a boil, the frog won't get what's happening, and will perish. That's culture. We swim in it. We think and act out of it, and think and refrain from acting out of it. We simply do not reflect on it, or if we do, we are sure that our culture is far superior to any other. Culture is defined as "the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another."

The culture of our church leadership (the hierarchy as they refer to themselves) differs greatly from the one you and I live in.


I'll begin this part with simple question you can answer in your heart. Do you think there would have been a sexual abuse scandal if bishops had asked the laity, parents of small children, do you mind if I place an accused Father Pedophile in your school?

I: In this part we will look first at how potent and effective the wisdom of the laity was in the first four centuries of the Christian Era. Then we will look at how the Christian message was tweaked and reshaped in the fourth and fifth centuries, and how this tweaking caused the laity's wisdom and voices to fade and become nearly impotent in the following centuries.

We will then jump quickly through thirteen centuries to look at the state of the Church just before the French Revolution, near the end of the 18 th century. We will gauge the strength of the laity's voice and wisdom at that time.

We begin with two examples of the power of the laity's wisdom and voice. 1. From the Acts of the Apostles. (Ch. 15) In brief, some Jewish Christians came from Judea to Antioch and began telling the gentile Christians they were required to observe Torah, including the practice of circumcision and food restrictions. The gentile Christians reacted strongly, in effect saying, what's circumcision (imagine the adult male reaction) or food got to do with anything Jesus taught? The church, i.e. those gentile Christians sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem (the Vatican of the time) with their complaint and their wisdom, and their voice prevailed. Can you imagine today the church, i.e. you and me, sending a bishop anywhere? With our message?

2. The Council of Nicea, 325 A.D., condemned a heresy, Arianism, which stated that Jesus wasn't quite God. He was the highest of all creatures but still a creature. Arianism, however, did not die from its condemnation. The emperor Constantius II favored it and exiled Pope Liberius for his refusal to support it. Eventually, Liberius, in exile, gave in to the emperor and returned to Rome. The people would have nothing to do with him, and in fact, began to turn to an anti-pope, Felix. "The people would not even go to the public baths lest they should bathe with the party of Liberius." (I don't believe they thought the heresy could be contracted that way). Liberius got the message. To quote Cardinal John Henry Newman (Arians of the 4 th Century) "The Catholic people, in the length and breadth of Christendom, were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops were not." The people had preserved orthodoxy. Powerful voices again. And again a Pope, Liberius, listened to the people and made a U-turn; he reversed his teaching.

II. What happened to that powerful wisdom and voice, that partnership between laity and bishop? A change of significant proportion infiltrated the Christian message beginning in the fourth century. That change was completed and permeated the Church only a century later. What was that change? Christianity lost its original egalitarian character!

It is important, I think, to spend some minutes on how this came about - and later on its implications. The emperor Constantine gave legitimacy to the Christian religion in the early fourth century. And he favored the church in many ways. However he did not nor could he force Christianity on a population steeped in paganism. This imperial lack of power was especially true in regard to the Roman aristocracy, who possessed power and wealth that was critical for the support of the emperors.

The aristocracy I am speaking of were those of senatorial rank. They carried identifications like Illustres (the illustrious), Spectabiles (the spectacular, the noteworthy) and Clarissimi (the outstanding, the brilliant). They wore these appellations, these titles, with great pride, much as today some wear the titles of Your Excellency, Your Eminence, and Most Reverend.

What united the aristocracy was the 'status' culture they shared. The deepest concern of aristocrats was their 'status' in their world. Max Weber, the noted sociologist, makes these distinctions: "Class" is based on wealth, e.g. middle class, upper middle class, upper class, etc. Party is based on power (Democrat, Republican). "Status" groups are based on honor, however that is conceived. The Roman aristocracy was a status group for whom 'honor,' as they defined honor, was everything. Honor for them was aristocratic standing, and aristocratic standing came from peer recognition. Only by meeting the expectations of their peers would anyone gain acceptance, the guarantee of aristocratic standing. So to be in the group, you had to play to one another within the confines of this group..

The aristocracy of those times was very rich and very powerful. While both the emperor and the bishops wanted to convert this group to Christianity, they were unable to force the conversion. They had to appeal to the aristocracy on its own terms. There was no way that this status group was going to relinquish the status center of its existence. Consequently, the Christian leaders had to use terms and concepts that were attractive to and consistent with traditional senatorial values. In short, they had to appeal to and not threaten the status concerns of the aristocracy.

Bishops were able to make headway in converting aristocrats because they found ways to assure them that this new religion was not only not a threat to their status concerns, but in fact supported those status components.

What were those status concerns? Above all, of course, was honor. Acceptance and recognition by peers, other aristocrats, was the most basic component of the aristocratic status culture. What brought them this acceptance and recognition? Social conventions such as friendship, (one received honor from the number and prestige of one's friends), family networks, nobility (nobility was an attribute derived from either noble birth or high office), the correct religion (aristocrats often sought a pagan priesthood for the honor it brought. Participation in rituals, festivals, etc. carried the honor), patronage, (honor coming from the status of the clients they represented in the Senate and from construction of temples and the like), recognition for high moral character (or its display), recognition for having an intellectual life, and wealth.

Christian leaders and preachers shaped the Christian message to appeal to aristocrats and their concerns. Let's take a look at a few of those "shapings."

HONOR: the key element. Bishops started the claim that the greater honor did not come from secular offices, but from ecclesiastical ones. Honor derives from leading the Christian life.

FRIENDSHIP: taken into a Christian context. Friendship was preached as "a relationship that furthered spirituality." Note however, that it did not make friendship a relationship that went beyond the status group. It was confined to the group and fostered honor. It was no longer an egalitarian relationship. It was not a friend is a friend for the sake of the friend, (Socrates) but for the honor. It was not Jesus saying, "I call you friends because I have taught you all that the father has taught me."

WEALTH: We hear men like St. Ambrose saying, "There is no crime in being rich, only in not employing one's wealth in proper fashion." Wealth was justified because it could be used for charity, redeem the sin of greed, and, again, bring honor to the donor.

PATRONAGE: as in e.g. the status of clients they represented in the Senate or building a church. Paulinus of Nola, a bishop, preached how the poor will "place you above their own children...In all the churches, they pray for you, in all of the public places they acclaim you." Thus, patronage was also prestige and honor centered, self centered.

INTELLECTUAL CULTURE: which for aristocrats conveyed power and honor. Christian leaders boasted that they were heirs of a literary culture as old and as prestigious as any of their pagan contemporaries. They prided themselves on possessing a religion of the "word.."

NOBILITY: This term was used to recognize both achievement and high birth. Christian leaders acknowledged this but pointed to Christian piety as having greater value in determining nobility. True, but the examples they pointed to were men and women who met the traditional standards of nobility, i.e. the aristocracy.

So, when the aristocracy came to adopt Christianity, their status culture remained almost unchanged. There were minor changes, e.g. charity for the poor was more emphasized, but now it had a downward, not an outward (to equals) direction. The Christian message had been tweaked. All of the aristocratic cultural components we mentioned entered into the Christian vocabulary. And as this occurred, as the Christian message was shaped to appeal to the aristocracy, we find that the bishops assumed to themselves the aristocratic cultural components and loaded the office of bishop with elite and aristocratic status.

For their part, Christian emperors aided this process through promulgation of laws. They extended aristocratic privileges to the bishops.

- bishops could not be accused in secular courts.

- bishops were given judicial authority that could not be challenged. They were given the power of distributing justice. Today we might call it "Aristocratic justice," Justice meted out by a Lord. Didn't we just see a lot of that attitude in the bishops' treatment of sex abuse victims?

- Clerics were given tax exemption.

- All of this power was attractive to aristocrats.

Conclusion: By the middle of the 5 th century, the office of bishop was sufficiently loaded with status to attract aristocrats. In fact, by that time aristocratic status was a virtual qualification for bishop in much of the western world. Christianity was now a caste system for all practical purposes, having its own aristocracy and its own peasants, the bishops and the laity. The original egalitarian focus of Christianity was lost. Public recognition, honor, the sought-after goal for an aristocrat, came with the office of bishop.

Just a few words now on the lifestyle of the aristocracy in classical times. Both men and women of this status group took extreme pains with their dress. They had their slaves clothe them each day in expensive clothes and jewelry. A purple border adorned the senatorial toga as a sign of rank and distinction. ( I had to bring in the purple here.)

Their homes were lavish and lavishly appointed.

Their daily lives were centered on leisure and leisure activities: "writing poetry, letters and orations; hunting, dining, socializing, sailing, traveling, arranging marriages, and attending horse races and circus games." In all of these activities, leisure was used in the pursuit of honor from their peers. Let me point out that being a bishop became for the first time a full time job - leaving plenty of time for the requirements of leisure.

Aristocratic women avoided physical work. Men, on the other hand, did work. But they looked upon high public office as their distinctive domain. If an office didn't bring distinction, aristocrats spurned it.

Now, let's fast forward thirteen centuries to the late 18 th century, the time just before the French Revolution. It is a time that has been called the golden age of princes, a time when the magnificence and display of monarchy and aristocracy was at its zenith. The aristocracy had strengthened itself considerably in the time between Louis XIV and Louis XVI. They now numbered about 400,000 in France. They were a privileged class in areas like taxes. The chief tax, called the taille , (taal) a direct tax was mostly left for the peasants and middle class to pay. Aristocrats and clergy were exempt. Distribution of justice remained in their hands. If the Lord's son raped your daughter, you had to go to that Lord for any sort of justice.

What did the culture of the aristocracy look like? In that culture, behavior was controlled by a maze of rules of etiquette. Precedence, the pecking order, directed everything. If any of you saw the movie "Marie Antoinette" you saw what I mean. The rising ceremony of the queen (like that of the king) showed how members of the aristocracy vied with each other to present an article of clothing to the queen for her to put on. If someone higher in the pecking order, e.g. princess over duchess, happened to come in, the article went to the higher of the two, to present.

In effect, all eyes went upward to the higher order of precedence, and finally to the king or the pope. Fawning and sycophancy define that culture because ambition could only be advanced in that manner. The whim at the top must be played to. Obedience and kowtowing become the primary virtues.

As a result, for the most part the aristocracy were a fairly shallow bunch. Gentlemen and ladies were not allowed to work, so they had to divert themselves in some way. They concerned themselves with gossip, parlor games, entertainments, sport, intrigue, and, of course, their ambitions and their genealogies. They were self-absorbed to the point of ignoring anything outside their particular culture. And it was a culture based on pretense. The aristocracy (and bishops) were basically actors, having to play in a culture that was exploitative, belittling and pompous. Trivia, as in the rules of etiquette, replaced anything of substance.

As to their behavior toward the common people, the non aristocrats, or the laity, the aristocrats discounted them totally. They had nothing to offer, except their labor, their taxes, their adulation, and as cannon fodder. The reality was that the rest of humankind seldom entered the aristocratic consciousness. If they did notice the dire poverty and terrible sufferings of the common people, they generally did little more than thank God that they were not of that class. As they were aristocrats by the grace of God, the common theology of that time, so the grace of God had established the others in their misery. There existed no such thing as a Voice of the Peasant.

What did the culture of the bishops look like at this time? The following is a quote from "Church and Revolution" by priest historian Thomas Bokenkotter, who also authored "A Concise History of the Catholic Church." Quote: "One of the few but spectacular church scandals of the time involved Cardinal de Rohan, the prince bishop of Strasbourg. Madly in love with Marie Antoinette, he intended to seduce her with a magnificent diamond necklace he planned to give her at night in the royal park. But he was tricked when one of his creditors sent a decoy, disguised as the queen, who grabbed the necklace and ran. The de Rohan scandal pointed up a glaring weakness of the system of appointments in the Church: the monopoly over them held by the aristocratic families. Their surplus sons were often installed in episcopal palaces before they were dry behind the ears - as had been the case with de Rohan. Although most of them led lives untouched by scandal, they were often more interested in worldly affairs and the gossip and culture of the court than in spiritual matters." In other words, those aristocratic sons carried their aristocratic culture with them into the Church. They heard no Voice of the Faithful.

A relevant component of this culture is narcissism. There is a narcissism that is native to the culture of aristocracy. Narcissists are incapable of empathy and of receiving anything but affirmation and praise from others. Wisdom only goes outward from them. Professionals tell us that a large group of people can be narcissistic. For example, an elite military force, indoctrinated as being special, praised for their specialness, wearing the insignia of specialness, considering themselves warriors without peer, and having a sense of invulnerability. When shown to be vulnerable they can react with violence even on innocent non-combatants. We hear American bishops refer to their assembly as "the most exclusive club in the world," and their society as a "perfect" society." Their behavior clearly shows a mind-set where their role is "above" and they alone are God's designates to "hand down." Narcissists are incapable of empathy for others or of real listening.

Finally, of great importance, the aristocratic societal structure is the prime paradigm of a cult. A cult is always centered around a living leader who requires absolute submission. Questioning and dissent are forbidden. Behavior is controlled, sometimes to the minutest degree.

All we need look at here in the church is the suppression of dissent in a host of moral matters. "It is not even to be discussed," comes from the pope himself in regard to women's ordination. In the episcopal structure, all eyes and ears are turned to the leader. None are turned to the laity.

Like the executives who flew on private jets to a Congressional hearing where they sought money, the bishops just don't get it. Back to our original question for this part. Can anyone think there would have been a sexual abuse crisis in the Church if bishops had turned and asked parents, the laity: Do you mind if I put Father Pedophile in your children's school? Or if the bishops were capable of absorbing the wisdom received from those parents?


Let's look at revolution, and the results of revolution, particularly at its lasting impact on secular society and on the Church. We will conclude with applications to our situation today.

And then came the FRENCH REVOLUTION! The causes of the revolution are complex and not the subject of this talk. It is enough to say that they sprang from the discontent of the peasants and the middle class. It was shock and awe, filled with blood and horror, a revolt ultimately against a caste system that penetrated both society and the church. It brought its battering rams to the walls of established privilege and under the clear call for liberty and equality, privilege fell brick by brick. The voice of the peasant was revolution.

Under the mantel of the American and French revolutions the spirit of democracy, liberty and equality, captured the hearts and minds of the western world, never again to be smothered for long. Never again would the subjection of the masses be greeted with an apathetic acceptance. Never again would it have long-term staying power.

" The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" of 1789 defined liberty and equality.

" Liberty consists of being able to do anything that does not harm others; thus the exercise of the natural rights of man or woman has no bounds other than those that guarantee other members of society the enjoyment of those same rights."

Liberty became formulated as 1. Separation of Church and State. 2. Freedom of Conscience. 3. Freedom of speech and 4. Freedom of the press.

Equality was defined as "the law must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all...employments according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of virtues and talents."

Now, let's look at how liberty and equality faired, first in society at large and then in the Church.

In society, briefly. We can tie liberty and equality together when we talk of universal suffrage, the right of every individual to vote and select their leadership, and settle issues by vote, each vote equal in value. As history moved forward after the revolution, voting became a right, but not for all at first. It was restricted in various ways, by sex (men only) by race (whites only), by property (only for property holders), by wealth, etc.

The advance toward universal suffrage was slow. By 1900, over a century after the revolution, there was still not a single liberal democratic country with universal suffrage. One qualification requirement or another got in the way. This analysis done by Freedom House states that while no country had yet arrived to universal suffrage by 1900, by 2000, another century later, 120 of the world's 192 nations, or 62% of them, had universal suffrage. Aristocrats are still around today in the western world, but mostly in their own little enclaves where they talk to themselves, but are politically impotent for the most part.

So, liberty and equality moved at an unsteady pace, but a deliberate not-to-be-stopped pace in western society. Blood and terror, shock and awe, appeared again at times but liberty and equality continued and continues on its march in society. These needs are deeply rooted in the soul of mankind.

Now, what about liberty and equality in the Church? In the aristocratic culture of the Church?

First, when asked to support the French revolution, Pope Pius VI roundly condemned it in 1791 in the encyclical, "Caritas." This was the opening move by the Vatican against the emerging liberalism, liberty and equality.

Shortly after the revolution, calls were made again for the Church to take the leadership roll in the cause of liberty. Instinctively people sense that freedom is consonant with the gospel message.

Felicite Robert de LaMennais (Lamennais), born prior to the revolution, a scholar, priest and author, drew a group of followers to this cause. Because there was governmental interference with the Church at every level, governance, education etc, Lamennais stated that separation of Church and State, complete freedom for the Church was in the Church's best interest.

Lamennais and his followers started a daily newspaper, L'Avenir, "The Future." Its slogan was "God and Liberty." It subscribed to the full liberal (liberating) agenda. 1. Complete religious liberty. (Church should be free of governmental entanglements) 2. Freedom of education. (The Church's religious curriculum should be in the hands of the Church). 3. Freedom of the Press (The church should not be afraid of truth or its own ability to defend itself). 4. Decentralization of decision making in the Church (to prevent a concentration of power at the top). 5. Universal "male" suffrage. (So, not quite universal).

Lamennais wanted to start a movement - based on his belief that liberalism would find its proper home in the Catholic Church. L'Avenir attacked the bishops as blind, worldly and cowardly. Tremendous opposition arose in the Church to these ideas. The final denunciation came from the Pope, Gregory XVI, in the encyclical "Mirari Vos." (1832) In it he complains that the Church is "afflicted" with "indifferentism." A brief quote that says it all. "And so from this rotten source of indifferentism flows that absurd and erroneous opinion, or rather insanity , that liberty of conscience must be claimed and defended for anyone....Nor can we foresee more joyful omens for religion and the state from the wishes of those who desire that the Church be separated from the State."

Thanks to the wisdom and efforts of an American Jesuit, John Courtney Murray, insanity made a U-turn and became sanity when the second Vatican Council declared in its document on Religious Freedom (signed by Paul VI on Dec. 7, 1965) "In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully...It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious." And in the same document: "government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens." There it is! Freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. Just one of many examples down through history where bishops have made a U-turn in their mixed history on moral issues.

We should note that bishops today are a bit selective in their application of the freedoms.

Freedom of conscience: They repeatedly condemn politicians whose consciences support the freedom of others in matters of contention.

Freedom of speech: How much chance do you think I have of giving this talk in the Catholic church of which I am a member? I have given talks of this nature in Lutheran and Methodist churches to Catholics. Why can't bishops handle this freedom of their members. Are they ill-equipped to debate the issues? Or just cowardly?

Separation of Church and State: We see bishops trying to force their conscience on the body politic, regardless of the consciences of others.

Let's turn to equality. Have we returned as a Church to the egalitarian quality of the gospel and the first four centuries of church history? No! Is the tinseled, clerical aristocracy defunct as is the secular aristocracy? No! Do the laity have a voice that is heard by the clerical aristocracy? No! Does the wisdom of the laity enter into declarations of appropriate moral behavior? No! It is not an exaggeration to say that the voices of the faithful in our times run up against an insulated, impermeable wall when we try to input our wisdom into the standards of the catholic moral conscience. That wall is the purple culture of the bishops. It has no ear that turns to the faithful. It feels secure in its unwitting narcissism and its cult-like structure, and it does great harm to the people.

The underlying reality is that their culture has become a first moral principle in their consciousness. Anything that seems to threaten that culture is immediately assumed to be an attack on God and on the gospels. They believe truly that the privileged status they assert for themselves is God's will, and therefore any danger to that status (they will say danger to the Church)is defended with righteous indignation and with any weapons at their command - including excommunications, and even the basest forms of slander.

I mentioned one moral arena above where the bishops made a U-turn, (at least on paper) that on Freedom of conscience. Down through history they have made many others, but seldom avert to them lest their projection of infallibility be questioned: Religious freedom, Ecumenism, the Jewish people, Galileo, Evolution, Slavery, Usury, War. Most of those U-turns were made with no indication to the faithful that they were U-turns. The bishops acted and continue to act as if "it was the constant tradition of the Church." Nonsense! Usury, for example, was condemned in council after council, bishop after bishop for centuries. The people decided otherwise by their practice. They began taking or paying interest on their loans. And they didn't confess it. Confessors themselves were divided on the issue. When the Vatican was informed of this and asked for advice, the response of Pope Pius VIII (1829-1830) was: "They are not to be disturbed." How's that for a "We were wrong, but don't let it out" I suggest that on the basis of current practice, contraception would be decided in the same fashion. I also suggest that the purple culture is responsible for the episcopal behavior in the sexual abuse crisis. How differently that issue would have been handled if the wisdom of the laity had been consulted!

What to Do?

1. First of all, do not leave the church. You are the church. We are the church.

2. Take your voice back! Let your conscience be heard! If we agree with the Council that we are morally obligated to follow our conscience, we may not hide that conscience - as in "I believe in divorce but I'll shut my mouth. Let's look at some options.

A. . The equality of women: If you believe that equality is a moral imperative, then let your behavior show it. When you next meet a woman who has had the courage to be ordained, praise that woman, thank her, acknowledge her courage, and offer the support you are able to give. 69%

B. Married priests. Married priests are beginning to form and service parishes. Hopefully that will increase in the future, and give bishops something to think about as well. Thank these priests and support them. 70%

C. Contraception. In the laity's wisdom, (80%-98%) contraception can be about loving and supporting intimacy as much or more than about procreation. The gospels are about loving, not procreation. Contraception is not being confessed as a sin. It is part of our faith, our conscience.

D. What about divorce? I don't have current statistics other than the fact that Catholics divorce as often as their contemporaries; about 50%. Who should be the judge of whether a marriage endures? Clerics from reading questionnaires? Or the conscience of the individual who is divorced? Who knows the situation best?

In all of the above instances, the majorities are with the laity, not the bishops. There are perhaps 10-15% of us who go with the bishops on every issue. Shouldn't we be pointing that out to the bishops? That they are more and more looking silly? More and more like little tinseled emperors with no clothes? I believe that if we forcefully present our consciences to the bishops they may see us as a source of courage and truth for them.

When will we know that we have succeeded in reform? Not when the bishops greet us with a wink and a nod, or have a brat with us at a church picnic, or come to dinner. We will know it when they listen to us, when they realize that the people have spoken on contraception, and other majorities of us have spoken their wishes on married and women priests, and divorce; when they get up their courage and have the balls to go to Rome and tell the Pope, "This is the faith of our people. Our people are right, and we stand with them!" Only then will the revolution, the turning back to the gospel, be complete.

Pray for our bishops. They are our neighbors, and they are in a box, a cult where all eyes are turned to the top, where they don't have the liberty to speak an opinion even if they have one, where, individually, they can be totally marginalized for dissent, where they are trapped in their own enculturation. They are little emperors without clothes who are trapped in a culture that demeans them as they demean us. They are in great need of rescue.

Stephen Boehrer

5691 S. 124 th Street

Hales Corners, WI 53130




Sex, Priests and Power, A.W. Richard Sipe

Sex, Priests and Secret Codes , Thomas P. Doyle, A.W.R. Sipe, and Patrick J. Wall.

Sacrilege , Leon J. Podles

Acts of the Apostles

Arians of the Fourth Century, John Henry Cardinal Newman

The Making of A Christian Aristocracy, Michelle Renee Salzman

Church and Revolution, Thomas Bokenkotter

The Golden Age of Princes, H.D. Molesworth

The Church Visible, James-Charles Noonan, Jr.

The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Henry Denzinger

Faithful Dissenters, Robert McClory

Rome Has Spoken, Editors, Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben

The Purple Culture, Stephen Boehrer

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