Mark Silk: The Catholic Church Needs a New Doctrine of Scandal

Responding Monday to the latest horrors in the Catholic abuse crisis, Pope Francis pledged to take all necessary steps to protect the vulnerable and punish the perpetrators. “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated,” he wrote in a letter addressed to “the People of God.”

If such a culture is to be created, it will be necessary to deal with the concept that has been used to justify the covering up of abuse that lies at the heart of the crisis: Scandal. Here’s how the Pennsylvania grand jury report took note of it:

While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid “scandal.” That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over and over again in the documents we recovered.

Let a a couple of examples from the Diocese of Erie suffice. In a 2004 letter asking Rome to remove Father Chester Gawronski from ministry, Bishop Donald Trautman wrote,”As long as Gawronski exercises priestly ministry and that is publically [sic] known, the effects of scandal among the people of the Diocese of Erie will continue.”

The following year, Monsignor Mark Bartchak, who was charged with investigating complaints against Father William Presley, wrote Trautman, “Is it worth the further harm and scandal that might occur if this is all brought up again? I am asking you how you want me to proceed. With due regard for the potential for more harm to individuals and for more scandal, should I continue to follow up on potential leads?”

As these sentences suggest, the writers are not using “scandal” in the ordinary dictionary sense. In Catholic theology, the term has a technical meaning. According to Aquinas, it is a word or deed that occasions another’s ruin—the idea being that sinful activity, if known to others, begets additional sin.

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Source: Religion News Service