Catholic sex scandal eroding faith in religious institutions, Land says

by Dwayne Hastings, posted Tuesday, July 30, 2002 (12 years ago)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The public's faith in organized religion is at a 30-year low and Richard Land puts much of the blame squarely on the back of the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy.

"I grieve for my Roman Catholic friends and their shaken faith in their religious leaders as a result of the church's ever-widening sex scandal," Land said on the "Richard Land Live!" broadcast July 27. The Catholic Church's scandal involving priests and children, Land also said, is smearing the reputation of all religious institutions.

"All of us should grieve whenever scandal comes to any religious denomination because if it is true that a rising tide lifts all boats, a tidal wave of scandal gets everybody wet," he continued. Richard Land Live! is a caller-driven, midday talk program that airs each Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. Eastern over the Salem Radio Network.

"The tidal wave of the sex scandal is going to damage every religion's credibility for a while," Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, predicted. He recalled a similar public response in 1989 when evangelicals were rocked with sex and money scandals involving prominent televangelists.

American's trust in religious institutions fell below the 1989 mark -- a confidence rate of 52 percent -- to 45 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll cited in The Washington Times (July 22-28, 2002 weekly edition).

In the poll taken last month, Catholic trust in the church was at 42 percent, while Protestant faith in their religious institutions stood at 59 percent, unchanged from last year, Land noted.

Given the response to the sex scandals of some in Roman Catholic leadership, particularly the decisions to quietly shift accused priests to another parish where they could continue their scandalous behavior, the drop in faith is not surprising, Land said, wondering aloud if the confidence rate would not have been lower still without the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, given that many Americans were drawn back to their spiritual roots after the attacks.

"The Gallup poll suggests the scandal has damaged the credibility of all institutions of faith," Land said. "We must do everything we can to help restore confidence in our nation's religious institutions. Otherwise, we run the risk of this lack of faith in religious institutions overshadowing lost people's awareness of their need to respond to the gospel."

Yet there is no magical way to bolster Americans' faith in the church, Land said, insisting religious leaders must simply "walk the talk and publicize the positives which are overwhelmingly greater than the oft-discussed negatives within religious institutions."

A lot of attention is rightfully being paid to the Roman Catholic hierarchy's failures to deal adequately and swiftly with this scandal, he said, because, as is often the case, the attempts at cover-up have been nearly as troublesome as the scandal itself.

Catholic laypeople remain confident in the tenets of their faith but they lack trust in the bishops. And many in the laity are not taking the scandal sitting down, Land said, telling his listeners of a new group that claims to represent Roman Catholic laity and wants the church's hierarchy to allow the laity to "actively participate in the governance" of the church in an attempt to forestall future scandals. The group, Voice of the Faithful, which convened for the first time in mid-July in Boston, has gotten nothing more than a cold shoulder from the church's leadership, Land said.

"We need to pray for Roman Catholic Church and its hierarchy, that they would listen to the concerns of the laity," Land said. "And we need to be extra vigilant that we police our own congregations to ensure we don't have such scandals erupt in our denominations."

Yet the Catholic Church itself may have unknowingly set itself up for this fall, Land suggested.

"I do believe the Roman Catholic requirement of celibacy for clergy has helped to foster a climate where this could take place," Land said, adding the fact that parents are excluded from having input or authority in the church's decision-making process is another weakness in Catholicism.

Land said in his 40 years of ministry in Protestant/evangelical settings he has never heard of case where a pastor was quietly shuffled off to another church after having been found guilty of a sexual indiscretion with a child.

"Why is this so?" he asked. "Because in Protestant denominations the people in decision-making authority are most often parents. They would never allow it," he answered. "Parents are not going to reassign a child molester to another parish or church where they might well do the same thing to another child.

"My advice to Roman Catholics would be to either reexamine the celibacy requirement or find ways to make parents an essential part of the decision-making process," he said.

There is another face to this scandal, Land said, and it isn't any prettier.

As the debate continues within Roman Catholicism about these errant priests and their predilection for young boys, the truth is finally getting out, he said.

"The truth is that this is not primarily a scandal of pedophilia," Land said. "90 percent-plus of the victims of priestly sexual abuse within Roman Catholicism have not been prepubescent children, which is technically pedophilia -- an unnatural adult sexual attraction to a prepubescent child.

"The vast majority of cases that have come to light have nothing to do with pedophilia, instead we have priests engaging in sexual activity with young boys, pubescent boys," he continued. "This is homosexual behavior.

"I am not saying that all homosexuals are child molesters or that all homosexuals are seeking to seduce children; what I am saying is that in the Roman Catholic clergy, which is a celibate clergy, a homosexual subculture has arisen," Land said.

It is well-documented over the past 30 years that some Roman Catholic authorities decided if a person had a homosexual orientation but was committed to celibacy and agreed not to exercise their homosexual impulses, they would be allowed in the priesthood, he said. "They made the mistake of allowing men with homosexual orientation to be in positions where they could take immoral liberties with adolescents and young boys," he said.

"For the very same reasons that the Boy Scouts said they didn't want to have homosexual scoutmasters -- because homosexuals by definition are people who are attracted to people of the same sex -- this should never have been allowed within the Roman Catholic priesthood," he explained.

"It makes no more sense to have homosexual scoutmasters spending a good deal of unsupervised time with boys than it would for a heterosexual male scoutmaster to be going on campouts with girl scouts," said Land, asking, "Who among you would let your 12-year-old daughter go on a campout with a heterosexual male scoutmaster?"

The same logic should prevail with priests and clergy, Land said. Unfortunately, he said, Roman Catholicism is paying the ugly price for allowing homosexual priests to have trusted and unfettered access to young boys.


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