- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

The Cost Of Clericalism

I was on a train in Italy this afternoon when I saw this op-ed from Rick Fitzgibbons [1], the Philadelphia Catholic psychiatrist, and my jaw dropped open. Here’s a key passage:

Pope Francis on August 20, 2018, stated that “clericalism” was the root cause of the sex abuse crisis in Pennsylvania.  He stated:

“Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say an emphatic ‘no’ to all forms of clericalism.”

Clericalism has been described [2] elsewhere as a “disordered attitude” toward clergy which often results in an “excessive deference and an assumption of their moral superiority.” Pope Francis has noted that such an attitude can be “fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons.”

Clericalism, however, does not result in a psychological need in a priest for a sexual encounter with another male, especially an adolescent.

The Holy Father did not acknowledge [3] the role of homosexual predation among clergy in the Pennsylvania crisis.

Cardinal Cupich also identified clericalism [4], not homosexual priests, as the cause of the sexual abuse crisis. Recently, the arrest of two priests of the Archdiocese of Chicago for public lewdness erodes the tag of clericalism.

In my professional opinion, in an effort to deny the role of homosexuality in the sexual abuse crisis, clericalism and availability (the John Jay Report) have been incorrectly identified as major causes.  There is no psychological relationship between clericalism, availability and the sexual abuse of youth.


Both these terms manifest an attempt to cover-up the true origins of the abuse crisis.

Read the whole thing.  [1]

I completely agree with Fitzgibbons that the role of homosexuality in the priesthood is a massive problem at the heart of the abuse scandal. So why did my jaw drop?

The idea that Dr. Fitzgibbons, of all people, would say that clericalism is not a major cause of the abuse crisis is staggering. In 2002, a source tipped me off that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was a molester of seminarians, and that his molestation widely known. So widely known, in fact, that when there were rumors that John Paul II was going to name McCarrick as Archbishop of Washington (and therefore to the cardinalate), a group of lay Catholics flew to Rome on their own dime to warn the Vatican not to do it. They met with officials of the Curia to tell them that McCarrick molested seminarians, and should not get the red hat.

It didn’t work, obviously.

My source named Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons as one of the Catholics who went on that trip. I phoned Fitzgibbons back then to ask him if it was true. He said:

“If that were true, I wouldn’t tell you, for the same reason Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”

In other words, “If it were true, I wouldn’t tell you because I feel obliged to protect the dignity of a cardinal.”

That is clericalism, straight up. 

I don’t know if Fitzgibbons went to Rome to report on McCarrick or not. What I do know is that he believed in 2002 that protecting a cardinal was more important than telling the ugly truth about a sexual abuser who wears a red hat.

He may still believe it. I had not been in touch with him since 2002, until the McCarrick news broke this past summer. I e-mailed him to tell him that he should come forward with what he knows. There is no one left to protect. Staying silent means complicity with evil.

I invite Rick Fitzgibbons publicly either to deny unambiguously that he went on that trip to Rome to warn about McCarrick, or to admit it and say what he knew — who he met with, what he told them, and so forth. Jesus has no need of withholding the truth to protect the guilty. It’s time for the faithful to know exactly who is responsible for McCarrick’s rise.

Again: I don’t know if Fitzgibbons went on that trip, and I don’t know the full list of names. But I do know this: if those people had come forward in 2002, when the scandal was breaking nationwide, and said what they knew about McCarrick’s corruption, the Church would have been forced to deal with it then, and would not be going through these even worse agonies today.

Their silence protected a dirty old man who ought not to have been protected. And now it has caused far more damage to the Church’s reputation than it would have done had it come out in 2002. You say clericalism is not a major factor in the abuse crisis? Yes, it is — and Rick Fitzgibbons knows it better than most.

UPDATE: Rick Fitzgibbons comments below, and I answer:

RF: Rod has been informed recently by me that a psychiatrist cannot breach patient confidentiality without permission which has not been given.

[NFR: But you went to Rome to tell them something, didn’t you? If so, why didn’t patient confidentiality restrain you then? Or, do you deny that you went to Rome on a mission related to Cardinal McCarrick? You told me back in 2002 that IF it were true, you wouldn’t tell me, NOT because of patient confidentiality, but because you would protect the cardinal from public shaming. That is where the clericalism lies. — RD]

I repeat the questions to Dr. Fitzgibbons:

  1. Did you go to Rome prior to Cardinal McCarrick’s appointment to Washington to discuss with officials in the Vatican anything related to McCarrick’s suitability for that post? (Note that I’m not asking what you may have discussed with the Vatican, only whether or not you went on that trip.)
  2. In light of events of this summer involving McCarrick, do you stand by your 2002 claim that if you had gone on such a mission, you would have been justified to stay silent on it to protect the cardinal from public shame?

70 Comments (Open | Close)

70 Comments To "The Cost Of Clericalism"

#1 Comment By Uncle Billy On September 14, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

Rod, as a 67 year old Cradle Catholic who was beaten by nuns for 8 years, I reserve the right to dissent. I am not into blind obedience to knaves and liars. Also, as a graduate of a good Jesuit University, I know too much Church history to believe the Hierarchy is always right, or even of good faith.

Why don’t I leave then? Because it’s my Church too.

[NFR: Being a Catholic means believing that the Catholic Church teaches authoritatively on matters of faith and morals. I’m terribly sorry that you were beaten by nuns, but that has nothing to do with whether or not you are bound as a Catholic to believe the theological teachings of the Catholic Church. I could no longer affirm the Catholic Church’s claims to authority, so that was it for me. I’m not telling you to leave, for goodness sake! That’s not my place. But it’s my understanding that you do not have the right to say that you are correct about such a fundamental matter of theology, and the Church is wrong. The fundamental difference among Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants comes down to the source and exercise of authority. — RD]

#2 Comment By sara On September 14, 2018 @ 1:14 pm

[NFR: The clericalism I’m talking about in my post is the unwillingness of men like Dr. Fitzgibbons to speak truth, for the sake of protecting the Church. Had he told the truth in 2002 — or what I believe to be the truth — the Church would have been better protected, if not the clergy. — RD]

Yeah. The conflating of the clergy with the Church, the idea that protecting the reputation of one man is protecting the Church. A specific member of the clergy is no less a man than a specific member of the laity and both are part of the Church yet not essential to it.

May I suggest that an aspect of clericalism that has been ignored is the view of it from the perspective of a child? There is power and magic in that view. This person can absolve sin, administer the sacraments, etc. so if he says “tell anyone and you will go to hell” or “God wants us to do this, it is a holy act”, how many kids are going to believe them? There are many reasons that people often don’t report until decades later but certainly clericalism is a big factor. What kid will think their Mom or Dad will believe them over a man of God?

I’ll also note that in most times and places, Catholic clergy had the benefit of only being able to be tried for anything by ecclesiastic courts. That is certainly a component of clericalism and has to contribute to a sense of invulnerability on the part of clergy. Of course, that has changed in many places now.

#3 Comment By John Peter Presson On September 14, 2018 @ 1:17 pm

Why is that no one wants to identify the elephant in the tea room? The problem in the Roman Catholic priesthood is that it allowed a culture of predatory homosexual pederasty (gay sex with post pubescent boys and young men -a well entrenched subculture in the homosexual subculture) to fester for years. It allowed VERY gay men to enter into the seminary, and were advanced through the priestly ranks to some of the highest If there is “clericalism”, it was and is only a mechanism to justify and cover up their crimes. To, I am sure B16’s chagrin and best efforts to the contrary, only accelerated under Francis, with McCarrick being a virtual “kingmaker” (or at least cardinal-maker) bringing homosexual or homosexual sympathetic men into high placed bishoprics and protection of gay clergy (James Martin is virtually untouchable, while Fr. Michael Rodriguez formerly of El Paso was railroaded for his firm position on the teaching of homosexuality).

It is interesting that these problems are virtually unheard of, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church except in notable cases of celibate, homosexual, black (monastic) clergy, such as the notable cases in Platina, Boston, and Detroit.

If the problem is clericalism, it is mainly that has been the engine for predatory gay pederasty in the ranks of Roman Catholic clergy.

#4 Comment By sara On September 14, 2018 @ 1:19 pm

[NFR:..I did not have direct knowledge that McCarrick was guilty of these things…. You may not like the way journalism works, and US libel laws work, but we have to abide by them. — RD]

Yes. And libel laws as well as the ethics of other professions and positions are similar yet *direct knowledge* can only come from a victim. What can we do to change this? As a society, we are finally putting the blame and stigma where it belongs – on the abuser – but there is still great risk to reporting. I’m pretty sure you would be able to refer a victim to a good resource these days that was not available in 2002 where the victim could get help and might, eventually, officially report. Do you think so? Is there anything else we can do? Have your sources given you insight into what else can be done to help them with this?

#5 Comment By sara On September 14, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

BTW, a Bishop of West Virginia, Michael Bransfield, gave his resignation to Pope Francis as he turned 75 last week. There are sexual harassment allegations against him and PF accepted his resignation. Few details are available but I did read that he was a buddy of McCarrick and it is alleged that a beach house in New Jersey owned by Bransfield is involved. I wonder if he was McCarrick’s next door neighbor.

I think this is the most appalling part of all this – how much damage can be done by a single person put in a powerful position for many years, whether as a priest or further up the hierarchy. It grows exponentially.

#6 Comment By sara On September 14, 2018 @ 1:31 pm

I think you may find this to be of interest:


#7 Comment By Jess Austin On September 14, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

We’re focusing on details; we must step back to see the entire beast. Sure it’s bad that evil men have raped children, and it’s also bad that the Church did far more to encourage that than to stop it. Does anyone really think this is limited to the Catholics? Lots of protestant ministers have done similar things, although their tastes tend more to the hetero-. We have very few Buddhists in USA, but for some reason I can think of two or three similar cases in that community right off the top of my head. Various Muslim clerics have done worse and haven’t even tried to hide the fact. Recently they got a sort of proto-Caliphate going, the primary activity of which seems to have been sex crime.

What’s the common thread here? How long has that thread run? If we imagine an animist shaman in a pre-Biblical time or place, what do we really expect for that favored young apprentice who is his sole companion on a vision quest un-witnessed by the rest of the tribe? What purpose would we suspect for a regular man of no particular talents to be set up as a “spiritual” authority over his neighbors, with no responsibility for worldly events? Why would he seek that position? Why, indeed.

Access to sexual gratification without the inconvenience of normal human courtship and consent is the primary reason religion was created, and it obtains just as much today as it did 10,000 years ago. Call this “clericalism” if you must, if it helps you to see what is plainly displayed. Is there religion, absent this clericalism? In all cases, there is a great supernatural authority, and an earthly representative of that authority. Who would like to get in your pants. Don’t ask why religious authorities rape their congregations. Ask if there are any who don’t.

#8 Comment By Joe On September 14, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

The argument for clericalism as part of the cause of the sexual abuse crisis is that sexual abuse and clericalism share the point of an imbalance of power between the parties involved.

Sexual abuse (and rape et al) is an abuse of relational power, hierarchical or physical or whatever. Clericalism is an abuse of power, both by the laity (abdicating power to clergy) or clergy (abusing hierarchical positions of power). The connection with “homosexuality” is oblique and related to secret networks of unchaste clergy, apparently homosexual for the main part. Membership in such a network produces a power imbalance between members through their desire and need for secrecy.

So sexual abuse is enabled and supported by clergy who refuse to risk losing the power they have gained through clericalism and secrecy. While clericalism is repugnant, it is the need for secrecy to maintain power that unites the perpetrators and the enablers who cover up their deeds. This is the systemic flaw in the system.

The focus needs to be on exposure of the abuse! The victims are freed from the abuse when the secrecy is ended! And this is why those exercising power are resistant to exposing the truth, because they lose power.

#9 Comment By savvy On September 14, 2018 @ 3:08 pm

Uncle Billy,

HV remains a major obstacle to the official acceptance of homosexual sex, by the church. Just ask Fr.James Martin.

I am sorry to tell you this, but the lukewarm on all sides, won’t make it through the coming storm, that is really testing the whole church.

It’s because there will be no other side left.

As Jesus said, you must be hot or cold.

We are getting to the final battle of our times, between the church and the anti-church.

Take your pick. The cafeteria is closing very fast.

#10 Comment By sara On September 14, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

Here is a link to the usccb reports regarding child abuse including the John Jay reports:


#11 Comment By KV On September 14, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

I am going to give a thumbs up to SteveM. Your thoughts about Narcisim are spot on. However, clericalism does play a role as well in that as Rod is stating, when in the face of evil such as molestation, predatory homosexual or heterosexual behavior, those who knew, those who suspected with much evidence to support, who then thought the reputation of the Church was far more important than reporting the behavior, were guilty of being complicit, all under the guise of protecting the reputation. The problem goes much deeper than clericalism, predatory behavior, the sexual perversion of immature sexual persons, etc. Was it not Archbishop Gomez of LA that recently came out with a statement that ‘we all knew’ what it meant when Card. McCarick was making a visit to the seminaries. And admitted it was for sexual encounter.
In this MP3 sermon ( [7] ) This priest tells of his knowledge of 40 years, and his priest friend of 50 years, knew of it and “had no one to go to “.
What of the well publicised book by Bella Dodd on the communist agenda to ‘pack’ the church with men who would being homosexuality to the church and play a double role?
I find at this point that with all the sadness I feel regarding my dear Church, I know that the story began with the battle betweeen principalities and powers! It will not end until the end and each of us must face the battle and stand for truth even if we lose our jobs, our lifestyles, our friends. I know , like Peter who said to Jesus, where else shall we go , you have the words of everlasting life, I know there is nowhere else to go. It is not to the structure of the eartly church that we are called to have faith but in Christ himself. So on we go….

#12 Comment By Ryan Booth On September 15, 2018 @ 12:44 am

This person can absolve sin, administer the sacraments, etc. so if he says “tell anyone and you will go to hell” or “God wants us to do this, it is a holy act”, how many kids are going to believe them?

Humanity has always recognized the connection between sex and the divine. It is natural to believe that sex with the religious leader is divinely blessed.

“God commanded it” was how Joseph Smith could procure over 40 “wives” for himself, including women already married and a girl of 14.

When Lewis and Clark overwintered with the Mandan people in Montana, and there had been a long time of no sighting of bison to hunt, their was a ceremony in which the young Mandan women and girls gave themselves to older men to renew the spirits of the bison.

In most of the world’s cultures, temple prostitution was the norm, and it is still the norm in many places. Even though illegal since 1988, there are still a number of Hindu Devadasi girls given to the goddess to work as prostitutes. In Shia Iran, women who are repeatedly given in “temporary marriages” are called sighehs. In ancient Corinth, the Temple of Aphrodite reportedly had a thousand temple prostitutes working in the service of the goddess.

I would argue that this is what makes the Catholic abuse scandal so particularly demonic: the fact that priests turned children into de facto temple prostitutes. We see that again and again in the Pennsylvania report, where the spiritual nature of the abuse was so obvious. It is ultimately such primitive idolatry.

#13 Comment By KV On September 15, 2018 @ 1:19 am

I wanted to correct what I asked in my first post: It was Bishop Steven Lopez who stated he was a seminarian when Card. McCarrik would visit the seminary and “everyone knew” what he was there for. Sorry for the error.

#14 Comment By KV On September 15, 2018 @ 1:24 am

[8] Here is the link

#15 Comment By Joechia On September 15, 2018 @ 2:56 am

A priest is just a normal human being who chose to serve God in the Sacrament of Holy Order.
We should not put the priest on the pedestal of sancitity, in fact when Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles, he told them to do likewise.
So its wrong to put the priest on a pedestal. Any abuse report should be properly investigated and action taken. If of any truth, they should be defrocked immediately.
After all Pope Paul VI has warned of the smoke of Satan having entered the Church.
Likewise its the same for Bishops and Cardinals, each can be replaced by other priests.
The focus of the faithfuls should be on Jesus in the Eucharist.

#16 Comment By Susan On September 15, 2018 @ 12:18 pm

I agree fitzgibbons clericalism is part of the problem. And related to his acceptance of sex abuser priest referrals from the diocese. He should have told the bishops he does not do priest laundering and the homosex priests should be annulled instead.

#17 Comment By EngineerScotty On September 15, 2018 @ 1:41 pm

“Clericalism” is little more than a specific example of a more general problem that gives rise to abuse: excessive deference to authority.

If you go full Cosimanian Orthodox, this isn’t really a problem–power gets what it wants and is entitled to it; unless and until it is replaced, and moral arguments to the contrary are like the farts of hummingbirds.

Most human hierarchies, however, are unwilling to embrace CO, and proclaim that those on top have some responsibility to those below, even as they are owed deference. A few actually manage to enforce such norms, and ensure that someone is watching the watcher. Others do so partially, resulting in a three-caste system (the elites, the middle who may not be abused by the elites, and the bottom, who may); a lot of our current political crises seem to be because the two lower castes are merging somewhat.

In a religious context, this can be particularly problematic–“God commands that you sleep with me” is, for many, a far scarier argument than “it is the collective will of our shareholders, as manifested by the board of directors who appointed our CEO who hired the guy who hired me, that you sleep with me”.

But, as always, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

#18 Comment By Peter On September 15, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

Cost Of Clericalism? Really? I think he would have been abusing had he’d been a lowly priest. Its not Clericalism. Its a demented moral compass.

#19 Comment By Jack On September 16, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

Clericalism was the word used in emergency first by the Pope to prevent people using another stronger word and more appropriate to the ongoing scandal in the US Church.
This word is “homosexualism”.
When 85 per cent of the victims of the pervert predators priests are boys with a huge majority of post pubescent teens, it is obvious that their abusers are almost exclusively gay priests.
The Vatican’s agenda to promote homosexualism as a way of life morally as acceptable by the catholic religion as the way of life of the married people having many children, is utterly compromised if the catholic people begin to understand that the root of the problem is clerical homosexualism, not clericalism.

#20 Comment By sara On September 17, 2018 @ 10:14 pm

Jack says: September 16, 2018 at 5:13 pm
“When 85 per cent of the victims of the pervert predators priests are boys with a huge majority of post pubescent teens, it is obvious that their abusers are almost exclusively gay priests.”

The John Jay report said 81% boys. That’s 19% girls which is hardly inconsequential. In addition, the John Jay report also explains about the issue of access and situational sex. Yes, there are altar girls now but the abuse doesn’t happen in the middle of the mass. The JJR said over 40% were in the priest’s residence, others on camping trips and the like. Boys in our culture are allowed more freedom generally to go places on their own and certainly priests have far more access to boys in situations that are private. Yes, there must be homosexual abusive priests but “almost exclusively” is significant exaggeration.

Do girls have any value at all? Just wondering…