Cardinal Marx of Germany submitted his resignation to Pope Francis in a symbolic act to acknowledge that the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church can be laid at the feet of the institutional Church headed by the Pope and bishops in union with him.
It took an organic process that has finally led to the acknowledgement of the fact that the sex abuse crisis is the fault of bishops and the pope. By this I mean there was more concern for abusive clergy, most breaking both canon and civil law that cried for punishment, than the victims who were abused which compromised their lives because of the abuse, not to mention the scandal for most Catholics when they learned about the abuse and the scandalous ways that bishops handled it.
How did this happen in a systemic way? The following is my opinion:
The best way to sum it up is what our deceased bishop said to me about five years into my ordination. Somehow I got on the personnel board and at a meeting we were discussing a priest who was not an abuser, but was incompetent and a problem in many ways. I blurted out during the meeting and said, why don’t you just fire him! The reaction of the bishop was telling. Not in public but in a private teachable moment, the bishop said, “Allan, being ordained a priest is like entering a marriage. It is indissoluble and I as a bishop have to do everything possible to save that marriage.”
There you have it.
Some other mitigating factors:
1. It has only been recently, meaning about 30 years or so that topics related to sex and sexual abuse have been talked about openly—it had been a taboo subject. Being taboo allowed for sexual abuse in families and institutions to be swept under the carpet and basically not properly dealt with. And what family, or what family institution back then would call the police and have mom or dad, a brother, sister or uncle and aunt arrested? And who wanted their abused child to go through a legal process that could end up in a trial? You don’t air your dirty laundry publicly.
2. Bishops, perhaps, thought that sexual misconduct with minors was no big deal and that it could be dealt with in a sacramental way. Incredibly some may have thought the victim may have enticed the priest. This is particularly true of the abuse of adolescents.
3. Perhaps the bishops himself had been abused at a younger age and thought it no big deal because he survived it.
4. Who knows, maybe it was callous indifference, or a friendly relationship with the abuser or fear of scandal which has caused the greatest scandal.
5. When I was vocation director, I learned that bishops had turned to psychology and therapy to "cure" priests who had abuse children/adolescents and vulnerable adults. At national conferences I heard famous priest-psychologists who treated mentally diseased priest proclaim their success rate in returning priests to ministry. They did advocate for transparency, but their goal was to make sexual abuse a part of addictive behavior and acceptance of programs to mitigate against returning to these addictive behaviors, such as AA or SA groups. They felt that if alcoholics and drug addicts could be hailed as courageous by participating in these support groups, so too could sex abusers in recovery. Yes--you read all of this correctly. Most bishops bought this line, hook, line and sinker. It is a theology of mercy gone pathological.
Do we need to change the entire “system” of the Church to conquer the above mentality? I think not, but that’s my own personal opinion. There are other ways to effectively change a culture that leads to abuse. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.