We’re witnessing the abuse of secrecy and the secrecy of abuse.
As I explain in Nothing To Hide, clerical elitism—the notion that the clergy are a privileged caste, with special privileges and exemptions not granted to the rest of us—did not cause sex abuse, nor did sex abuse cause clerical elitism. But the link between the two things is certainly very real. Simply put, the attitudes and behavior patterns of clerical elitism came into play time and again when erring priests’ superiors, learning that the priests were guilty of deviant sexual behavior, either with minors or adults, simply looked the other way or else swept the mess under the rug.
“Bishops who acted like this,” I write, “were acting reasonably by the standards of the clericalist culture to which they belonged. Wishing to be good servants of the Church, they served the clericalist system. And in the end this system of concealment and illusion betrayed them and the rest of the Church.”
The cover-up—concealing what had happened—was a typical part of the response. And although the Church in the United States has made considerable progress in eliminating this coverup mentality in the last 15 years, we are still very far from rooting it out it entirely.
As recent disclosures of sex abuse from the worlds of entertainment, media, and politics illustrate, the Church is hardly alone in having such problems. Indeed, what we are seeing now is a pattern of deeply flawed reaction in Church circles to temptations resembling those that threaten to corrupt every profession and trade.