The fully justified anger about Bishop Lahey should not blind us to the failings in other forms of Christianity. There have been crimes and cover-ups in other denominations. 

Abuse in independent churches is almost impossible to track. Even denominations like the Southern Baptists have a polity that makes it impossible to screen out abusers. 

When hierarchical churches have cases of abuse, people look wistfully at independent congregationalist churches; when independent churches have cases of abuse, people look to episcopal churches in which someone outside the immediate church has responsibility and authority. 

The failure is not in governing structures but in human nature, in its lust and cowardice. 

The failure in the Catholic Church is however made worse by a form of clericalism. 

In the Middle Ages, as Tom Doyle has shown, Catholics were very open about denouncing the crimes of clerics. After the Reformation, Catholics drew the wagons in a circle and became reluctant to admit problems that Protestants could use as ammunition against the Catholic Church. 

The hierarchy had a fear of massive defections to Protestantism, and adopted a strategy of convincing the laity that the sacraments were the best way to salvation, and that the clergy were the members of the Church most intimate with the sacraments and who also controlled access to the sacraments. 

By controlling access to the sacraments clerics also controlled access to salvation, and therefore cleric could control laity – for their own good, of course. A legalism grew up the church, and the hierarchical church became an enforcer of law rather than a guide to growing in virtue.


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