NASHVILLE, Tenn. ñ Empowering the laity and giving them a meaningful
role at all levels of the Catholic Church would help check the abuse of
power at the heart of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, according to
Vanderbilt University professor Paul Dokecki.
"The Catholic Church’s exercise of authoritative powerógeared to
encouraging the participation of members at all levels of the
churchówould promote Catholics’ spirituality, enhance their authentic
human development and create the kind of community in which the abuse
of power that has spawned clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up to be as
rare as church defenders claim it to be," Dokecki said.
A professor of community psychology, an active Catholic and a former
board member of the National Catholic Education Association, Dokecki is
author of the new book The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis: Reform and
Renewal in the Catholic Community.
Dokecki teaches ethics in the Department of Human and Organizational
Development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human
development. He takes a combined professional ethics, human science and
ecclesiological approach to his analysis of the church’s clergy sexual
abuse crisisóexamining the "corporate culture" and climate of the
organization to determine how these elements contributed to clergy
sexual abuse and the church’s handling of the crisis. He then makes
recommendations toward reform and rebuilding the public’s trust.
To examine the clergy sexual abuse crisis, Dokecki starts with a case
in his own diocese and works outward through the high-profile Boston
scandals to cases of sexual abuse reported throughout the world.
"Defenders of the Catholic Church, particularly the Vatican, have
called the clergy sexual abuse story peculiarly American; however, new
countries seem to regularly be added to the list," Dokecki said.
"The scandal has reached Austria, Canada, Guatemala, Italy, Poland,
South Africa, the United Kingdom and a host of other countries."
Dokecki places much of the blame for the current crisis on the church’s
continued adherence to a hierarchical approach to church governance and
inadequate preparation of young men for the priesthood.
Although the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s designed to modernize
the church, increased participation by the laity in church matters and
the shift to a communal church was not complete. Instead, the earlier
model, "under which the laity is expected to ‘pray, pay and obey,’" has
lingered. That model "gives too much power to the highest levels of the
church and leaves parishioners and sexual abuse victims powerless to
the dictates of the church and its protective culture of secrecy,"
To reform the church in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, he calls
for fulfilling the tenets of Vatican II by decentralizing the
organization and empowering people at all levels of the church so that
decisions are made closest to the people affected. Creating this more
democratic community in which the abuse of power is neutralized would
play a significant role in rebuilding the public’s trust and to the
church’s becoming a more open institution and true community.
Dokecki also said the church may still be allowing young men to enter
the priesthood ill-equipped psychologically to deal with their
developing sexuality, despite recent efforts at seminary reform.
Seminaries should provide more support in helping their students
develop their sexual identity and deal with the church’s expectations
Influential actors such as insurance companies, lawyers representing
the church and the victims/survivors, the laity, priests, bishops,
cardinals and other officials at all levels of the church must also
seriously examine their role in the clergy sexual abuse system in order
for meaningful reform to be accomplished, Dokecki said.
For more news about Vanderbilt, visit the News Service homepage at www.vanderbilt.edu/News.
Media contact: Princine Lewis, (615) 322-NEWS