Sadly, for over two decades now, Church leaders have developed their own version of the Tar Baby incident popularized in Disney’s Song of the South. In that incident Bre’r Rabbit is drawn into a fight with a tar “baby”, which refuses to reply to his greeting, only to get stuck in the hot tar of that “baby”, and thus trapped by Bre’r Fox.
So also, in the ongoing saga of the clergy abuse scandal, Church leaders have allowed the courts and the media to trap them with a “tar baby” of unresolved scandals. And the more they struggle to break out of this trap, the more they find themselves trapped in the tar.
One reason for this is that a factor, which has been a serious root cause of all these scandals continues to be ignored in their efforts to break free from these problems and to ensure that they never occur again. That factor is the perduring presence in the Church’s pastoral praxis of the perverted theology of the fundamental option. This theology originally had some merit. In its early stages, it affirmed that, if a person is consistently seeking to grow in the love of Christ by a more authentic obedience to God’s commandments, that person can have a basic confidence that he is on the way to salvation. Thus, as soon as he becomes aware that he has does fallen into a serious sin, he will immediately seek to make a perfect act of contrition and go to Confession as soon as possible.
Over the years, however, this theology became distorted. Instead of focusing on a soul’s intense commitment to do God’s will, it created a detour. It began to assert that, if most of the things a person did are good, a single fall into a serious sin would not jeopardize his eternal salvation. This detour tended to be supported by two corollaries – 1) that there was no need to immediately repent from such a sin, and 2) that there was no need to ratify that repentance by humbly confessing that sin with a firm purpose of amendment in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The degeneration of this theology was furthered by a more secularist perspective, whereby a soul could assume that, since most of the things he did in life were viewed by societal mores as good, then occasional serious sins were not all that bad. Sober accountability to God’s commandments, love and truth were taken away from the moral equation.
Thus, if most of a priest’s ministry was promoting good morale and hope among those to whom he ministered, he was permitted to allow himself a little amoral “down time” to get some relief from the stress of ministry. In the case of predatory priests, this meant that it was permissible to develop and practice a “Christianized” version of the Islamic practice of bacha bazi: in the Dari language "boy play" or prostitution of minors.
The fundamental option theology also gave such predatory priests a cleared conscience, as they regularly committed sacrilege by offering Mass and receiving Holy Communion in a state of unrepented mortal sin. Their ability to supplant a sincere conscience with a sin-seared conscience left them with no serious qualms about either their own self-desecration or their desecration of the Eucharistic Christ. Some even “evolved” enough in their distorted perspectives, so as to actually believe that the Eucharistic Christ desired to give them a smiling “thumbs up” on their ministry as a totality.
This was paralleled by a premise, which has been sanctioned by many bishops, whereby a Catholic politician, who is pro-actively promoting Planned Parenthood’s barbaric butchery of babies and its efforts to “groom” children to be more open to sexual experimentation and exploitation, is to be extolled, since, “in the bigger picture”, he/she is promoting the leftist “social justice” agenda. After all, as the leftist agenda so consistently asserts, liberation theology can only come to full fruition when there is the liberation of libido.
This implicit emphasis on the need to promote the fruition fundamental option theology has thus left the Church wide open to permitting the desecration of the Eucharistic Christ, the ultimate Victim of all sin. It alleges that there is de facto very little possibility of sacrilege. But such an allegation raises a serious question. If He, who is the very Source of all human dignity, cannot be desecrated by serious sin, how is it possible for us to assert that innocent children, who are made in His image, can be desecrated by sexual exploitation?
And if resolving the current clergy abuse scandals does not require conscientious acts of reparation to Him, Who is the Source and Summit of all human life and dignity, how can we adequately address the desecration of those youths, who have suffered sexual abuse? Furthermore, if the Eucharistic Christ is not sacred, is anything or anyone sacred? And if nothing or no one is sacred, then all our efforts to address the serious issues of the current crisis will be designed merely to appease the demands of the media and the courts. This, in turn, will leave us wide open to more scandals, as the fear of the lawsuit more completely supplants the fear of the Lord in the highest levels of Church leadership.
And no matter what the theology of fundamental option alleges, even in secular society one felony by an otherwise good citizen can lead to decades of incarceration. I cannot help but to wonder whether, in the Presence of the Divine Judge, a more serious condemnation awaits those who arrogantly rely on the allegation that an otherwise good life excuses the desecration of life itself.
Rev. Thomas Collins is a Catholic priest who serves the people of Virginia.