U.S. Crisis Linked to Lack of Formation in the Faith

Harvard’s Mary Ann Glendon Points to Roots of Problems

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ROME, NOV. 4, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Mary Ann Glendon believes the sex-abuse scandals involving priests in the United States points up a key lesson: the need for formation.

Glendon, a Harvard law professor and John Paul II’s delegate at the World Conference on Woman, said she agreed with theologian Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of First Things magazine, “when he says that the crisis of 2002 is threefold: fidelity, fidelity and fidelity.”

“But, perhaps because I’m a teacher, it seems to me that the problem is not so much fidelity as it is formation, formation and formation — formation of our theologians, formation of our religious educators, and thus formation of parents,” Glendon said.

The professor made her comments today at a conference at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum on the theme “Ecclesia in America: Reform, Renewal and the Role of the Laity in a Time of Turbulence” (see the Forum section).

She acknowledged that Catholics have long faced problems in the United States.

“When Catholic immigrants began arriving in great numbers, that Puritan anti-Catholicism fused with nativism and erupted into violence,” Glendon said. “In 1834, an angry mob in Boston burned an Ursuline convent to the ground while police and firemen stood by and watched.”

“The national best seller in 1836 was a book purporting to be the true-life confessions of an ex-nun — it contained sensational revelations of sexual misconduct by Catholic nuns and priests,” the professor continued.

“This book, ‘The Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery, by Maria Monk,’ was a complete fabrication, but it sold 300,000 copies and helped to inflame anti-Catholic passions,” she said. “The following year, 1837, arsonists destroyed most of Boston’s Irish quarter, and similar atrocities were repeated across the country.

“But the immigrants kept pouring in — from Ireland, Italy, Germany, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. And by the turn of the century, the Roman Catholic Church was the country’s largest and fastest growing religious group, with 12 million adherents. Faced with exclusion and discrimination, those immigrant Catholics built their own separate set of primary and high schools, hospitals and colleges. They formed countless fraternal, social, charitable and professional organizations — Catholic lawyers, Catholic doctors, Catholic labor guilds.”

Glendon pointed out the crisis of society and of Catholics at the end of the 1960s.

“The 1960s marked the beginning of a breakdown in sexual mores and a rise in family disruption, accompanied by a culture of dissent as many tried to rationalize their departures from moral norms,” she said. “The developed nations were engaged in a massive social experiment, for which neither the Church nor the societies in question were prepared.

“We hardly noticed that many of us Catholics were developing a kind of schizophrenia — putting our spiritual lives in one compartment and our daily activities in the world of work in another. We hardly noticed how many Catholics were beginning to treat their religion as an entirely private matter, and to adopt a pick-and-choose approach to doctrine.”

Regarding a crisis identified with the Church in recent months — that of clerical sexual abuse — Glendon raised a skeptical note.

“For months, the press created a climate of hysteria by describing the story as a pedophilia crisis, when in fact only a tiny minority of the reported cases involved pedophiles — abusers of pre-pubescent children — as distinct from homosexual relations with teen-aged boys,” she explained.

“For months, and to this day, the media has singled out the Catholic Church as a special locus of sexual abuse of minors, whereas all the studies indicate that the incidence of these types of misconduct is actually lower among Catholic priests, than among other groups who have access to young children,” law professor Glendon indicated.

Quoting John Paul II’s postsynodal apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in America,” Glendon said: “America needs lay Christians able to assume positions of leadership in society.

“It is urgent to train men and women who, in keeping with their vocations, can influence public life and direct it to the common good. That’s quite a challenge. In a sense, the time has never been better for Catholics in the U.S. to take up that challenge.”

“There are nearly 64 million of us — almost a fifth of the U.S. population,” Glendon said. “And Catholics have arrived — they have gained enormous influence in social, professional, cultural and political life. One would think that ought to be enough leaven to raise the social loaf.”

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