The scandals that threaten to tear apart the Catholic Church over sexual abuse by priests continue. The religious authorities have to answer to claims that they were complicit, or at best incompetent, in the way they dealt with allegations against clergy who abused their position.
The rest of us should not kid ourselves that vulnerable people have only been abused within Catholic churches though. Most of us have our own stories of abuse- emotional, spiritual, sexual, even physical within churches. Churches are human institutions, and so we bring in all of our human characteristics- for good and ill.
In churches, we add an extra power to some individuals- we give them an authority that seems all the more unassailable, as it comes from God. There will always be some for whom power corrupts, or opportunity gives too much temptation. Perhaps there is something in the entrepreneurial, risk taking spirit of our charismatic leaders that makes them particularly vulnerable to these sometimes spectacular falls from grace.
It it tempting too to demonise these people- see them as less than human. But I believe that few people start out on a path that seeks to manipulate and abuse. Instead, we start out with lofty intentions, seeking achievement and evidence of our gifting to validate life and ministry. Most of us have dark cupboards in which we hide the dark stuff, hoping that it will never see the light of public scrutiny.
What happens then? Why do apparently good men (and good women) go bad?
The shock to most of us is that we have come to think of church as a place set apart from the world around us. We spend our energy trying to get others to become like us, to join our movement of enlightened folk who are better than the world about them- holier, wiser and equipped with the Scripture and the Spirit to prove it.
But perhaps, just like the field of wheat in Mathew 13, the Church has a mix of wheat and weeds, just like the world around us.
If we assume that the church is full of folk who are already fully (or mostly) sanctified- apart from ourselves of course- then we potentially create an institution in which weakness is unwelcome and secret. We fool ourselves into a dualist situation, where the external profession of holiness is more important than humility and honesty.
And this seems to me to be a situation that breeds abuse.