Exclusive Excerpt from Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes

By Matt C. Abbott
Renew America
July 7, 2006

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes, a recently-released book authored by Thomas P. Doyle, A.W.R. Sipe and Patrick J. Wall.

The sexual crisis of the present time is not a new phenomenon. Sadly, past realities are being reincarnated in the American church today. Integrity and credibility are sorely lacking. As corruption of the priesthood becomes ever more evident, and the credibility of the hierarchy is ever more compromised, the social contract with the laity becomes strained to the breaking point. It is not a problem of politics or public relations and cannot be cured by either. The demise of obedience to church leadership is not the cause of the crisis in the church, it is a result of clerical malfeasance. Respect, trust, and obedience can no longer be expected from the laity. But, with genuine charity on all sides, this crisis provides an opportunity to revivify the pastoral care of the church and a chance to rededicate the priesthood to celibate integrity and the hierarchy to honesty and accountability. What else is a reformation all about? Charity will win out in the end.

Finally, victims should act as the church they are. In 1517, the church could claim that a "functional diocese had no need for lay interference." Legislation from that time defines the five functions of a diocesan priest in order of importance: First the priest was to preserve his image; his behavior should not provide cause for scandal about the priesthood or the church. Second, a priest's most important function was to protect the income of the church. Third, a priest was the protector of the "sacred," the church building, its vessels, and vestments. Fourth, a priest had the cura animarum or duty to hear confessions, distribute communion, administer the last rites, and to instruct his flock. And fifth, a "priest functioned as an agent of the bishop, transmitting and receiving information concerning the desired diocesan order."

Is it not remarkable how operational this outline of clerical functions is in today's church? As effective as those priorities of functions may have been at one time, their breakdown and inadequacies are brutally apparent now. The church needs to reevaluate its pastoral priorities. And the church does need the involvement of the laity.

Recently, time after time, bishop after bishop has reduced himself to an image preserver, or income supervisor, or property protector, an administrator above all and before any consideration of the care of souls. Bishops have become CEOs and CFOs not in addition to, but rather instead of, pastors.

Public relations have been a principal and primary response of the hierarchy to the abuse crisis. Slogans — Restoring Trust — rather than substantial moral leadership, have occupied bishop's efforts...

One courageous, completely honest bishop who would lift his head above the crowd would be worth more than all the PR campaigns put together. Of course all Christians know what it would cost: Another crucifixion! (pp. 279-80)

A recent Toledo Blade story about the book can be found here.

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic journalist and commentator. He is a columnist for and/or contributor to,,,,, and He can be reached at


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