Can church, CCSU prevent more corruption by power?

At the admirable direction of Archbishop Leonard Blair, the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford last week more or less came clean about the sexual abuse perpetrated by its priests during the last six decades.

The archdiocese identified 48 priests who had been credibly accused and reported that it had paid more than $50 million in the resulting damage claims. About half the priests cited are dead and most of the misconduct seems to have occurred prior to 1990, though it wasn’t acknowledged and its victims compensated for many years. The archdiocese has commissioned a retired Superior Court judge to investigate and report on the scandal.

The biggest victim here is the church itself, having betrayed the trust of parishioners for so long and covered up until recently and then suffering a devastating financial penalty. Institutional charity and spirituality itself have been gravely damaged just when they are most needed, what with the country and Connecticut falling apart in hateful politics and incompetence.

Priestly misconduct has been a matter of power corrupting, as it always will do, especially in the Catholic Church as long as the church forbids priests any sexual expression.

In support of this rule the church claims the example of Christ, who, via the New Testament, comes down to the present preaching the stricter sort of Jewish sexual morality of the Old Testament, tempered by easy forgiveness. But if priests are still to be commanded to celibacy, the church’s belated candor today might oblige it to acknowledge that celibacy may be too high a standard for many if not most priests. Celibacy may be a major cause of the worsening shortage of priests.

After all, while Christ himself is believed to have been celibate, the church considers him to have been the son of God, which is a bit more than can be said for anyone contemplating the priesthood today.

No matter how much the church comes clean, the rule of celibacy will establish another sin, though quite without that sin, as Christ himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

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Also more or less coming clean about sexual abuse this week was Central Connecticut State University, whose president, Zulma R. Toro, began proceedings to fire two theater professors believed to have sexually abused students and to have been protected by university administrators.

Of course the university’s due process may take years, during which, while suspended, the professors will remain on the payroll, each receiving about $100,000 annually. Even if termination is decided, the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration well may find, as it usually does for state employees, that dismissal is too severe and may order reinstatement with a lesser penalty.

But that’s state government for you. It may be of greater concern that Toro refuses to explain why Central’s chief diversity officer, seemingly tainted by the scandal, is being transferred to Capital Community College. Nor has Toro said whether Central will continue to sign contracts with its professors’ union that trump state freedom-of-information law by prohibiting public access to professors’ personnel files. Such contracts will remain good mechanisms of concealing misconduct.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.