"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: My New Book on the Sex Abuse Crisis

I was on sabbatical last year with plans to finish a book ("Theology After Freud") I had been researching and writing for the better part of two years (but, really, for the last twenty-five years). But very early into my time away, and quite unexpectedly, I set aside the writing of the Freud book--temporarily I thought--to flesh out some ideas for reform to the Catholic Church in light of the McCarrick story, which broke in June 2018 and quickly became a story of a global epidemic of abuse everywhere in the Church. I toyed with writing a short article (and ended up writing several for Catholic World Report including this one), then a long one, and then I thought I'd see whether it would be better to flesh things out into a book. I decided to give myself two weeks to rough out material to see whether I had enough to write a book I could be satisfied with--or whether I would simply return to my Freud book.

Once I began writing I could not stop, nor did I have any urge to. I did not write in my usual halting style of drafting, reading some more, redrafting, reading, redrafting, and so on. The writing of this book was an unusual experience for me, unlike anything else I have written (for whatever that is worth, and likely not much). It was written in what I would call a psychoanalytic style not just of (relatively) free association unencumbered (initially) by the back-and-forth of editing, but the process also very clearly manifested to me what Christopher Bollas calls the "unthought known." The writing was merely the vehicle for putting the known into thoughtful form on the page.

What resulted was and is Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico Press, 2019), 154pp.

Those who read drafts last fall regularly described the book as "explosive."

Here is the blurb I wrote for the book:
The most serious sex abuse crisis in Catholic history demands the most serious and far-reaching response. This book is a contribution to that response. Its proposed changes would revolutionize Catholic structures from the parish to the papacy. Unlike other revolutions, however, this one is anchored with great care in both history and theology, including that of the various Eastern Churches.
This book shows that the current monocausal explanations of abuse and cover-up (either “clericalism” or “homosexuality”) both overlook the structural issues of governance. The current centralized structures, which monopolize power in the hands of bishops and popes, must be reformed and in their place new structures of local accountability implemented, in order for the Church to move past the present crisis.
This is a radical book in the original sense of the word: a return to root practices that structured much of Catholic life for hundreds of years. It is thus a deeply “traditionalist” book rooted strongly in venerable Christian practices, but is also an openly “liberal” book that argues in favor of liberating the laics so they can resume with voice and vote their rightful role in the councils of governance.
Here is the table of contents:

1 Toward a Future without Illusions
2 Reforming Parish Councils
3 Returning to Regular Diocesan Synods
4 Reforming Episcopal Conferences
5 Married Priests and Bishops?
A Concluding Unscientific Postscript
Annotated Bibliographical Essay

Freud and the analytic traditions following after him are very much in evidence not just in the method of the book, but in its contents, especially the first chapter, which is an obvious reference to Freud's 1927 book. I draw on Freud in the first chapter alongside the philosopher Charles Taylor to argue for dramatic changes in what I call the "Catholic imaginary" in which the papal cult of personality is seen for the semi-idolatrous problem it is, and is therefore dismantled. This chapter also looks at the twin problems of sex and power. It may be something of an old saw, but it is nonetheless true as Freud showed us: everything is about sex, except sex--which is largely about power. Chapter 1 shows how we can disentangle these things and why we must do so as we come to conceive of, and subsequently to structure, the Church in different ways.

For most of the rest of the book, the second major interlocutor is Nicholas Afanasiev. Indeed, my book would largely be inconceivable were it not for Afanasiev's landmark and invaluable book Church of the Holy Spirit. In that book he rightly insists on seeing the laics, as he calls them, as an integral order alongside clerics and hierarchs.

This three-fold ordering of the Church shows up in  Chapter 2, which calls for reforms to parish councils, making them obligatory for parish governance as a process of mutual accountability between people, pastor, and bishop.

Chapter 3 looks at the overdue reform of diocesan synods so that bishops can be held accountable by and to their people--both laics and clerics.

Chapter 4 looks at necessary changes to episcopal conferences so that they can become true synods with, again, accountability to the people, and disciplinary power among bishops so they do not--as the American episcopate did so pathetically last November--stand around meekly waiting for texts from Rome telling them when to sit down and when to stand up.

Chapter 5 Was perhaps the most unexpected chapter, and I surprised myself by the conclusions I arrived at there, which you can read for yourselves. It is the most tentative chapter because the changes proposed there would require the greatest, and costliest, changes across the Church.

In the coming days I will discuss parts of the book, including other interlocutors as well as those who very kindly and lavishly agreed to endorse it.

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