liberal critics of the Church—celibacy, confession, the malernpriesthood. All have been denounced in the aftermath of thernsex scandals, and the Church has had to struggle to defend itsrntraditions—needless to say, with the critics receiving thernwholehearted support of the media. As a rhetorical device, thernassociation is brilliant; to oppose the “reform” of celibacy orrnwomen’s ordination is to defend child abuse and even to attractrnsuspicion to oneself as a friend and accomplice of abusers.rnThere are many illustrations of this assault. For example,rnthere is a detailed if partisan study of the Newfoundland affairrnin Michael Harris’s 1990 book Unholy Orders, which describesrnthe many protest meetings of parishioners and other citizenrngroups. A typical statement in these meetings was that “thernonly way to purge the Church was to allow priests to marry andrnto open the seminary doors to women.” “Other radical meansrnwere proposed,” continues Harris, “including the abolition ofrnconfession so that fallen priests wouldn’t have an easy meansrnof homing in on their victims.” During 1989, moreover, thernCanadian hierarchy found itself under intense popular pressurernto consider permitting married priests.rnThe crisis has not yet reached national proportions in thernUnited States, but all the same indignant voices have beenrnheard. In the early 1980’s, the panic over child abuse led virtuallyrnall states to pass mandatory reporting statutes, providingrnharsh criminal penalties for “any person” failing to reportrnknown or suspected abuse. The sweeping legislation failedrnto provide exemption for groups like doctors and therapists,rnwho had traditionally enjoyed a privileged confidential relationshiprnwith their clients, and even demanded compliance byrnclergy. Only a handful of states provided clergy exemption,rnwhich technically means that a Catholic priest is breaking thernlaw if he fails to expose an offense he has discovered (or suspected)rnthrough the confessional. One law review article termsrnthis “the pending gauntlet to free exercise (of religion).” It isrndifficult to imagine any jurisdiction foolhardy enough to riskrnsuch a dramatic church-state confrontation, but the possibilityrnis much less unthinkable than it would have been five yearsrnago. We may yet see bishops and priests in prison for respectingrnthe sanctity of the confessional.rnAbuse—whatever this means—has also provided an excusernfor a frontal assault on celibacy. The last few years have witnessedrna spate of books on the unpopularity of clerical celibacy,rnand it has been alleged that priests and religious respond torntheir inner conflicts in one of two ways: either they ignore therndiscipline by forming relationships with women or they becomernpedophiles. Recent books—quoted with glowing approvalrnin the major newspapers—have suggested that anywherernup to half of all priests effectively ignore celibacyrnregulations. Such studies cannot fail to have an impact, andrnrecent opinion polls suggest that the number of Catholics favoringrnmarried priests rose from 58 percent in 1983 to 70 percentrnin 1992. Those supporting the ordination of womenrnpriests grew in the same period from 40 percent to nearly 70rnpercent. These changes cannot be entirely attributed to thernpanic over child abuse, but the eoineidence in timing is strikmg.rnThe question of child abuse has done much to subvert a seriesrnof fundamental Catholic institutions that had remainedrnlargely unchallenged since the Reformation. It is quite possiblernto imagine a Catholic Church with married clergy, withrnwomen priests, and without auricular confession, though manyrnwould question how far such a body could claim an authenticrnlink to Catholic tradition. But such changes appear mildrnwhen compared with the intellectual and cultural revolutionrnthat is now threatened in the name of feminist theology, inrnwhich the theme of child abuse plays a fundamental role.rnChristian feminists have often been criticized for their ambitionrnto create new systems oriented toward the worship of arnnurturing goddess rather than a traditional Judeo-Christianrndeity. In the process, they have shown a disturbing willingnessrnto synthesize practices and beliefs from other female-orientedrnreligions (including New Age groups and ” Wicea” witches).rnCreeping neopaganism has often used the issue of abuse as arnmeans of self-justification, leading many activists to challengernvirtually all of the basic concepts not merely of Catholicism,rnbut of Christianity as such.rnChristian churches have differed over many aspects of theirrnfaith, but the great majority have held fast to certain key notions:rnhuman sinfulness, the atonement, the sacrificial death ofrnChrist, redemptive suffering, and the forgiveness of sins asrnthe highest virtue. All of these ideas have been denounced byrnleading feminists like Mary Daly, Alice Miller, Matthew Fox,rnand Joanne Carlson Brown, precisely because these mainstreamrnChristian notions represent what they term a “theologyrnof abuse.” In this view, guilt and a sense of sin represent thernpsychic scars of the primal rape and abuse suffered by the bchever,rnwhile God becomes the ultimate abuser. EpiscopalrnLife quoted a theorist who challenged the theology of the crucifixion:rn”To me, it is an abusive act of a father toward a child.rnThe theology of sin in the church is all about human worthlessness.”rnAbsurd as it may seem, the Trinity becomes therncelestial archetype of the dysfunctional family.rnThe essays in one of feminism’s major texts—Christianity,rnPatriarchy and Abuse—repeatedly challenge Christian beliefsrnin this same vein. For example, “We do not need to be savedrnby Jesus’ death from some original sin. Wc need to be liberatedrnfrom the oppression of racism, classism and sexism, thatrnis, from patriarchy. . . . Peace was not made by the Cross . . .rnsuffering is never redemptive, and suffering cannot be redeemed.”rnFurthermore, “As an aspect of trinitarian thought,rnChristology is often based on implicit elements of childrnabuse.” Even forgiveness is prohibited in some instances, becausernthe offense of child abuse is so immeasurably severernand because forgiving gets in the way of the “healing” of the allegedrnvictim. Perhaps, after all these centuries, we have finallyrnidentified the mysterious “sin against the Holy Spirit,”rnwhich cannot be forgiven? The Christian and specificallyrnCatholic condemnation of sexual immorality is dismissed inrnthese same pages as “theological pornography.”rnIt is less than two decades since a “child abuse problem” wasrndefined in this country. In that brief time, however, the problemrn—and the ideology based upon it—has gained such supportrnthat it has revolutionized our justice system and underminedrnour churches. The panic is in a sense a perfect weapon,rnbecause so few are prepared to question this orthodoxy andrnhence to challenge its practical consequences. Realizing this,rnliberals and feminists have used the abuse ideology as a TrojanrnHorse to enter and to subvert many traditional institutions. Inrnreligion, the panic threatens to overthrow not merely thernCatholic Church but much of the essence of Christianity itself.rnChild abuse might indeed be the greatest threat thernChurch has faced in centuries, but the danger comes less fromrnthe handful of pedophile clergy than from the cynical activistsrnwho arc exploiting their misdeeds. crnDECEMBER 1992/27rnrnrn