An Anthropological Reflection on the Church’s Sexual Scandal

Assuaging God for the Rape of Abel 

Painting by Gebhard Fugel

The kind of penitence that must take place to move the Church away from the precipice of destruction is the kind that comes from a much deeper well of ancient understandings of man who is flesh and spirit. We must mine the deeper understandings concerning how God reacted to more than just individual transgressions. We must also try to fathom the implications of national sins, corporate sins, as well as national and corporate penitence. Where individual and corporate sin is present, visible and visceral individual and corporate penitence must serve to counteract the suffocating air of accusations, calls for penalties, and the general tendencies of an accusative “group-think” to pick up a stones and hurl them indiscriminately at individual or corporate scapegoats.123

That Undefinable “Thing” Beneath Our Beds

In the meantime, an undefinable “thing” lies beneath the beds of all hoping to ignite the devil’s ultimate nuclear weaponry — fear and doubt. The rapid gelling of “group-think” through social media concerning the church’s sex scandals propels a highly over reactive knee jerk response. This response is to seek out individual and corporate “scapegoats” in order to provide for a corporate cathartic participation as if to accuse the woman caught in adultery, to which Jesus responds, ‘whoever is without sin, cast the first stone’ (Jn 8:1–7). At the root cause of destructive actions are exigencies of the “thing,” the Nahash, and that ancient Serpent we read about in the book of Genesis. I see a little of this phenomenon at work concerning the recent trial of Cardinal George Pell, former Archbishop of Sydney, Australia.

Nevertheless, laying quietly in the obscurity of our own concupiscence is a monster whose obsession is to destroy us. This is so aptly described in a poem entitled The Monster by a modern day poet. The poet writes:

Shackles nor chains can’t change what it is . . .
Never was it, the one hiding under the bed,
It was me, tired of it getting inside my head . . .
I can still feel, the groping at my feet,
Pulling me from under the sheet
. . . And hear the monster’s whisper, Shh, don’t tell, or else!
Poet Destroyer A4

Deeper Understandings of Penitence

What is it that we must do individually and corporately to repel the full power of this ancient enemy? In today’s present crisis, it will be necessary to search for an answer that could be considered counter intuitive by modern standards. The intuitive responses are already forthcoming in all of their justifiable calls for investigations, weeding out of abusers, implementing of structural change, and canonical clarity.

In our desperate lurch to save a sinking ship, we often times forget exactly whose disappointment and sorrow we are trying to assuage. We forget that God himself is the “elephant in the room,” and we have to ask, after all the solutions have been proposed, what sign is God looking for that we are willing to “turn from our evil ways” (2 Chr 7:14). The answer has already been written, but sadly, overlooked.

The answer is in the deep well of biblical understandings. Therein we find the penitential practices of Queen Esther, her uncle Mordecai (Esth 4), or Job sitting among the ashes (Job 2:8). In the case of the prophet Jonah, when the king of Nineveh is told to repent, “he arose from his throne, removed his robe and covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes” (Jnh 3:6). When Tamar is raped by Amnon, she “put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe which she wore; and she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went” (2 Sam 13:19).

Their experiences come from the deep well of penitence acceptable to the Lord. Though some like Job and Esther were guilty of nothing, yet they were moved to profoundly take upon themselves the measure of reducing their souls to be threadbare. So they dressed in sack cloth and ashes. And all the people followed the example. They did not follow a press release’s agenda about another diocesan or USCCB-sponsored event, at which an alien from another planet would notice no difference between said event and any other church-sponsored gathering.

In contrast, the September 11 tragedy in America presents an example of a deeply driven call for God’s assistance. For a brief period of several weeks after the September 11 tragedy, the churches filled with people, and not by the calling of any action by prelates, leaders of the church, or pastors. People sensed their own helplessness.

With respect to the sexual scandals in the church, the wolf has approached. I am fearful that calls by bishops appear to be nothing but politically-correct, paper-deep sentiments. It is, after all, what is done. Bishops follow the USCCB’s lead. The sheep begin to stir, but where are the shepherds to show the sheep what to do? There appears to be a lack of authentic helplessness of any credible proportion a helplessness that would cause the flock to respond in prayerful recompense for both the shepherds and the flock. Why such drama you ask? The drama of true repentance asked for by the prophet Jonah to the people of Nineveh is about the intensity of what may be necessary to counter balance the drama of the sins committed.

Ancient Power Grabs: The Curious Case of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1–16)

As seen in the Harvey Weinstein case, as with most sexual abuse scandals, major perpetrators of sexual crimes will not be satisfied to simply overpower victims one time; they overpower again and again. They conspire to disappear into established systems with complex infrastructures of relationships in order to achieve their end game — absolute power that mirrors their own sense of a lack of power. That is the nature of mankind since the fall of Adam and the first murderous crash of a rock upon bone — the first fratricide.

The name “Cain” means “to get” or to “grab.” I often wonder if there was much more to the Cain and Able story than simple jealousy. The taking was so severe. The relationship between the brothers was similar to what we see between the brothers in the Prodigal Son parable in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 15:11–32).

Keeping in mind the backdrop of today’s sexual scandal, I have tried to re-imagine the story by reading between the lines.

How did Cain become so crestfallen? Crestfallen is a dramatic word. What obsession was there against his brother? Why was Cain overwhelmed with a need to assuage his lack of attention from God? Did he think his parents also preferred Adam? So it appears as though Cain’s obsession ignited an inner brush fire that exploded into a forest fire of rage — with Cain looking inward and deeply hating himself and his life.

Re-Imagining the Cain and Abel Story Between the Lines — A Reflection

Reflecting upon the story in the Bible, I imagine the relationship between Cain and Abel to be more complicated than what the biblical story reveals, involving Cain’s relationship with his parents, Adam and Eve. I imagine that Cain saw an intangible gift of attraction and influence in Abel’s ability to please those with whom he dealt. Abel had an unexplainable aura of innocence as measured by the things he did (i.e. bringing the best of his flock to serve as a sacrifice to God.) In Cain’s mind, this power was proof that God clearly favored his brother more than him. That was unfair. Sullenly, Cain envies Abel’s relationships with Adam and Eve, and even in his relationship (imagined in my mind) with fictional female siblings. Of course there are no mentioned females in the biblical story, so I imagined that there would have to have been females in order for the two offspring (Cain and Abel) to “be fruitful and multiply.”

These imagined female siblings would be potentially available as mates for the two young men, in view of the lack of other available marital partners. Some biblical writers have suggested that incest in those early days would not have been necessarily taboo. Remember this would have been the primordial gene pool.567

As Cain may have seen his brother’s easy way among female siblings, he began to see all life with his brother as a competition, or even a war: a competition for his parents’ attention, a competition for a woman’s attention; a competition for God’s attention, all of which whirled around in his mind and heart like a volcano ready to erupt.

So, a brooding Cain, the alpha male, begins to stalk his prey; he observes Abel’s sacrificial ritual and tries to imitate, but is so obsessed with focus on Abel that his offering to God affords no appeal as the harvest he offers, while the first fruits, did not contain the “finest wheat” (Ps 81:16). Cain keenly observes how spilt blood is a factor in Abel’s offering that was missing in his; and finally concludes that it would be necessary for spilt blood to satisfy the Lord.

Cain broods more deeply and connives to “kill two birds with the one stone,” and thus by giving God the spilt blood He so assumedly desires, Cain would rid the earth of his competitor in spite of direct warnings from God. By doing these things, Cain would satisfy his desire for attention, glory, and mitigate the overpowering nature of his own lack of self-esteem.

Incurvatus In Se the Elder Brother Broods

In my imaginings we have the picture of Cain’s concave brooding nature. He, the elder brother, is the very picture of Augustine’s “incurvatus in se” or bent in on oneself.8 Cain is like the Shakespearean characters of Cassius and Brutus, brooding over their obsessed and jealous mental reconstructions of Julius Cesar as a “colossus bestriding the narrow waters.” Likewise, I imagine Cain as Judas Iscariot, the third head of Lucifer as described in Dante’s Inferno. There Judas smolders, brooding perhaps over being publicly dismissed as he watches Jesus fawning over the sinful, disgusting, and wasteful woman with the alabaster jar of expensive perfume, bathing Jesus’s feet in nard and tears (Mk 14:1-9).

In my fictional vision, hypothetical sibling sisters interact with both brothers. My imagination focuses on the concave-like soul of Cain brooding as he secretly observes an encounter between his brother Abel and his beautiful younger sister. She is assuaging the sorrow of Abel’s loss of his finest lamb as a part of the ultimate sacrifice for God’s favor. I think here of St. John’s use of the Greek word for lamb in the Book of Revelation being “ἀρνίον, arnion,” instead of (ἀμνός) amnos. Arnion implies the animal was a loved lamb, a little pet lamb. Even though Abel might have been elated to please Yahweh, he must have been heartbroken over the sacrifice of his pet lamb, his prize lamb. I even imagine that Abel loved the lamb so much he must have named it. I also imagine that Abel has a purpose in mind other than just pleasing God. I imagine that his secondary purpose was to expiate the sin of his exiled parents. In contrast, Cain’s concave and obsessive stalking perspective is anything but kind or empathetic over Abel’s weeping posture as he kneels next to the blood soaked dirt where Abel’s pathetic lamb had lain (Arnion: Jer 11:19 and 27:45, Ps 113:4, 6; Josephus, Antiquities 3, 8, 10; and Amnos: Acts 8:32, 1 Pt 1:19, Jn 1:29 and 36).

Cain sees Abel’s work as an act to engender attention of the sibling sister who had consoled (in my imagination) Abel. In Cain’s eyes this liaison between sister and brother seems nefarious, and a direct threat to his future prospects to garner possession of the sister for mating purposes. Cain has his eyes on the sister as a means of claiming her for his own — as if she was chattel or breeding livestock. His anger towards Abel peaks.

Reading between the lines, I imagine Cain’s was not simply a crime of passion against his brother in the legal sense. He was not sane one minute, and the next something randomly triggers the violence bred by the heat of passion. No. I imagine that Cain lived in a perennial heat of passion; He lived suffocated by an inner sense of powerlessness which was the pain-fuel for a constant fire in his soul, mind, and heart.

In such a scenario, Cain watches from the shadows. The imaginings which follow are dramatic and speculative as I seek to find an origin of murder, the raping of life itself. This type of violence occurs to this day especially in an environment wherein the vulnerable among us are overpowered in sexual acts that violate, maim, and, dare I say, murder the soul. Abel is alone and unsuspecting. Cain attacks Abel from behind. He commits a primordial violation of Abel’s body, his dignity, integrity, and his life. This would have been a violation of Abel’s innocence and trust by an older brother.

Perhaps I have taken much poetic license with this biblical story, but is clear, however, the fratricide was the source of later violent episodes in the days before Noah, in the days of Tubal Cain and Lamech, who stated: “Give ear to my saying: For a man I have slain for my wound, even a young man for my hurt” (Gen 4:23). We also see this kind of darkness generations after Cain prior to Lot’s (the nephew of Abraham) dramatic exodus from Sodom; and we read of a manifested sin that takes on the name of Sodom (Gen 19:5).

The First Cover-Up: Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Like any hunter turned stalker, Cain hid in the bushes — in the shadows. He plots the kill as unsuspecting Abel lies exhausted from his trauma of giving up his prize lamb. The totality of Cain’s brooding, insecurity, and jealousy, become the perfect storm which results in the crimes of rape and murder the taking and the destroying of what was not his. At that moment, Cain is overpowered by that lion about which God warns him: “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? . . . Now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don’t let it!” (Gen 4:6–8, 1 Pt 5:8). In the end is Cain’s cover-up line: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

So my imagined interpolation of the biblical drama of Cain and Abel ends with a deep mourning by Adam and Eve. But there is hope as God provided a critical consolation in the birth of their third son, Seth. It would be from Seth’s line that all would come to a head again in the story of Noah, and it would be the progeny of Noah who would give us the hope of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob — all in the line that would usher in the one cure or the one hope for redemption from “that thing” by God’s incarnation, Jesus Christ.

That Adam and Eve would see Abel no more would be a grave hardship for them. And because this loss was at the hand of their other son, the travesty was likely as difficult for them as their own eviction from Eden. However, the indefatigable presence of a loving God remains as an eternal ballast to offer hope for a future for humanity. Seth and his progeny would be the future to be mixed up with this “thing,” this beast of the night, called sin. All sin is a betrayal of God. Yahweh would even go so far as to lovingly allow His divine being, His summum ese, to experience such a betrayal in yet another garden well into the future. God leads from the perspective of complete and total abandonment (Ps 22). This should give us all hope during this time of ecclesial crisis, national crisis, family crisis, or individual crisis.

Perhaps my imagination has gotten the better of me; but it is not unthinkable that the manifestation of sodomy as a sexual deviancy has always been silently tucked away under the dark bedrooms of man’s experience — in all of the histories of societies and cultures through their rise and through their falls in history. The people of Sodom experienced it, and to some degree or other, mature and sophisticated cultures like the Greeks, and the Romans experienced it. This was a point at which the poison seeps out of the bark of the poisonous tree, is consumed, and sumptuously enjoyed.

Sometimes justified in the name of freedom, tolerance, and acceptance, overt attempts to normalize rapacious behavior among consenting adults results in a proliferation of such acts against the non-consenting. In today’s world, perhaps the word “sodomy” is outmoded. Simply substitute “homosexuality, transgenderism” or the liberalization and disassembly of ancient principles of virtue, normality, and natural law.

All the urgings for “accompaniment” aside, there is a limit to how close to the gates of hell we choose to accompany someone before they fall off the precipice and we with them. That would be a self-destructive compassion, and therefore no compassion at all. At some point, we must be willing to abandon those who are hell-bent for the sake of our own souls. The church must stop the urgings for a false compassion that allows the normalization of the spiritually bad and ugly, and results in a roaring confusion and the noise of doubt.

The Normalization of the Bad and Ugly — Sodomy and Abortion

The rampant active and acceptable homosexual lifestyle among consenting adults would never be possible unless it remained embedded in the subculture of how such behavior was learned among the non-consenting; the rape of innocence.

The monster under the bed is one with a genesis in the heart of man. It has existed from the time after Eden. From the very beginnings of Judeo-Christian history, this most unnatural act has been looked at as one of two violations that result in the very destruction of both the internal and external order of past civilizations. Sodomy is endemic to homosexuality, and the stain of it is at the very heart of the scandal we see before us. As witnessed by the ages, every human order that does not extirpate sodomy, that does not shame it, and that does not call it out for what it is, will become chaotic and eventually dissolve into the ash-heap of history.

The normalization of homosexual behaviors, and the normalization of abortion, are proven ingredients in a recipe leading to societal destruction. They are connected. In both cases, the bodily integrity of another human being is violated. In abortion, another person like Cain reaches into a sacred space. He grasps at a soul that is not his, and like Cain, commits a rapacious murder. Why would anyone do this? In the case of abortion it is done, and promoted, for the power of a false freedom to live at the whims of selfish emotion the effects of incurvatus in sei the power to live licentiously rid of the responsibility of fatherhood or motherhood. Abortion is rape and murder all at once, much like its sin-sister sodomy.

Like abortion, sodomy is the reaching into the sacred body of another woman or man in a violation against the anatomically purposeful architecture and complementarity reserved for fecundity. Instead both sodomy and abortion result in a very vapid and purposeless emotional self-satisfaction in the proffered name of “love” and “freedom.” This is the case regardless of consent. Their purpose is solely to self-satisfy in an act that, in nature’s law, is meant to be life-producing. Abortion and sodomy both evoke rape and murder. They form a triumvirate of the tyranny behaviors of licentiousness, self-pleasure, and falsehood. Sodomy murders the dignity of another person; abortion murders the dignity of motherhood, and physically kills an innocent and unsuspecting life.

Lord, To Whom Shall We Go? (Jn 6:68)  Following the Lead of Nineveh

Of course, we must never leave the Church. Like John the Evangelist, we must go with Jesus to Calvary. Nevertheless, for some reason, many of the modern day apostles (i.e. the bishops) have fallen asleep once again (Matt 26:40–43). They must awaken, arise, and follow. And while Peter and Judas went the way of betrayal, both made different penitential choices. To whom else could they go? Peter and Judas answered that question differently.

John, who represents priesthood and all of us, along with Jesus’ mother, and Mary Magdalene, endured in a penitential posture though completely innocent. The Church’s bishops must act accordingly. They must act like a Queen Esther, and the Jewish people of the City of Susa. They must follow the lead of the Ninevites. There must be an overt recognition of universal sinfulness, that they have fallen asleep, that they have abandoned their posts, and even denied our Lord.

An overt recognition of a “corporate” sin must not be reduced to the mercenary, sterile, and vapid issuance of documents. The bishops must demonstrate their sorrow whether implicated or not, to dress in a visible motif of sack cloth and ashes in front of their churches and cathedrals in rain or sunshine for everyone to see. A remnant would then gather from among the scattered sheep, and pray with them. Visual motifs are powerful. They must be unannounced and spontaneous — not contrived.

Only then can such renewal and revival transfer into the priesthood and schools of formation wherein individuals become spiritually trained, not just academically trained. The structural elements of a seminary system must bear the mark of that fundamental realization that God is present at all times when we are faithful and unfaithful alike; however, when we turn our backs from him, we cannot take the benefit of His integral nature and presence. And when we continue the sin of Pelagianism by imposing upon the world a well-formed solution — a best practice — crafted by the heart of man, well, we will fail again. This is why I do not trust uninspired corporate and scripted responses from conferences of bishops in any part of the world.

Solutions, whether organizational or personal, must deal with that hidden “thing”, that “dark dragon” that lies beneath the veneer of who we are. This ugly-think crosses all personal and institutional boundaries, no matter how holy. This is the “dark dragon” that festers beneath the skin of man. This essay hopefully attempts to call out who that dragon is, and point to some anthropological roots, so that the church may better address the scandal, as well as clerical formation issues, that are at the root of the current scandal, and were at the root of the original scandal of the “rape of Abel.”

  1. Helmut Schoeck, Der Neid. Eine Theorie der Gesellschaft (Envy: A Theory of Social Behavior) (Freiburg/Munich: Verlag Karl Alber, 1966).
  2. Rene Girard, A Theater of Envy: William Shakespeare (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).
  3. Rene Girard, Je vois Satan tomber comme l’éclair (Paris: Grasset, 1999), translated in English as: I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001).
  4. Poetry Destroyer A, poetrysoup.com/poem/monster_981244.
  5. Note: Various early commentators have said that Cain and Abel had sisters, usually twin sisters. According to Rabbi Joshua ben Karha, as quoted in Genesis Rabbah, Only two entered the bed, and seven left it: Cain and his twin sister, Abel and his two twin sisters.
  6. E. Cobham Brewer, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1894).
  7. Abarbanel Gen 4:1, as cited by Codex Judaica.
  8. Augustine of Hippo: Civitas Dei; Augustine’s City of God, written from 413–26 AD, is of significant help for us to understand how Augustine viewed sin.
Deacon Thomas Baca About Deacon Thomas Baca

Thomas Baca is a Permanent Deacon in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, currently assigned to St. Therese of the Infant Jesus Shrine in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Deacon Baca maintains a blog at: www.tentofthelord.blogspot.com . He has degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication, Philosophy, and Public Administration. He has served in several parishes in both the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, and the Diocese of Las Cruces where he served as Executive Director of Catholic Charities and where he also served Bishop Oscar Cantu as an advisor for Campaign for Human Development. He was ordained in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2007.

Comments

  1. Avatar Fr. Valentine Young, OFM says:

    Rev. Mr. Thomas Baca: I may never have written anything praise-worthy and outstanding. But now I definitely know someone who has. That is Deacon Tom Baca. Congratulations on your fine article in Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

  2. Avatar Rhina Morán de Ferrer says:

    Excellent !!
    I only want to Say :. In my oplnion Rev. Cardinal Pell la innocent .
    Thanks

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