I hope you’ll forgive a newcomer regurgitating an old, but still ‘trendy’, topic. In his new book, In the Closet of the Vatican, Frederic Martel blames the cover up of paedophilia on the Vatican’s ‘culture of secrecy’ (p x111). No doubt that is one aspect of Christianity’s paedophilia crisis, but I venture that Christian doctrine itself might also be relevant.
In St Augustine’s autobiographical Confessions, he wrote of “filth” and “the itch of lust” in infants. (The Confessions, Book IX, Chapter 1 Translation by Edward B Pusey) He saw evil in babies and in his Answer to the Pelagians, he wrote “Who is clean from filth? Not even an infant who has lived one day on earth.” (Answer to the Pelagians, Book 6, P622, Translation by Roland J. Teske SJ)
St Augustine’s ideas are baffling. Surely the charm of our babies is their purity, their palpable innocence; what perversion led St Augustine to declare that he saw filth and lust in infants? Because of his teaching we learn, as children, that our souls have already been stained with Original sin from the concupiscence (lust) of Adam and Eve, and that we have to be baptised to wash this sin away. (Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1512, DS 1514; CCC: 403, 406, 491.)
Priests have been known to adulterate sacred doctrine. After making a nine-year-old give him oral sex, one shamed priest rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water ‘to purify him’. (Pennsylvania 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury REPORT 1, Interim, Aug. 14th 2018, p10) Might St Augustine’s doctrine on infantile sin be an inadvertent marker for wilful clerics to sanction sexual abuse?
St Augustine’s 5th century vision
Since 412AD theologians have discussed and disputed St Augustine’s concept of Original sin.
Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that, while everyone bears the consequences of the first sin, the foremost of which is death, only Adam and Eve are guilty of that sin. Western Christianity on the other hand, teaches that everyone bears the guilt of that Original sin from birth. This freak anomaly is St Augustine’s legacy to us.
The Crux of Sin
The extent to which paedophilia occurs is not known with certainty, but the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse suggests the percentage of paedophiles in clerical ranks is 7%. (Australian Royal Commission into IRCSA, p 248 Final Report: Volume 1) That is almost double the proportion found in the male population at large in most studies and perhaps an indication of a malign influence at work. Could it be that St Augustine’s child imputing doctrine is a contributory factor?
The Holy Sacrament of Baptism
Before St Augustine, Baptism was received by adults as a rite of admission to Christianity and there is no mention in the Bible of Original sin.
Progressive theologians think St Augustine was mistaken to teach that all babies inherit Adam and Eve’s sin by having been conceived in lust. Rev. Cauley says: “There is no greater threat to Christianity than the doctrine of Original sin”. (The Confessions, Book IX, Chapter 1 Translation by Edward B Pusey)
Branding infants sinful when they have done no wrong seems perverse. Negative labels can be spiritually and mentally damaging. Unjustified shame of sinfulness may be deepened by having children proclaim faux transgressions, as in Penitential prayer recitals. Are our youngsters made more susceptible to being abused by bearing the disgrace of unmerited sins?