May 17, 2019 (Washington, D.C.)—The Catholic Church’s reputation and membership has suffered under the continued devastating revelations of rapmant sexual abuse, aided by priests, bishops, and cardinals who’ve protected each other over countless victims. James Carroll, who spent five years as a priest himself, harbored no illusions about the Church’s betrayal, and yet maintained his faith as he wrote and reported on the Church’s moral failings. Only in the past year did Carroll reach his breaking point, spurred in part by the Pennsylvania grand jury findings that over 70 years, more than 1000 children had been abused in the state by 300 priests. He came to realize that the Church would never reform itself, as the institution refused to take the actions necessary to ensure these horrors end. He stopped attending mass, and began considering how the Church could save itself.
His solution is the basis for the powerful argument on the cover of The Atlantic’s June issue. In “Abolish the Priesthood” Carroll identifies the vesting of power in an all-male and celibate clergy as the problem. “Clericalism, with its cult of secrecy, its theological misogyny, its sexual repressiveness, and its hierarchical power based on threats of a doom-laden afterlife, is at the root of Roman Catholic dysfunction,” Carroll writes. “Clericalism is both the underlying cause and the ongoing enabler of the present Catholic catastrophe.” Only by dismantling the clerical hierarchy, he argues, can the Church end the perpetual scandals, move into the modern age, and preserve the faith of its believers.