Did Relaxed Fasting Practices Contribute to Increased Clerical Sexual Abuse?
Fundamental to early Christianity, spiritual fasting has declined significantly in the Catholic Church. The prescribed fasts have been systematically relaxed or abandoned. Did these changes affect the morality and self-restraint of the clergy?
By: Mario A. S. Ahmad, JD
Probably the most complete survey on the subject, Fasting for God highlights the reasons people have fasted for thousands of years. However, it doesn't try to make anyone a vegetarian, eat kosher, fast Ramadan or observe Lent.
Although not just about Catholicism, the insightful quotes by desert fathers, saints, and Church doctors extolling the virtues of fasting evidence how important this practice was to them:
... a gluttonous, idle man will never be able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting. --Leo Tolstoy.
Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one's flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust... --St. Augustine.
...the ardor of lust is dampened by abstinence from food and drink.--St. Thomas Aquinas.
So, why did an institution so steeped in traditions and historically hostile to change, abandon this sacred discipline? Some Catholic scholars and theologians also lament the changes. Two poignant quotes in the book underscore their frustration:
"For Catholics, the practice of fasting has...fallen off the screen, due in large measure to the minimalistic interpretation of what Church members are told fasting means: "Take only one full meal. Two smaller meals are permitted as necessary, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted."
Should you convey that to a Muslim or Jew or Buddhist who might ask you what fasting means for Catholics, be prepared to be looked at with an uncomprehending frown and then asked, "How is that different from a normal day? Don't you normally eat one main meal and two smaller ones?" --Fr. Thomas Ryan.
…let us return from these concrete details to the essential, which is "to love fasting," as Saint Benedict says. Today's monks no longer practice it; they do not even know what it is. How could they "love" it? --Adalbert de Vogüé.
Fasting for God alerts us to the dramatic differences between traditional fasting and what today goes by that name in the Catholic Church. The book suggests that clerical sexual abuse is in part a result of abandoning this universally accepted shield against sexual depravity.