When Pope Francis said after leaving Ireland he had never heard of the Magdalene Laundry scandal he was lying, writes James Carroll, a leading ex-priest in the lead story in Atlantic Monthly.

That alleged lie has led Carroll to argue for ending the priesthood in order to save the church.

James Carroll, a leading former cleric and best-selling author has called on the Catholic Church to end the priesthood and give the church back to lay people. The reality of the priesthood is that it has become toxic, he states, in the lead article in Atlantic Monthly.

He cites the incredible number of abusive priests and the massive cover-ups by cardinals and indeed, popes, as the reason. He states he is glad his Irish immigrant mother did not live to see the scandals almost destroy her beloved church.

Carroll adds that it was Pope Francis telling a lie while in Ireland that he had never heard of the abuse of helpless young women in the Magdalene Laundries that finally convinced him to end mass going, taking sacraments and believing in the priesthood.

Read more: Why Pope Francis should speak to Irish Catholic Church abuse survivors

He writes: “The Ryan Commission (in Ireland) published its 2,600-page report in 2009. Despite government inspections and supervision, Catholic clergy had, across decades, violently tormented thousands of children.”

Carroll said there was a massive cover-up concerning “the notorious Magdalene Laundries,” where girls and women were condemned to lives of coercive servitude. Not only priests had behaved despicably. So had nuns.

“In August 2018, Pope Francis made a much-publicized visit to Ireland. His timing could not have been worse.”

Before, during, and after his trip to Ireland, Francis had expressed, as he put it, “shame and sorrow.” But he showed no sign of understanding the need for the Church to significantly reform itself or to undertake acts of true penance.

Carroll writes that “one of the astonishments of Pope Francis’s Irish pilgrimage was his claim, made to reporters during his return trip to Rome, that until then he had known nothing of the Magdalene Laundries or their scandals: ‘I had never heard of these mothers—they call it the laundromat of women, where an unwed woman is pregnant and goes into these hospitals.’”

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Pope Francis in Ireland. Image: RollingNews.ie.

Pope Francis in Ireland. Image: RollingNews.ie.

Carroll was appalled. He writes: “Never heard of these mothers? When I read that, I said to myself: A lie. Pope Francis is lying. He may not have been lying—he may merely have been ignorant. But to be uninformed about the long-simmering Magdalene scandal was just as bad. As I read the pope’s words, a taut wire in me snapped … So it took some doing to bring me to a breaking point, and Pope Francis—whom in many ways I admire, and in whom I had placed an almost desperate hope—is the unlikely person who brought me to breaking point.”

Carroll identifies clericalism, the overwhelming power of the supposedly celibate men in charge of the Church as the problem. The world needs the Church to be “rational, historically minded, pluralistic, committed to peace, a champion of the equality of women, and a tribune of justice.” It is not, he says.

“The Church’s maleness and misogyny became inseparable from its structure. The conceptual underpinnings of clericalism can be laid out simply: Women were subservient to men.

Laypeople were subservient to priests, who were defined as having been made “ontologically” superior by the sacrament of holy orders. He writes: “Now, with children as victims and witnesses both, the corruption of priestly dominance has been shown for the evil that it is.”

Clericalism he says “explains both how the sexual-abuse crisis could happen and how it could be covered up for so long. If the structure of clericalism is not dismantled, the Roman Catholic Church will not survive, and will not deserve to.”

Carroll writes that a “subculture” at the very highest levels of the church has “licensed, protected, and enabled those malevolent men of the cloth who are prepared to exploit the young.

“The very priesthood is toxic … Many parishes lack any priests at all. In the United States, Catholicism is losing members faster than any other religious denomination. For every non-Catholic adult who joins the Church through conversion, there are six Catholics who lapse.”

He adds that “the renewal offered by Vatican II may have been thwarted, but a reformed, enlightened, and hopeful Catholic Church is essential in our world.”

Carroll asks: “What if multitudes of the faithful, appalled by what the sex-abuse crisis has shown the Church leadership to have become, were to detach themselves from—and renounce—the cassock-ridden power structure of the Church and reclaim Vatican II’s insistence that that power structure is not the Church? The Church is the people of God. The Church is a community that transcends space and time. Catholics should not yield to clerical despots the final authority over our personal relationship to the Church. I refuse to let a predator priest or a complicit bishop rip my faith from me.

“Replacing the diseased model of the Church with something healthy The Church, whatever else it may be, is not the organizational apparatus. It is a community of memory, keeping alive the story of Jesus Christ. The Church is an in-the-flesh connection to him—or it is nothing.”

He concludes: “The Church is the fellowship of those who follow Jesus, of those who seek to imitate him—a fellowship, to repeat the earliest words ever used about us, of “those that loved him at the first and did not let go of their affection for him.”

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Should we put an end to the priesthood? Getty