We have a Church that doesn’t have a tradition of talking together about things. The key in all abuse is to allow people to speak of it. If you can’t name it then you can’t identify what must be healed. There’s nowhere to go unless you name it first.” – Sr. Nuala Kenny
|Your words have power|
use them wisely
Not many Roman Catholics want to return to the subject of child sexual abuse, self included. But recent exchanges with several so called ‘devout’ Roman Catholics helped change my mind. Opinions about the clerical sexual abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church are seen by some, especially its leaders, as nothing more than a vicious attack upon the institution. Au contraire! This is a worldwide problem and not just within religious institutions. However painful the subject may be, it must not remain closeted in some dark and secret place if we are to bring healing and understanding to both its victims and abusers. The Church, which could influence a much needed healing on the subject, seems to prefer a defensive approach by blaming the matter on the media, secularism, and atheism etc.. Thus the church avoids looking inwardly. In doing so, it reveals a total lack of integrity and honesty which is desperately needed to bring God’s gift of sexuality out of the present darkness.
The Roman Catholic Church knowingly and intentionally withheld information that could have stopped the perpetrators from abusing more children. Experts such as Dr. Richard Sipe and Fr. Tom Doyle clearly identified that the chief causes behind the abuse and cover-up are due to the clerical culture that allowed this situation to exist and continue. A priest who did not feel free to identify himself for fear of repercussions from his bishop wrote, “Clericalism is not simply the burden of priests who abuse children; hierarchy betrays the whole Church by its dishonesty that they justify by a claim to superiority.”
Geoffrey Robertson QC in his book, ‘The Case of the Pope’ (2010), states, “The fact is that tens of thousands of children throughout the world have been sexually abused by priests who have mostly been secretly dealt with by an ecclesiastical law that provides no real punishment and gives them ample opportunity to re-offend. There is no doubt that the scale of the sex abuse scandal came about because of directives from the Vatican – specifically from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – which required all sex abuse complaints to be processed in utter secrecy and withheld from local police and courts.” The culture of secrecy, according to Sipe, lies with Canon law and its instructions to the faithful - i.e., ‘Do not give scandal —that is: do not say or do anything that could damage the image or reputation of priests or the church—or give the enemies of the church ammunition for attacks.’
Irish priest, Brian D’Arcy (2010) writes, “A combination of bad theology, the dysfunctional abuse of power and a warped view of sexuality, have contributed to the ‘systemic failure’ to protect the most innocent and the most vulnerable children. I believe that the evil clerical culture which pervades our institution, right up to the Vatican bureaucracy itself, needs to be dismantled.”
Again, to quote Richard Sipe, “It is clear that the institutional church is in a pre-adolescent stage of psychosexual development. This is a period typically prior to eleven years of age in which boys prefer association with their own sex, girls are avoided and held in disdain, often as a guise for fear of women as well as-yet-un-solidified sexuality. Sex generally is rigidly denied externally; while secretly explored. The rigidity extends to strict rules of inclusion and exclusion. Control and avoidance are of primary concern. A church stuck in the pre-adolescent stage of development is limited in its ability to cope with sexual issues and give sexual guidelines”.
When the Roman Catholic Church is unable to face and handle its self-inflicted wound and refuses to apply the expert advice it has been given, it will simply remain in denial. In this unfortunate way, they are unable to assist the rest of the world in giving spiritual advice about sexuality for they obviously do not possess it themselves.
The late Cardinal Carlo Martini—a voice of reason and humility in the Church—said, “Our culture is out of date, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous”. It will require a great deal of humility for the Church to finally accept its role in this terrible scandal.
After all, who is going to continue to speak for the thousands of nameless victims (who are never mentioned by most Pro-Life groups)? The carefully arranged public offerings of apologies by the clergy for its victims may be a beginning but it hardly touches the depth of compassion and understanding required to bring a total healing to this painful episode in the lives of the victims and our church.
Finally, we need to reflect on the following challenging and concluding remarks from the distinguished human rights lawyer and judge Geoffrey Robertson, QC. “What will be required of the Vatican, as a signal of a new commitment to put children first, is the complete abandonment of Benedict's claim that the Holy See has the right to deal with suspected felons under an obscure, inefficient and secret ecclesiastical process. But Canon Law provides a form of power, and perhaps Benedict's fatal flaw is his attraction to power — to the pomp and circumstance of statehood, to the queues of world leaders who come to bend at his knee and kiss his fisherman's ring, and to the satisfaction of having delegates promote his ideology with six seats at UN conference tables. Journalists often tell how this kindly old man offers to share his food with them, but an analysis of his behaviour suggests a man in thrall to power and unable to give any of it up — even for the sake of innocent children. When it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Holy See quoted the words of John Paul II, to the effect that children 'are that precious treasure given to each generation as a challenge to its wisdom and humanity'. John Paul II himself, as we now know, failed that challenge by cosseting notorious child molester and turning a blind eye to the mounting toll of child victims. So did his closest lieutenant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. On the question of whether Benedict XVI is capable of the wisdom and humanity to protect the children of his church, the jury is out.”