This is a piece I wrote over a decade ago. Still seems fairly relevant.
The topic of sexual abuse is, as it should be, so deeply disturbing that the repulsion and repugnance one feels toward the crime and the abuser is beyond expression of mere words. It was upsetting to look at the news this week. There is so much justified anger as well as regrettable but understandable loss of faith among the Irish. As it turns out, Pope Benedict has been working vigorously against the evil of pedophilia and those committing it for years now.
But, none of the pope’s current apologies change the recent past. One can only imagine how much this on-going scandal has hurt Mother Church. Without a doubt, non-Catholics have been using this scandal against Rome for years. Half a decade ago, my wife and I saw a sign in Toledo, Ohio, advertising: “Tired of worrying about pedophilia in your church? Come to XXXX Church this Sunday.” Truly tacky? Yes. Truly true? Most likely.
Sadly, this was certainly not an isolated incident. The scandal in the Catholic Church has not only caused numerous Catholics to leave the faith, it has also, surely, prevented many from joining the Church.
And, frankly, who can blame them? The crimes are real, the anger against the criminals is real, and the fact that the Church as an institution has done very little in the past against pedophiles is obvious to even the most loyal Catholics. We can make all of the excuses we want–the media has focussed too much on this issue; abuse is just as high among Protestant clergy; more public school teachers abuse kids than do Catholic priests; most of the priests who committed the abuse were educated in the cultural chaos of the decade after Vatican II, etc. Regardless of any of these things or all of these things, the abuse is very, very real, and the coverup or intentional ignorance of such heinous activities by its clergy in the Church prior to the 21st century is equally real. Indeed, some of the abuse was committed by those–such as the founder of one of the more recent and growing orders–very high up in the Catholic Church.
The current generation of Catholics will be dealing with the ramifications of these demented clergy for years to come.
So, how should the Church deal with it?
Most important, it should come totally clean. Those who committed, perpetrated, and covered up the abuse should be exposed, severely punished, and defrocked. Immediately. Actually, sooner than immediately.
It must be remembered, perhaps first and foremost, that no matter how fast the Church moves, the victims will never fully recover. Those abused–especially sexually–will suffer from Post-Traumatic Syndrome for the rest of their lives. They will always carry with them a sense of betrayal and shame. They will always feel somewhat unclean, no matter how innocent they are.
And, what kind of mercy do the perpetrators deserve? Their actions, indeed, are far beyond committing an evil such as murder or theft; rape is beyond explanation. Rape of a child is even beyond this. It is beyond justification in any way, shape, or form. And, at least in this world, it is beyond forgiveness. What court ruling, what payment, what apology can make up for the evil pedophiles have committed? Pedophiles have violated the laws of God, of nature, and of man. They have behaved in a fashion not only utterly and completely demeaning to the dignity of the human person, they have against committed these crimes against the most innocent of our society. Even Jesus Christ–He who redeems the world–said those who hurt the children might as well tie a millstone around their neck and be thrown into the sea.
For not only are their crimes evil, the pedophiles themselves are evil. Even other criminals recognize this. “ChoMos”–child molesters–as they’re called in prison. Justice, indeed.
In its response, the Church should treat pedophiles as something less than human.
And, what about the vast majority of priests who have never committed such crimes. Can they wear their collars in public and serve as an icon of Christ with humility and Christian confidence? Or, do they wonder what those around them–passing them in the grocery stores, the airport terminals, and in the street–are thinking about them.
Decisive action on the part of the Church will never cure those who have been abused. But, it will punish the guilty and exonerate, at least in the eyes of the public, the good priests. Most important, though, punishment of these pedophile clergy is just. Swift justice might–we pray to our Lord and Savior–very well save a potential victim, a child bearing the Imago Dei.
If the Church does not act quickly and decisively, its future might very well be in doubt. If the Church does not act quickly and decisively, its future might very well be in doubt. twee