Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Death by a Thousand Papercuts

You can shout that it is "40 year old news" or "nothing we haven't heard before".  You can complain about anti-Catholic bigotry by the New York Times because Catholic scandal is a page one story but they didn't report about the Orthodox Rabbi in New York who was convicted this past week of 10 counts of child molestation.  You can cite statistics that show the vast majority of child sexual abuse happens within families or by non-celibate, heterosexual men.  You can qualify terms by identifying the majority of sexual abusers as ephebophiles, not pedophiles, since most victims were post-pubescent.  Why all of these may be true, they only succeed in making the Church appear as though it is deflecting the main issue or somehow mitigating its offenses.  So how does the Church respond?  Anyone in public relations (and possessing common sense) knows you have to 'get out in front of the story'.

Why didn't the bishops in Europe and throughout the world learn the difficult lessons their brother bishops in the United States learned beginning in 2002?  Why would they not have immediately begun to draft an equivalent of the Dallas Charter, as imperfect as it is, in their own dioceses?  Did they think they just dodged the bullet?  Naive in thinking there were no instances of sexual crimes among their clergy?  Or worse, were they simply hoping the information would not go public--in other words: covering up.

Shortly after the scandal in Ireland made international headlines, Pope Benedict summoned the bishops of Ireland to the Vatican for a "summit".  The outcome of this meeting is soon to be published in a pastoral letter from the Holy Father to the people of Ireland.  Who is next?  The Germans?  The Dutch?  We haven't seen any headlines from Brazil yet...maybe them?  What I believe needs to be done is similar to what the Holy Father did with the prelates of Ireland--but for the entire Church.  Church Councils have been summoned for less of a crisis than this!  Bishops are fairly autonomous in governing their dioceses, and this may explain why responsibility for past crimes does not rest with the Pope.  However, while the sheer number of abusers and abuse cases may be comparatively low in number, there is not a diocese in the world immune.  Therefore the need for a universal response rests with the pope.

George Weigel best analyzed the clergy sexual abuse crisis in his book The Courage to Be Catholic.  In it he stated the cause of the crisis is not celibacy, homosexuality, pedophilia but a crisis in fidelity to Christ.  Amen!  Pope Benedict is attempting to heal the crisis of fidelity through The Year for Priests and Liturgical renewal.  I don't doubt he had the crisis in mind when he called for the Year for Priests with the theme "Fidelity of Christ, Fidelity of the Priest".  My fear, however is that unless Pope Benedict universally and publicly addresses this ongoing crisis, the Church will be further damaged over a longer period of time by the trickling stream of scandal and accusations of complicity for many popes to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment