The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Next Steps for Addressing Priestly Abuse Print E-mail
By Fr. Gerald Murray   
Thursday, 23 January 2014

The horror of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests appeared once again in the headlines last week when representatives of the Holy See gave testimony before the United Nations Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Children in Geneva. Veteran Vatican diplomat Archbishop Silvano Tomasi headed the Holy See delegation. He was seconded by Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who formerly served as the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with responsibility for handling cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Bishop Scicluna made instant headlines when he said, in response to a committee member’s question, “The Holy See gets it. Let’s not say too late or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently.”

Politicians and celebrities use the hip expression “I get it” with some frequency. It means more than simply I understand something. It carries the contrite implication that I intend to take some action to undo some problem. It signals that I have had a “eureka” moment. Scicluna’s comment hit home because it candidly acknowledged that the Holy See knows it has not done enough.

“Certain things… need to be done differently.” All too true. Much has been done to deal more effectively with the plague of sexual abuse. Witness the Holy See’s report that in the years 2011 and 2012, 384 priests were removed from the priesthood either because they were found guilty of sexually abusing a minor, or because they voluntarily requested to leave the priesthood following an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor.

More will undoubtedly be done to improve the way the Holy See handles this shameful stain upon the holiness of the Church. Pope Francis decided to form a commission for the protection of minors – a much needed initiative.

The ordinary faithful remain stunned by the extent of predatory sexual behavior among men ordained to proclaim the Gospel, even if the percentage of such malefactors in the priesthood is quite low. They are also stunned by the lack of accountability of the senior management level of the Church, the bishops.

Bishops who have failed in their duty to protect children from predatory priests can only be punished by the pope. Up to now very few bishops have been held accountable. That, too, needs to change.


        Archbishop Silvano Tomasi (left) and Bishop Charles Scicluna

Bishop Scicluna told the UN Committee, “I think there is a clear signal that omertà is not the way the Church should respond. I am convinced that the best thing for the institution is to own up to the truth whatever it is.”

Refreshing words, indeed. Silence and cover-up in the past emboldened criminal priests to continue their depredations – when they were quietly put back into circulation in a parish following so-called treatment. This must never happen again.

It is interesting to note that, in his remarks to the U.N. Committee, Archbishop Tomasi referred to both the John Jay College study, The Cause and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, and to the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. These documents are evidence of a vigorous response on the part of the U.S. Bishops in producing an accounting of what happened, and in formulating tough canonical procedures to punish sexual abusers among the clergy.

But these measures have clearly not been enough to resolve the crisis, as demonstrated by the revelation in February 2011 of a group of Philadelphia priests accused of sexual abuse of minors, yet not brought to justice by the Archdiocese.

The Holy See also needs to recognize that the revelations of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the United States and elsewhere came by way of the justice system and the media. The Holy See needs to be pro-active in getting to the truth. That means more vigilance and more investigations. 

I suggest sending Papal Visitators to work with the Nuncios in each country to examine every diocese’s history and response to this crisis. Some may object that this is an extremely time-consuming and burdensome process. I say, “So what?” Getting to the truth and preventing the sexual abuse of minors by priests is much more important than most other questions we face in the Church.

Archbishop Tomasi quoted from Pope Benedict’s address to the Bishops of Ireland in 2006: “In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.

Given the past – and not so past – history of various bishops shielding abuser priests from punishment, the Holy See has to take the lead in this regard if it wants to show a credible response. It will all be to the good, and will begin to convince believers and unbelievers alike that the Church is serious and contrite.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D., a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is pastor of Holy Family Church, New York, NY, and a canon lawyer.

 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.
 

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (18)Add Comment
0
...
written by Jack,CT, January 23, 2014
Fr,
Thankyou and Welcome!
0
...
written by mac the lawyer, January 23, 2014
Here's the deal:

1) Find the name of a deceased priest who has been credibly accused of abuse of minors.
2) Claim you were abused by this now-dead priest.
3) Sue the diocese he belonged to for a couple million bucks

Easy Street!
0
...
written by Dennis, January 23, 2014
Most of the victims I've read about share two characteristics: they are young, and they are male. Pedophile is one trait of these perpetrators. There is a second trait.
0
...
written by Jim, January 23, 2014
I haven't seen stories of abuse by teachers, staff, parishioner volunteers, other than by priests. Have I missed these stories, any lawsuits? Why does the US bishops program extend to ALL such people? Is it "if we're going to do a program, it might as well be everybody so we don't incur liability for having a program for priests only"? Such a broad program certainly suggests that there were many more people than priests involved in the sex abuse of minors.
0
...
written by Ted Seeber, January 23, 2014
The Holy See gets it. Far too late, but yes they get it.

The question is, does your local school board get it, or are they still keeping personnel records of teachers private?
0
...
written by Mary, January 23, 2014
Laity that has direct contact with minors is required to provide police clearance. There have been some cases of abuse by teachers and lay people and it has been made public, but the vast majority of the abuse has been committed by priests. This is not a pedophilia issue since most of the abuse occurred to teenage boys. The problem was definitely compounded by some Bishops not treating these issues in effective ways, or worse, ignoring them.
0
...
written by william manley, January 23, 2014
This is an excellent essay. The church must once and for all get all the dirty laundry out of parish files and into the light of day. Then the perpetrators (including any enabling bishops) must be removed from the priesthood and prosecuted in criminal courts. But then there is a third step: how do we prevent this from happening in the present and the future? Yes, background checks and behavior protocols must be put into effect, but just as importantly, the church needs to determine what are the root causes. Why do men who are "ordained to proclaim the gospel" resort to such evil practices? Are they moles sent by Satan to destroy the Church of Christ? Were they born with this proclivity? Are they victims of an overly demanding requirement of celibacy? Why were so many men with this mental illness attracted to the priesthood? The Church needs to find answers to these questions before this evil is eradicated.
0
...
written by Fr. J, January 23, 2014
Meanwhile the UN has major problems with abuse by its peacekeepers. It also supports abortion, which is child abuse. And it affirms homosexuality, which is the main cause of the abuse crisis in the first place. They do NOT care about children.
0
...
written by Deacon Jim Stagg, January 23, 2014
May I add one prayer to the required (and sometimes frantic) review of a priest's behavior by Bishop and staff:

Lord, please protect the innocent priest!
0
...
written by Rich in MN, January 23, 2014
The "Rules for Commenting" specify not including links to other websites. I won't infringe on the letter of that law. However, may I stomp on the spirit of that law by mentioning Simcha Fisher's fascinating blog that she posted today called "Benedict's Peculiar Record on Pedophile Priests."? You can find a link on the National Catholic Register website....


(And not one "at" symbol was used in my comment!!!!)

0
...
written by Stan j, January 23, 2014
The problem originated with the control of the seminaries by Bella Dodd clerics who deliberately screened out dedicated Catholic men.
After cleanup of seminary administrators there should be a serious effort on admitting young men who have a strong desire to commit themselves to God and possess a deep sense of holiness.
0
...
written by DeGaulle, January 23, 2014
Mr Manley, your reference to 'mental illness' is symptomatic of the root of the problem. Bishops made the catastrophic mistake at the beginning of this problem (well documented by Dr. Judith Reisman) of referring the culprits to sex counsellors, a profession based almost entirely on the lies and fraudulent science of Alfred Kinsey. The Bishops of all people should have seen it for what it was-the most evil and wicked sin, something which, as events have proved, is not 'treatable', but can only be given up and repented of for the sake of the soul and reported to the legal authorities for the sake of society.
0
...
written by Robert Hill, January 23, 2014
Our religious need to spend more time in front of the Eucharist and less time watching TV. We are given the honor to help God to sculpt our souls by our free-will decisions. Watching TV allows wicked images and ideas to enter the mind and thus almost always damages the "sculpture."
0
...
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, January 23, 2014
DeGaulle's comments are right on target. I remember sitting in at a meeting where the bishop, vicar for clergy and other priests were assembled to discuss the situation of a priest who was accused of sexual impropriety. I was there as a mental health professional. When discussion was focusing on referral of the priest for psychological treatment, I had the temerity to pipe up and say, "You know, not everything is a psychological problem. Have you considered that this is an issue of morality and that this priest needs to repent?" Everyone looked at me like I had just come from another planet.
0
...
written by William, January 23, 2014
Two names come to mind: Bernadin, Mahony.
0
...
written by Stan Marciniak, January 23, 2014
To better understand what might drive a member of clergy to fall from grace, the following is a 'must read'...

"People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil", by Dr. M. Scott Peck.

0
...
written by Fr. John Trigilio, January 25, 2014
Father Murray is on the right course but the problem is like a Hydra, i.e., a gorgon with seven heads. The sexual abuse of children must be aggressively prevented and prosecuted regardless of whom was the perpetrator. That goes for clergy, coaches, teachers, scoutmasters, family members, neighbors, et al. Hence, if any statute of limitations is lifted it should be lifted across the board and not just on clergy. The Dallas Charter is no panacea, either. Pedophiles and Ephebophiles come from all walks of life, clergy and laity, blue collar and white collar, rich, middle class and poor. What needs to be done is a thorough housecleaning in seminaries and chancery offices. It is no coincidence that the majority of sex abuse of children took place soon after Humanae Vitae was ignored and rejected by dissident theologians. BAD THEOLOGY is supported by BAD LITURGY and both foster BAD MORALITY. It is a triad of evil. Heterodox teaching in seminaries and Catholic colleges are always bedfellows with sacrilegious liturgies and vice versa. These two in turn promote disobedience to the Moral Law. The danger we face is not about too many monsignors, rather it is about too many ambitious and unscrupulous men in the priesthood who have a political or corporate paradigm of how the church should work and operate. Skullduggery, conspiracy, sycophants, omertà, and all other vile machinations take place when bishops and priests act as if the church were merely a business; that the people were merely customers or clients; that keeping the boss happy and filtering news he may not want to hear. Orthodoxy, reverence, prayerfulness and a priestly heart is what the People of God WANT, DESERVE and EXPECT. Bureaucrats, corporate vice presidents, branch managers, etc., are not what is needed. PASTORS who LOVE their sheep and who LOVE GOD, LOVE the CHURCH, LOVE the CHURCH, are what best serves the spiritual needs of the family of faith. Pope Francis is a faithful son of the Church. ALL deacons, priests and bishops should be as well. Get rid of those who see their vocation as a career rather than as a calling from God. Everyone speaks of transparency and accountability when it deals with finances. All the more should it apply to teaching the faith accurately and reverently celebrating divine worship and the sacraments validly and licitly. Pastors can govern as a father oversees his household instead of as a businessman who sees this merely as a job. The hierarchical nature of the church is of divine origin. Adopting business and political models, overtones and procedures is a man-made enterprise. If we oppose ALL moral evil and repudiate ALL erroneous doctrines, we are on the right path. Only when we accommodate and negotiate our principles do we lose in the end. Meanwhile, we can and must practice mercy and forgiveness as well. Not easy but can only be done when clergy step up to the plate and act like MEN and not mice; when they act like FATHERS and not supervisors.
0
...
written by Beth, January 27, 2014
Thank you, Fr. Trigilio! Raising children to be faithful Catholics in this environment is difficult to say the least. I pray that when my young son, who desires to be a priest, will enter a seminary free from the corruptions and filled with MEN!

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Other Articles By This Author

CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner