Leading German Jesuit says abuse crisis calls for major Church reform
By Christa Pongratz-Lippit
La Croix International
September 19, 2018
Current structures actually prevent critical investigation and verification of clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up
A Jesuit priest who was one of the key people to reveal what Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn once described as the "tsunami" of clerical sex abuse cases in the German-speaking world has now called for in-depth structural changes to the Catholic Church.
Father Klaus Mertes SJ, a well-known writer and educator, said the latest wave of revelations concerning abuse and its cover-up in various parts of the world indicates that the phenomenon is not just a local matter, but a global problem that can be solved only through major Church reform.
In an opinion piece for the German Catholic Church’s official website katholisch.de and in a long interview with the website Kathpress on Sept. 13, the 64-year-old Jesuit said the latest reports from the United States, Ireland, Australia, the United States and other places show that not nearly enough attention has been paid to the problem of abuse cover-up.
He said it is now absolutely essential for the Church to tackle the question of its checks-and-balances (separation of powers), as well as the issues related to male-dominated structures (old boys’ networks). And he insisted that both were closely connected to the problem of institutional cover-up.
Mertes said the Church’s current structures actually prevent critical investigation and verification of clerical sexual abuse and its cover-up. He added that personal loyalties and the lack of checks and balances in the leadership structures show that the Church is “quite obviously” in no position to properly tackle clerical abuse of power.
“It is more than the failure of individual members of the clergy. By avoiding the structure debate the Church is actually fostering such failure," he said.
Mertes criticized the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s lack of transparency in abuse proceedings. “What is taken for granted on the part of the state must find its way into the Church; namely, the separation of plaintiff, defense counsel and judge,” the priest said.
He also said it is imperative to examine more carefully how careers are pursued and promoted within the Church. Mertes said that they are too often tied to clerical friendships and loyalties that conflict with investigating and clarifying abuse and making it more transparent.
The Jesuit said that while the Church is not able to solve its credibility problem on its own, it could take certain steps to help make efforts at clearing up abuse more credible.
“Why can’t we have a ‘power’ in the Church that investigates abuse and its cover-up, demands access to files and informs the public under its own authority and is independent of the hierarchy?” he asked.
He added that people (like himself) who rightly see the need for structural reforms in the Church are tired of being accused of exploiting the abuse crisis and, thus, committing an “abuse of the abuse."
Instead, Mertes said that if the above points are not tackled, he is pessimistic about the continued survival of the Church as a whole.
“I cannot imagine the Church surviving in its present form and with its present structures," he said.
"It is now quite clear that clerical abuse and cover-up have taken on such epidemic proportions that the Church’s credibility has been deeply shattered.”
Not only that, but he believes there will be no end in sight for the abuse problem for a very long time. And he's convinced that, in the long run, the abuse problem will affect the entire Universal Church because the same structural problems exist in all local Churches.
Mertes said he expects Poland to be the next place where revelations of abuse come to light. Therefore, he warned that it's not right “to point the finger at the mucky pups like Ireland, the USA, Australia and now Germany.”
He said no one should be fooled: “From the World Church point of view we are still at the very beginning as far as appraising and clarifying clerical sexual abuse issues.”