My church in crisis

By Ramon Farolan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 08, 2018

First, I was an Aglipayan. Shortly after my mother passed away, my surrogate mom who raised me as her own, had me rebaptized in the Catholic Church by Belgian missionaries. Since then, I have remained a Catholic although not the fervent, devout kind she would have wanted me to be.

Through the years, I have looked upon the Church as all-knowing, all-powerful, all-righteous, and perhaps, all-perfect. And so, whenever I went against her it was heavy on my conscience with the fires of hell very much in my thoughts as impressed on me by religious mentors in Catholic schools. As a young boy, how many times have I confessed to having impure thoughts when there was nothing else to say in the confessional?

For the past few months, the Church has been rocked by scandal involving sexual abuse in particular, of minors by members of the clergy. In the beginning, they were seen as isolated cases but as more and more news reports appeared on the subject, it has become apparent that sexual abuse by the clergy is one of the major problems of the Church. It is not only worldwide in extent but it also appears to permeate its ranks, from deacons, priests, bishops, archbishops, and even cardinals. Many are involved in the actual abuse of children but some are cases of cover-up or failure to take action by higher authorities.

Some of the worst cases:

Australia: A Royal Commission tasked to look into child sexual abuse in 2013 reported that “7 percent of all Catholic priests in Australia were alleged perpetrators of child sex abuse” with the average age of the child between 10 and 11. In June 2017, Australian police charged Cardinal George Pell with multiple counts of sexual assault. The more serious charges were thrown out but he remains on trial for lesser violations. Last May, the archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, was found guilty of failing to report allegations of child sex abuse to civil authorities.

Chile: Last month, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of seven bishops including Bishop Juan Barros who was accused of covering up sex crimes committed by a priest, Fernando Karadima. The priest was recently defrocked. After initially criticizing Church detractors, the Pope declared that the Chilean church was responsible for “grave defects” in handling sex abuse cases resulting in a loss of credibility by the Church.

Germany: Last month, the German Catholic Church found that 3,677 children in Germany, mostly 13 years old or younger, were sexually abused by Catholic clergy between 1946 and 2014.

United States: The 2004 John Jay Report funded by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops reported that there were approximately 10,667 victims (younger than 18 years of age) of clergy sex abuse between 1953 and 2002. Most of the victims were male. In July this year, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals following sex abuse allegations including homosexual rape. Last August, a news report revealed that more than 3,000 sex abuse cases involving some 200 parish priests in Pennsylvania took place, with many more victims and perpetrators still unreported.

What are some of the probable causes of child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy?

Seminary training. The 2004 John Jay Report stated that “the problem was largely the result of poor seminary training and insufficient emotional support for men ordained in the 1940s and 1950s.” Another report pointed to two major deficiencies of seminaries: failure to screen candidates adequately, and failure to “form” the candidates appropriately for the challenges of celibacy.

Lack of priests. Due to a shortage of priests, the Church
opted toward keeping priests by transferring them to other parishes despite allegations of sex abuse. Thus, the situation was not corrected but simply set aside, hoping that counseling would eventually solve the problem.

Clerical celibacy. Opinion here is divided. Some see it as a possible cause, while others see no connection between the Church institution of celibacy and cases of child abuse.

What is clerical celibacy? Clerical celibacy is the discipline within the Catholic Church by which only unmarried men are ordained.

Pope Francis, when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires, commented that “celibacy is a matter of discipline, not of faith. It can change. For the moment, I am in favor of maintaining celibacy…” A Vatican analyst, Jesuit Thomas Reese, called then Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s use of “conditional language” regarding celibacy as “remarkable.” He said that phrases like “for the moment” and “for now” are not the kind of qualifications one normally hears when bishops and cardinals discuss celibacy.

While Pope Francis is around, it is time for the Church to seriously discuss clerical celibacy. It may be the most important factor in the search for some solution to a problem that has caused much pain and suffering for many children of the Church.



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