Ending child abuse greatest challenge to Catholic Church

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

March 10, 2023

By Fr. Shay Cullen

The Catholic Church has a great challenge today addressing and ending child abuse among its clergy and in society. Abusing women and children is a centuries-old evil. With the coming of Jesus of Nazareth and his progressive teaching on the rights and dignity of women and children, there was little change.

Institutional religions throughout history ignored that teaching and focused on obscure theologizing and fighting bloody wars over their abstruse theologies and interpretation.

The Catholic Church became less of a church of the poor and the oppressed and one dominated and controlled by the elite. Bishops were landowners with vast wealth and flouting princes with political and economic power, all so far from the ideal of the Kingdom where the poor would inherit the earth and the mighty would be put down from their thrones.

Today there are dioceses with vast wealth and bishops and priests live lives of luxury.

That pomp, pageantry, and power are fast being diminished as woman and child sexual abuse cases are being exposed by the thousands and the cover-up of clerical sex abuse by bishops and clerics in the northern churches.

Catholic Churches in the South have not yet been hit by similar revelations, not because there are no woman and child abuse crimes committed but because there’s greater fear among victims and control by the hierarchy.

“Recognizing the equal rights of women and ridding the Church of abusive clerics is the great challenge”

As Cardinal Antonio Tagle said on the BBC, the investigations are an internal matter for the Church.

The attitude of bishops and priests towards women has tended to exclude them from positions of decision-making and influence. All this despite the much-exalted devotion to Mary as the Mother of God and the greater respect the early Church had for women ordaining as deaconesses.

Since then women believers have received much less respect and dignity. Until recently they have been overlooked and excluded from positions of authority in the Church.

Recognizing the equal rights of women and ridding the Church of abusive clerics is the great challenge facing the institutional Church today.

A woman from God is needed to right this terrible wrong. The Church hierarchy in general is against such a leader. So we rely on Pope Francis who is following the advice of three women appointed as his consultants to the influential Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In the Philippine Church, women have little influence or status due to a conservative hierarchy. Several congregations of religious sisters are self-empowered, and independent-minded and serve the people with great dedication but other diocesan orders of women religious have been made servants of the bishop and priests.

Jesus of Nazareth treated women with greater dignity, respect, and understanding, and declared them as having dignity and equality. He said children are more important than the elders, scribes, teachers, and adults. (Matthew 18:1-5) He shocked the patriarchal society when he tried to overturn the unjust, unequal repressive system that degraded women and children as if they were non-persons.

He stood by the women condemned to death by stoning and treated them equally, and had strong personal relationships with the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. A religious sect opposed his teaching on equality and social justice and brought about his execution by crucifixion. He was killed as are human rights activists today.

Jesus of Nazareth, that overcame death, taught a way of life based on truth, freedom, equality, and human rights. He taught us and said we should love one another as he loved us. That is with compassion, care, friendship, and service, as in his story of the Good Samaritan. He said, to respect every human person, especially women, and children equally. Love your neighbor as yourself; believe that goodness, truth, action for justice, and love of neighbor will overcome evil.

That is the basis of Christianity. It is about caring for each other, not ruling and controlling peoples’ lives with fear or punishment and hellfire. It is a way of living equally and sharing the wealth of nature and the earth so no one will go hungry and be in want. While Church charities do great service for the poor the status of women is lower than that of males. The teaching of Jesus is contradicted in many ways.

“There are brave and courageous young women that fight back against their rapists”

Women have been longing for equality with men for thousands of years and began campaigning and marching only 200 years ago for their rights and dignity to be respected. Throughout history, they have suffered discrimination and oppression and were considered property.

Filipino girls were sold for sex to old men, even children as young as 12 were allowed by law until the age of consent was raised to 16 in 2022. Men rule the world, and in other Asian countries like Pakistan, so-called “honor killings” happen frequently.

On Sept. 17, 1937, Philippine women won the right to vote and many rights were won from then. We celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 and Women’s Month in the Philippines. The theme this year is ‘Accelerating Equality and Empowerment for women.’

There are brave and courageous young women that fight back against their rapists. Now almost 19, Angel (not her real name) told her story as a survivor of childhood incest and multiple rapes. She addressed a gathering at Preda Foundation’s 49th anniversary recently, with two ambassadors, David Hartman, representing Canada, and William Carlos of Ireland, and distinguished officials and international observers, listening to her story.

She told the silent and intent gathering that when she was 6 years old she lived in fear after her father raped her one night. She was afraid to tell anyone and buried the memory and pain and hurt. She pretended nothing happened. When she was 8 years old it happened again. Angel tried to escape but he caught her and she was raped again.

“Why did you do it, Papa,” she asked him later.” Because I love you, tell no one or your mother will be hurt,” he answered. She asked, “is this love?”

Again like thousands of victims of incest and sexual abuse, Angel buried the memory afraid to tell others. Then her brother molested her and a neighbor friend of the family came and raped her. Then her father and brother raped her again several times. They had made her a disempowered frightened sex slave. She feared being killed if she told anyone.

Somehow when 16 she found the courage to tell her mother and begged her to get them to stop. She was not believed. In despair, she thought of suicide but could not do it.

She told the audience that one day she got out of the house and met a kindly woman to whom she told what she’d endured. She was rescued by social workers and brought to the Preda Foundation home. Thereafter a year of affirmation, friendship, and Emotional Release Therapy, she recovered, was empowered, and filed her legal complaint against her abusers.

Her father and brother were put on trial in the Olongapo City Regional Trial court and were found guilty, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Justice was finally done and she is now a strong empowered young woman going to school and living independently while starting life again helped by Preda. The audience applauded with admiration for her courage.

In society, women have demanded respect, recognition for their abilities, achievements, and intelligence. They have a more important status in a society that respects their dignity and intelligence. We need a change of mind and heart among men and women to respect their dignity and acknowledge the rights of women and children and implement the laws protecting them. As Saint James said Faith, without action, is dead.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.