The Problem Is Not the Structure of the Hierarchy; It's the People in the Hierarchy

By Phil Lawler
Catholic Culture
September 13, 2010

Back in 1998, Alexandra Colen tried to warn Cardinal Godfried Danneels about offensive sex-related content in a catechism that was being used in primary schools. She learned through painful experience his modus operandi for handling such complaints:

He made sure he knew nothing by avoiding any contact with the complaining party, and if they persevered he attempted to damage their credibility... Parents were fobbed off with vague comments and shush-shushing expressions of sympathy. Yet he was the one who should have conducted investigations and taken measures.

Sound familiar?

So now Colen is not surprised by the revelations about how the Belgian hierarchy handled sex-abuse allegations.

The rampant pedophilia and child abuse in the Belgian Church is not, as some say, caused by structural inadequacies, but by individuals who refused to assume their responsibility. Each teacher or head of a school, each parish priest, bishop or archbishop who refused to take remarks or complaints by parents seriously, who neglected to take measures in their school, parish or diocese, has contributed to the culture in which pedophiles could do as they pleased and destroy the lives of hundreds, thousands of children and their families. ?

The Belgian bishops may now follow their American counterparts, instituting policies and procedures and training programs and audits, and all these steps may even do some good. But in the end, personnel is policy. Policies and procedures donít inspire confidence; people do. If Colenís complaints are legitimateóand I have no reason to doubt themóthe resignation of Cardinal Danneels did more to resolve the sex-abuse problem in Belgium than any policy the nationís hierarchy is likely to adopt.


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