|Pedophile Mess Demands Tough, Cleansing Action
By Marvin Read
September 25, 2010
Few popes in the Catholic Church's 2,000-year history have had as tough a job as the 83-year-old German, Benedict XVI.
When elected pope in 2005, Benedict inherited a scandal of substantial proportions — one that has grown during his papacy.
Prior to his selection as pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had worked in a Vatican office specializing in handling sex-abuse issues, and he made some significant progress, toughening up the processes by which the church worked to discipline pedophiles — priests who sexually abused young people.
What first was understood in the mid-1980s as an American problem came to be understood as a universal one. The world recognized that generations of priests from all countries have been abusers, and that their superiors, the world's bishops, have long engaged in shuffling and protecting them, hiding the crimes and sins, thus becoming complicit and culpable themselves.
Benedict has proffered a series of mea culpas, most recently in the United Kingdom, and has met with a few abuse victims to offer his personal apologies. Dioceses around the world have spent immense sums settling abuse suits.
People have told me and others who repeatedly bring up the topic that, in effect, it's not proper to write about this kind of stuff.
"Let's talk about the good side of the church," they urge.
Ah, yes, we all wish that the scandal would simply go away.
The reports of abuse seem to have slowed, most lawsuits more or less satisfactorily resolved, and most — but certainly not all — of the offending priests are out of a job, properly labeled as sex offenders, in prison or deceased.
The bishops who ignored the complaints and who willy-nilly aided their fellow priests as they played the shuffle game are unpunished, but decreasing in numbers and retiring.
Newer generations of priests and prelates have been more carefully screened and are said to be both personally and professionally disinclined to any sort of improper activity with kids and/or covering it up.
And it's always important to note that the overwhelming majority of priests were and are good men and pastors who don't deserve to be regarded with suspicion or mistrust.
But the bottom line is that, no matter how many ineffectual expressions of regret are issued by the pope, the problems won't go away and Roman Catholicism will continue to be stained by the sins of the past and the fumbles of the present.
"I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it.
The apologies and repentance must be converted to substantively reformative actions.
Now — not after slow, years-long consideration — the church must hear the demands of so many victims and adopt a worldwide, zero-tolerance policy that blocks bishops from moving guilty clerics or covering up their abuse.
Diocesan leaders, no matter their rank or status, who are guilty of such complicity should be publicly identified and disciplined.
Clerics shown to be abusers must be identified openly and the church must cooperate with, not fight, prosecution by civil authorities.
The church should make it clear that it supports — not shuns — careful and sensitive secular investigation of sex crimes and that it backs whatever civil, legislative changes are needed that enable investigations, prosecutions and convictions, even if that includes extending statute-of-limitations laws.
Civil penalties should be severe, too, for anyone falsely accusing a priest of misdeeds.
The burdens and demands falling on Benedict are heavy and painful. Perhaps no pope in history has borne such an extensive but obvious mandate.
The church and its popes, over a nearly 2,000-year history, have waged many battles — spiritual, theological, political and military.
In general, those fights have been against external forces. This time, the engagement is within — against those who have ministered but also have committed despicable deeds that have harmed and continue to harm all the faithful.
To carry this campaign, the pope must acknowledge that it is time to go beyond the niceties of "I'm sorry" and add firm, purgative action.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.