The Church As a Powerful Voice for Abuse Victims PART 2

By Ann Schneible
The Zenit
February 14, 2012

ROME, FEB. 14, 2012 ( Though the Church still faces a long road to recovery in the clergy sex abuse scandal, one expert says there is reason for hope, because there is clearly a "movement forward," and the Church will be, "even more so in the future, a powerful voice for victims."

Last week's conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Toward Healing and Renewal, confronted the crisis of clerical pedophilia with the objective of finding solutions whereby future child sex abuse would be prevented.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, associate dean for seminary and ministerial studies and a licensed psychologist, spoke with ZENIT last week during the conference about the concrete steps being taken to address the crisis, and offered some insights into the psychology of pedophilia.

Part 1 of this interview, on the effectiveness of prevention, was published Monday.

ZENIT: Regarding the culture as a whole, today's society has a certain confused sense of sexuality that's being promoted. Could this be a factor in the frequency of child molestation cases?

Monsignor Rossetti: I think maybe not directly, but certainly indirectly. Child abuse has always been going on, let me first say that. This is nothing new. Nevertheless, I think our culture's morality around sexuality has degraded significantly. There's a culture of voyeurism -- I mean, the pictures you see these days, even of minors, some pictures which are inappropriate for children to be seeing, let alone dressed like that and doing those things. And so, it doesn't help. I'm not suggesting we go back to some sort of prudishness, but there should be some respect for the human body, and some respect for human sexuality, and seeing it as a gift from God, and not as a commodity, not as something to entice people to buy something, not as something to sell movies. So, the messages that we're giving our society about sexuality are becoming increasingly distorted, and [are] creating an environment which certainly does not deter sexual deviants, and in some ways, is too permissive.

ZENIT: You had discussed in your talk the formation of priests. What are some of the concrete steps that are being taken to prevent men who are at risk of abusing children from entering the priesthood?

Monsignor Rossetti: Well, we're screening them better, first of all. I think the psychological screening that we implemented a couple decades ago is getting stronger. We still have a ways to go there, but it's getting better. And also, some screening directly in the area of psychosexual development. We have to do this sensitively, using a confidential setting with a clinical psychologist. But the psychologist confidentially inquires and discusses sexuality with these prospective seminarians, and tries to ascertain an appropriate level of psychosexual maturity -- whether that person is going to be able to live a chaste and celibate life, or a chaste life in general. And it works; not 100%, but I've seen success stories where candidates have revealed a very disturbed sexual background and they're applying for the priesthood. And I know a few cases of this. And of course they were turned away. But they clearly would have been dangerous people as priests. So while we can't screen out 100%, we are getting better.

ZENIT: Why would someone who is inclined to abuse children try to enter the seminary? Do some seek to enter with the objective of abusing children at some point down the road?

Monsignor Rossetti: In most cases, I don't think it's a conscious objective. I think they might have even some aspirations to do something spiritual and good, but not realizing that their sexuality is so distorted. Lots of these people really do not realize how distorted their sexuality is. It's something they live with, so sometimes they don't even know. That's what will happen in some of the interviews. You'll be speaking with a prospective candidate, and he'll be revealing things without realizing how distorted it is.

I'm not sure they go into it with the perspective of "I'm going to go and become a priest and molest minors." I don't think so.

And especially today, I think the message is out that the Catholic Church is no longer a safe place for child molesters. I think the message is on the street.

ZENIT: What does the Church do for a priest who has been found guilty of child molestation?

Monsignor Rossetti: Clearly in the United States, for example, there's a zero tolerance policy. Once it's been shown that you've sexually molested a minor, you'll never minister as a priest again. You're out.

The Dallas Charter -- what you'd call the charter for the protection of children and young people -- talks about putting them through some treatment, for their welfare as well as the welfare of children. You take these molesters, and put them through some psychological treatment that can help. It's not perfect, but it can help them get better. And this is one way of trying to prevent them from molesting in the future.

Another [factor] is if they remain under the Church's umbrella, even though they're not ministering as priests anymore, most places will supervise them, keep them away from minors. If they're completely laicized, then we lose any sort of supervision. They're just out.

And some are completely laicized, and others are what we call dismissed from the clerical state, and others remain under the Church's umbrella, but they are out of the priesthood and in supervised settings.

ZENIT: Could you speak about the importance of holding reconciliation events?

Monsignor Rossetti: You remember at the turn of the millennium, when John Paul II basically did a mea culpa for several sins of the Church. "We have sinned at times towards women, towards minorities, for the crusades, for the Inquisition." He [presents] certain ways in which the Church has sinned in the past, and asks for forgiveness. The Church expects people in the pews to go to confession, and the Church has the responsibility to do the same. Blessed John Paul was very courageous, and he got some grief for that. There were some people who thought it was too much. But our Holy Father knew better, so it is important for the Church to confess Her sins, if you will, and to ask for forgiveness.

And it's important for the victims. I've been to a bunch of these [evenings of reconciliation]. Bishop Loverde talked about how he does these regularly in the Diocese of Arlington, and how important they are. And one in Ireland, [with] Cardinal Sean O'Malley, that was another important moment. It's important for victims and it's also important for the Church.

ZENIT: What are some of the overall initiatives that you are hoping to see come from this conference?

Monsignor Rossetti: I would say to the ZENIT readers that there is hope, and I ended my talk on that. You see the culture changing. You see bishops responding more quickly and more aggressively. You see signs of hope and improvement. Is it 100% yet? No. But there's clearly a movement forward. And I have a lot of hope. As I said in my talk to the bishops: the Catholic Church is a large, 2,000-year organization which changes slowly. But, when it does start to change, when it puts its moral strength in institutional power behind something important, the Church's voice will not be stopped. And the Church is getting on board with preventing child abuse. And it will be, even more so in the future, a powerful voice for victims.


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