Guest Column: Catholic Church Needs Reformation

By James F. Drane
Daily Times
June 2, 2012

For Catholics who remained faithful throughout the pedophile priest scandal, this has been a dark and painful period. Every new revelation of abuse, every testimony by victims of a life ruined, is like another punch in the jaw or kick in the gut. The pain continues and we can expect an added shock. This time it will be a bishop scandal.

The awful things done by emotionally compromised pedophile priests raised all kinds of questions. Pedophilia however is a pathology not even well-understood in psychiatry. The word pedophile did not even appear in much of early 20th century psychiatric literature. When it finally made it into the textbooks and dictionaries, it was called a paraphilia and listed with disorders like exhibitionism and voyeurism.

Freud recognized pedophilia as a sexual deviation. He thought that most male pedophiles were weak and impotent. He also emphasized what he thought was the seductive roll of children. Little to no attention however was paid to the damage done to the children involved in this secretive and repetitive pathological behavior.

If understanding of pedophilic behavior was weak in psychiatry, imagine the level of understanding that existed in the church hierarchy. For bishops, the concept of sin alone was used to understand the acts of pedophile priests. For this reason, many bishops thought that confessing the sin, followed by a serious penance like a retreat, would solve the problem. After confession and penance, a pedophile priest would be considered forgiven and could then be returned to parish work. Like every sin which was confessed, a priestís pedophile behavior had to be kept secret.

Because neither priests nor bishops had wives or children, they were ignorant of the lifelong injury of this sexual misconduct on children. They didnít see its tragic consequences. Instances of pedophilia go back far in human history, but it was a case in Lafayette, La., in the 1980s that gave the problem of pedophile priests widespread media attention. The Vatican saw pedophilia as an American problem, and American bishops saw it as a sin that had to be kept secret. Consequently the problem grew.

By 2002, American bishops agreed to do certain things to control what by then had become a widespread public scandal. They adopted a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ó a list of things that they were going to do. They agreed to report accusations of child abuse to secular civil authorities and not keep everything within the churchís legal system. They also agreed not to readmit proven abusers to the ministry.

The norms adopted by the bishops have had a positive effect, but they donít go far enough. They have improved the churchís handling of abusive priests, but they did nothing about the churchís handling of bishops who allowed pedophile priests to remain in the ministry and repeat their crimes. Bishops should be accountable to the people in their dioceses, but they know few of these people personally and their main concern and accountability is to the pope and the Vatican who appointed them and will promote them if they show proper loyalty.

Associated with the priest scandal there are bishop scandals. In the Kansas City and Philadelphia dioceses, bishops and a cardinal ignored the norms of their own charter. They acted more like secular CEOs under pressure from an investigation. Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua and his bishops destroyed records. They responded to a civil investigation by lying and covering up their actions.

This is another scandal which adds to the harm done by pedophile priests. Then came the harm done by the bishopís disciplining of Catholic sisters and Girl Scouts. If all this were not enough, now bishops are suing the federal government for a health plan which includes birth control. These behaviors of bishops are hurting all Catholics struggling to keep their faith in todayís secular world, and in the face of continuing church scandals.

Catholics with the strength to stay faithful despite these scandals will be able to contribute to a needed church reformation. Five hundred years since the Protestant Reformation, a Catholic Reformation will force bishops to pay attention to ordinary members of the church. Ordinary Catholics must have a way to influence the churchís political structure and have a role in exercising church authority. Under the influence of lay Catholics with real authority there will be fewer bishop scandals. The church will become less accusing and criticizing and more a public image of Jesus.

The greatest tragedy in this period of church history will be all those ordinary Catholics who ran away, rather than take part in history.

James F. Drane is a Russell B. Roth Professor of Bioethics at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.








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