Recurring Sexual Abuse Needs to Be Addressed by Catholic Church
By Brandon Bub, Michael Dearman
February 28, 2013
It is no secret that the Catholic Church is either directly or indirectly responsible for some of the worst atrocities perpetrated by a single institution in history. The Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades and witch hunts throughout the medieval era are just a few “incidents” that left tens of thousands of people dead.
However, I do not want to make this a “Let’s talk about how horrible the Church is” column. I might not be a Catholic anymore, but I come from a family of them and I feel like I have a vested interest in the state of the institution. I do not want to treat the Church as some monolithic entity that has consistently sought to oppress heretics, minorities and nonbelievers. The Church is linked to unspeakable crimes, but such crimes are committed by individuals, and I do not want to absolve these individuals of guilt by attributing it to something larger than them.
Nevertheless, as evidence has grown to illustrate the systemic nature of sexual abuse (and subsequent cover-ups of that abuse), it becomes clear that institutional reform is necessary. Priests who abuse children or other members of their congregation should rightly be defrocked and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The same ought to be true of clergy members who know of such abuse and willingly cover it up: much like how Joe Paterno and members of Penn State who covered up Jerry Sandusky’s abuse were dismissed from the university, so too should priests who try to protect the reputations of colleagues by moving them to other parishes to prevent crimes from being found be stripped of their Holy Orders.
Here in the United States and most of the rest of the world we have criminal justice systems to deal with these offenses, and we should not be afraid to use them against religious officials, no matter what excuses they might make.
However, to me it seems that punitive treatment of priests implicated in these crimes is simply not enough. It feels as though we have been reading headlines for years now mentioning a new Church member involved in a new scandal.
Just a few days ago Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic, was discovered to have resigned after being accused of “inappropriate acts” with priests.
The frightening thing is that stories like this hardly seem exceptional anymore. It’s almost as if sexual abuse in the Church has become so status quo that we’ve begun to accept it as an endemic plague, and I find that deplorable.
Silence on this issue amounts to tacit acceptance; if the Church wishes to effect change, it needs to actively engage with this issue rather than pretend it will go away if they to settle enough lawsuits.
The Church has to consider reforms from the top down to solve this problem. The Church has not considered a serious reevaluation of the celibate priesthood in centuries: the only married priests allowed in the Church right now are disaffected Anglicans who defected over having a gay bishop.
Moreover, I think allowing women to be priests might also stem some of these abuses. Obviously a decision like this would require a whole scale reevaluation of Pauline theology, and I think it would take a lot of humility for the Church to reform like this and say “By the way, we were wrong about Holy Orders for about 2000 years.”
But the Church has been rightly challenged on dogma for centuries; in fact the Council of Trent likely never would have happened without Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation. Perhaps another such reform is in order.
If the Church hierarchy is afraid of upsetting God for rejecting dogma, they might also consider whether or not their God wants this systemic sexual abuse to continue as well.
Bub is a junior majoring in English, political science and history.
Moral responsibility key for Catholic Church
The sometimes conflict between tradition and moral responsibility is difficult to navigate in the largest Christian sect in the world. Regardless, the Catholic Church has to address the sexual abuses in the Church.
While there have been numerous theories about the causes of the sexual abuse of young people by clergymen, I do not want to address all of these theories, but discuss the moral responsibility of the Church itself.
Whether the abuse stems from the lack of a sexual outlet in a spouse, the culture of the Church or some other factor, the Catholic Church has a God-given – demanded – responsibility to make certain that those under its purview are representing the grace and love of Christ to others.
There can be no doubt that all human beings are flawed and sinful – yes, even clergymen. While grace must be extended in order to foster reconciliation, forgiveness and healing, refusal to battle the root of sin, especially in the form of sexual abuse, is to exercise a lack of sound wisdom.
To the extent that the Church has inadequately addressed those who are guilty of abuse is unacceptable. If the Catholic Church is ignoring such members of the clergy in order to protect its image, the Church is affirming that publicity is more important than justice.
While the Church has a responsibility to pursue discipline of its clergy in a loving and grace-extending way, when the actions of a clergyman not only break the law, but destroy the lives of individuals, the time for in-house discipline is long gone. Instead, the removal of clergymen from office in order to prevent abuse under the Church’s authority is the least that the Church could do.
In addition, the Catholic Church has a responsibility to the secular governments of the nations in which its priests serve to submit to its authority in matters of law so long as those laws do not compromise the mission of Christ on earth. This means that intentionally shielding priests from prosecution under secular law is unacceptable, as the laws against sexual abuse do not run contrary to the mission of Christianity.
Why the Catholic Church has refused to exercise its authority over this issue is a mystery to me. The Church is one of the greatest influencers of morality and spirituality around the world, and the recent years of abuse have not helped bolster that reputation. Which leads me to wonder – is this an issue of reputation? Does the Catholic Church view itself as above and outside secular law? Does the Church take seriously this abuse? Are these priests so far removed from the upper echelons of leadership that the priests do not deserve the attention of the Vatican?
I want to end with a brief idea, contrary to Catholic tradition, certainly not a new suggestion, but a thought about the issue nonetheless. Human beings are sexual in nature. While I genuinely think some individuals are called to celibacy of the kind described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, not all individuals are.
The Catholic Church calls for celibacy from its priests since it calls them to be married to the Church instead of a spouse. While there are deep theological reasons for this view of the role of clergy, which I greatly respect, if such a tradition is causally connected to sexual abuse, then I unquestioningly think that the traditional requirement should be abandoned.
When the tradition leads to destructive and sinful behavior but remains for tradition’s sake, the practice looks suspiciously idolatrous. Is the tradition more important that the lives of individuals whom the Church is called to shepherd? Is tradition more important than the worth of the individual? Hardly. Tradition undedicated to the love and glory of God and the love of others is like a noose around the neck of the bride of Christ.
Dearman is a junior majoring in political science and philosophy.