Church Can't Solve Problem by Covering It up

By Nick Reiher
The Herald News
March 31, 2002

This is the day Christians around the world celebrate as the basis of their faith. Jesus Christ died and then rose again so their sins would be forgiven. All it takes is believing in Him.

How hard this is for some people to believe. That a man, born of a virgin, could die and three days later, rise from the dead and join His father and the Holy Spirit as one God.

That's why we call it faith.

But believing in death and resurrection and a triune God is easy compared to trying to understand another issue: How some members of the church continue to cover up for pedophile priests.

The most recent set of crimes, which began in Boston, now has carried over to a growing number of diocese throughout the nation, including the Archdiocese of Chicago, and has resulted in an official rebuke by the Pope. I pray his words lead to more openness on this critical issue.

Why are we now just learning about sex offenses involving children that happened decades ago? Why are these priests, the handful who were known to have committed crimes, still working with children? Some church officials throughout the nation and the world for years did nothing, which in some cases led to more children being victimized.

It's one thing to be cautious, to make sure a priest is not a victim of an accuser's false memory syndrome, or just out and out lies, like the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. But to know for sure and ignore is unconscionable.

People put their faith in priests, just as they do doctors. Doctors who mishandle patients' ills shake that trust and put a little doubt in all of our minds. Even though most doctors are good, hardworking people, it takes only a few who aren't to make people wonder.

We hold doctors in high regard because they hold our lives in their hands. We hold priests and other clergy in high regard because we let them hold our souls, hear our joys, troubles and sins. Chances are, most people will not meet the Pope in their lifetimes. So the parish priest is the conduit to The Faith.

We not only put our faith in them, we get the guidance needed to continue believing in our faith from them. What does it say of a church that allows this type of action to continue without punishment?

Not all priests are child molestors, not by a longshot. But a relative few, along with those who have covered up for them, have put a bad light on the clergy and given more fuel to the anti-Catholics who see the church as just another organized fund-raising group.

Some say a priest who commits a crime, even adultery, in some way makes himself more "human" and able to understand the spiritual ills of the flock. But priests who have sex with children, just like any adults who have sex with children, are sick and do not deserve another chance at their jobs. They should not just be transferred to another similar job where the talk has not yet spread. This has happened, and all too often. But then, once is too often.

To those who falsely accuse, they deserve whatever punishments they receive in this world ... and in the next.

For those priests who have committed crimes, repeatedly and against children, the church needs to deal with them promptly. Once the truth is revealed, take those clerics out of duties involving children and get them help.

Unfortunately, for child sex offenders, the prognosis for a cure is not good. All the more reason to get them out of their duties immediately.

Failing to deal with them promptly and severely places many innocents in jeopardy and mean a worse prognosis for the faith as a whole.

Nick Reiher is Herald News city editor.


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