Originally Posted April 13, 2010
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:3)
I can remember, as a child growing up in the 1970s, reading news reports of Catholic priests accused of sexual misconduct with children. In response to this scandal, the church reported only that the offending clerics were counseled and then reassigned to a new parish. And for a couple of decades, they managed to stay out of the headlines.
But that reprieve was short-lived. Back in the 1990s, the issue resurfaced with a vengeance as thousands of formerly silent (alleged) victims came forward. They reported unspeakable acts by hundreds of priests, all over the country (and now, as we know, the world). With the rise of the Internet, they gained a new bully pulpit to bring attention to their cause. No longer did they have to rely on a sympathetic press or editor to get their story out.
In spite of this mountain of evidence, the church has consistently refused to cooperate with police and prosecutors to bring these offenders to justice. They hide behind some type of fuzzy principle of religious freedom, claiming allegiance to a higher authority. In Boston, this scandal led to the removal of Bernard Law as the local bishop. In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony invented an innovative legal defense: his personnel files were shielded by the ancient priest-penitent privilege, an argument that has never been recognized by any court of law, anywhere. The punishment for their years of defiance and neglect? Law was promoted to a cozy administrative position in Rome, and Mahony will be allowed to phase into a comfortable retirement next year.
Nice work if you can get it.
Of course, in every state of the union, the members of certain professions are required by law to report any suspected abuse of children. These may include doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, teachers, social workers, chiropractors, nurses, police officers, and others. And if they should be accused of molesting kids themselves, well…heaven help them all the more.
So let me get this straight: The guy who protects my child from the evils of gingivitis is forbidden to touch my child, and he will face dire consequences if he does so. But the man who I trust to help protect Junior from the fires of hell…hey, he can pretty much do as he pleases. Give me a break.
To date Rome has been mostly silent on this whole business, apparently hoping that it will eventually go away. That was, until yesterday. For the first time, the Vatican announced that bishops and other church officials must report clerical sex abuse to the civil authorities if required by law.
If? They’ll do the right thing, only if compelled to do so by the secular rulers? Lucky for them, preachers aren’t counted as mandated reporters in many jurisdictions.
But enough pope-bashing.
As with most disputes among us mortals, no one party is entirely blameless here. This conspiracy of silence wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation of the victims and their families. The kids didn’t tell their parents, or the parents didn’t tell the police. Many of these accusers have taken decades to come forward, far beyond any statute of limitations. Worse, many of the alleged pedophiles are long dead, and can’t be called to account anyway.
These people place their church leaders on ever-higher pedestals, with a level of honor and deference that would embarrass even the apostles (Acts 10:26). They’ve bought into the church’s defense that the institution is more important than the people under its care. And because of their failure to act in a timely manner, subsequent generations of children were needlessly exposed to molestation by a new generation of priests.
The front-line preachers failed us by stealing our children’s innocence. The kids and their parents failed us through their silence. The bishops failed us by allowing the sinful behavior to continue. Our local police and district attorneys failed us with their halfhearted prosecutions, if they acted at all. And I’ve even heard a handful of news reporters confide that they sat on the story for years, afraid of offending someone.
As has been said, sunshine is the world’s best disinfectant. As a global society, we will never recover from this shame until every victim files a police report and every offending cleric is duly disciplined.
And shame on the rest of us for allowing it to get this far.