We need TRUTH on clerical sexual abuse

The crisis in the church gets worse and everyone, save those implicated, must agree that the problem of clerical sexual abuse needs clearing up once and for all. Otherwise the church is going to lose every last shred of moral and spiritual authority for a generation or more. It is profoundly depressing.

Indeed the problem is now so profound that anyone using it to fight tired culture wars are part of the problem not the cure. Put bluntly the crisis must not be used by disgruntled Catholics to go after the Pope for political ends. But nor must fawning admirers of the pontiff suggest allegations of his involvement be ignored or downplayed in the face of serious allegation. What is needed is THE TRUTH. Followed by robust action no matter how painful.

For unless this cancer is expunged from the body of Christ it will continue to spread and cause damage. It is time for impartial investigation and total transparency. It is time for Catholics to stop weaponising this crisis and confront it together.

Five things we do NOT NEED:

  1. Appeals for silence. This encourages sweeping under the carpet allowing abusers to wriggle from the hook. Silence is what every abuser in history desired from institutions and victims – for it enables abuse to continue in the shadows. Turn on the lights – call sin out- leave nowhere to hide.
  2. Mistaken victimhood. I was saddened that the Holy Father claimed the bishops are victims in all of this. They are not. They live privileged lives but have/or had solemn responsibility over us. Either they have done their duty or failed where sexual abuse is concerned. The victims are those who abused sexually. Call out the guilty and exonerate the innocent.
  3. Denial. The media refuses to connect dots between sexual abuse in the church and an unhealthy homosexual clergy subculture. This is understandable because the rainbow agenda is a sacred cow in the modern world. But it is not helpful in this instance given that over 80% of abuse was male on male. Let us agree that homosexuality is not the problem per se but that this problem does centre predominantly on abuse committed by homosexual clergy. The old habit of turning blind eyes to those ignoring vows of chastity must be dealt with. It is not only children who are victims of abuse as the Harvey Weinstein scandal made clear. Adults can be victims of unwanted advances also. Witch hunts must be avoided then but those involved called to account not excused.
  4. Instituional fidelity. A love for the church can lead to a protection of institution at cost to victims. This must end. Because further cover up is going to lead to decline not flourishing. So lets put it ALL OUT in the open that healing can begin and we can look to the future in hope.
  5. Stonewalling: If it becomes apparent abusers and protectors are in such places of authority that they are not accountable- it must be dealt with. Then it is time for Cardinals to act. For priests to act. For the laity to act. We cannot be held hostage by those not living out the Gospel of Christ. We must not simply give up if the process proves long, tiring and painful. Pressure must continue until the demonic elements are finally removed. Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

Five things we Do NEED:

  1. Faith in God. The presence of Judas should not derail us from love of God. We must hold together in faith and not abandon Christ as he endures another passion. Let us be at the foot of the cross. Let us look to the Stations and see the abusers and enablers as the ones whipping him afresh. They must be held to account.
  2. Impartial investigation. Sorry but the Pope’s council of 9 responding to accusations wont cut it. Not when over half are themselves linked to scandals and accusations of corruption. Not when the Pope is himself accused and  hand picked them. Any investigation needs outside impartial monitoring and involvement.
  3. Grass roots mission: Most are beyond the pay grade necessary to sort out this mess. But we can choose to support parishes where the faith is preached and lived. We can support and build up the next generation of bishops. Don’t get too bogged down with the grot above- rejoice in what is good locally.
  4. Write letters: Write to the bishop. Tell him how angry you are. Explain your frustration. Pressure must continue until the grot is sorted. Those in authority must hear, loud and clear, that the faithful wont tolerate any more of this behaviour. We give our money for the life of the church not to pay off abusers debts.
  5. Reform your life. When we are scandalised by sin in others we must learn to confront it in our own lives too. Make a good confession. Do penance. Start again with God and get your house in order. He is merciful and loving. Forgiveness is there- but not without accepting responsibility for our behaviour.

Pray then that this crisis will get sorted. Pray that true shepherds step forward and prove themselves men of God, not cowards, by driving out the wicked hirelings from amongst them. May they not put ambition or friendship ahead of the need for justice and truth. We need bishops we can trust. But we wont’ know who those are until on the other side of this crisis.

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13 thoughts on “We need TRUTH on clerical sexual abuse

  1. You write with singular clarity. Apart from one (obvious) paragraph – an argument that I will not belabour further – I find myself in total agreement with every point you make. You make one point that raises a difficult question – that of external investigation.
    Most people would, I think, agree that no good can come of organisations investigating themselves. The findings of the Australian Commission carried far more weight with Catholics worldwide than the John Jay Report not merely because the hearings were carried out in the full glare of public scrutiny but also because it was both external and unbiased. Credit is due to the US Catholic bishops for commissioning John Jay (and for publishing it in full) but the same bishops were responsible for supplying – or withholding – all of the data analysed and reported upon.
    There will be more and ever more commissions to follow. I believe the state of Oklahoma announced one such this week. One could just about foresee a day when every state or country finally lays bare every misdeed committed within its borders but what of the Vatican itself?
    Vatican City is a sovereign state. The Pope – whoever that might be – is, in effect, an absolute monarch. Even if the Pope were to commission an enquiry – and to throw open all of the Vatican’s records – whom could he call upon to undertake it? It is just about conceivable that the Italian state might tear up the Lateran Treaty and impose one. The current far-right Italian government, however, is more likely to consider this an insult to Mussolini’s legacy. The only body I can think of is UNICEF. They would have to be invited – imagine the US governmental response if they were not.
    If criminality were discovered, who would sanction the criminals? The International Court of Criminal Justice? No US cleric will ever stand before that. The only other option would seem to be the Vatican itself.
    In the event of the Pope ever taking such a step he will need to double the Swiss Guard and arm them with something more substantial than halberds. He should also consider reverting to the medieval practice of employing a food taster (perhaps several). The rest of us might consider purchasing shares in manufacturers of document shredders. In respect of investigating the Vatican you are right, Father Ed, in asserting that it is above our pay grade. It is above everybody’s pay grade except the Holy Father’s. If anyone needs our prayers to do the right thing it is he.
    I would be genuinely interested to read your own or any of your readers’ thoughts on how such an investigation might be conducted

    1. I wonder if a special panel consisting of a very high ranking former police office, head of UNICEF and perhaps the Ecumenical Patriarch might be a start point. What would be important is for those involved to have nothing to gain from cover up. But, as you say, unlikely.

      1. As I have mentioned elswhere, I read that there is a medieval precedent for an independent investigative body of lay people, not subject to episcopal control. The Patriarch’s own church would be likely to disown him but he would fit the bill.

    2. You say, SteveG, that the “Vatican City is a sovereign state”. I would argue that the Vatican is actually not a state as it fails to meet the first criterion for the standard accepted definition of statehood laid down in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: the Vatican has no permanent population, citizenship only being granted ‘jus officii’ (i.e. on the basis of one’s job) rather than ‘jus soli’ (based on birthplace) or ‘jus sanguini’ (based on the nationality of one’s parent). So it is more accurate to regard the Vatican City as a ‘pretend’ or ‘faux’ state, and we should not, of course, forget that it was created as a result of the (incorrectly named) Lateran Treaty, a deal cooked up to serve the particular aspirations of Mussolini and of Pope Pius XI.

      Now I am not explaining this just to be difficult, or to split legal hairs. On the contrary I think an acknowledgement of the background to the ‘Lateran Treaty’ and a renunciation of it could be an important first step in the Church moving forward from its present difficulties. You suggest that “it is just about conceivable that the Italian state might tear up the Lateran Treaty”, but what I am recommending is that the Church should unilaterally do the tearing up. (There is already a precedent for such unilateral action with the Vatican decision in 2009 regarding its implementation of Italian law.) What I am suggesting is that the Church should simply hand back the Vatican territory to Italy. This would surely prove that the hierarchy actually believes in Jesus’ words “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” More importantly it would be a sign that those in the higher echelons of the Church were intent on literally re-forming its structure in the light of recent scandals – re-forming it to be a more humble institution that did not give the appearance of being preoccupied with the privilege, luxury and tradition of secrecy that seems to be endemic at the top, especially in Rome. As Pope Francis said last year, cardinals “are not called to be princes of the church but to serve”. So at the same time as handing back the earthly kingdom of the Vatican the church should surely dump all the deferential and princely trappings of the hierarchy – no more “your/his excellency”; no more Bishop’s “palaces”; no more Vatican “ambassadors” and “diplomats”.

      In my earlier post in this discussion I suggested that the Church urgently needs to make up its mind and decide what it will look like in the future. Will it be a huge and ‘broad’ church openly embracing doctrinal diversity and the majority of those who identify as Catholics but reject many of its doctrines and practices (e.g. on birth control, abortion and the mortal sinfulness of missing Sunday Mass)? Or will it be a much, much smaller institution catering only for the tiny number of people who accept and live by its traditional catechism? Clinging on to the worldly trappings of a Ruritanian city state surely has no place in either scenario.

      1. I would point out, given the options you show, that a ‘tiny’ group of 12 apostles and a handful of disciples- by choosing the faith pure- converted the world. Whereas every church that ever sought to appease man not God, by going for broad and huge has failed epically. Just look at the demise of Anglicanism since it started trying to pander to the zeitgeist. Ultimately what is the point of a faith demanding little?

  2. I think UNICEF may be the only way to go. The parallels/precedents that spring to mind are the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides. Many of the world’s leading experts in the field of criminal investigation and forensic anthropology volunteered their services pro bono to help identify the victims. I have no doubt that UNICEF would be able to undertake such a task. I am not sure that any cleric, however distinguished or impartial, could help the process. There would always be a Mandy Rice Davies element to the outcome: “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”
    At least Francis is calling the bishops to Rome. Perhaps he will lay down the law – perhaps not. If he were subsequently to stand before the UN and ask that UNICEF undertake an entirely independent investigation – the costs of which would be borne by the Church – he would prove to the world that the Church is finally and irrevocably “out of denial”. It would also be a remarkable “coup de theatre”. Given that the Pontiff’s approval rating amongst US Catholics has dropped by 20% in the wake of the Pennsylvania revelations (from 86% to 66%, CNN, yesterday) this might be no bad thing. Disapproval of Francis cannot be completely divorced from disapproval of the Church itself.
    Finally, I wonder if the Pope’s gathering will address the issue of the confessional. Of course, the act of penance is a sacrament but individual confession dates only from 1215. What man has made man can change. How horrible must it be for a priest to carry the burden of knowledge such as this? How sinful and callous to impart it? The modern, secular counsellor will say “I will keep everything you say completely confidential unless what you tell me leads me to believe you pose a danger to yourself or others.” Perhaps the act of child sexual abuse might carry the automatic penalty of excommunication – at the moment of commission. I leave this one to the theologians.

  3. Some things come to mind. The press fuss about silence in respect of Viganò is not what it seems. What Pope Francis told the press core was that he would say nothing then, because he wanted them (and others) to read the documet carefully and reach their own conclusions whthout any input from him and that he would talk to them later. In a battle, and this is one, you do not send notice to the enemy of what you plan to do. A period of ‘silence ‘ is needed while plans are worked out and decisions taken. In this cane we don’t want the deeply embedded guilty to be able to run for cover. The quiet worries the enemy no end.
    It is true that this Satan inspired mess must be dealt with in the open when the sources of the infection have been identified. There is a medieval precedent for appointing an independent group of lay people to investigate problems in the church and to take action. Bishops, however worthy and even perhaps saintly, investigating their own ecclesiastical brethern, won’t do. I’d suggest that one reason the cancer was allowed to spread was because, some considerable time ago, church authorities simply could not believe such things could happen. As a result ‘protectors’ from within the poision managed to reach positions of power. I’ve seen the same thing happen in corporate management where useless individuals were promoted to positions beyond their capability and as a result ruined the businesses.
    Another item of worry is that some individuals who should have been helping the popes have elected to place obstacles in the path of this pope when he tries to get things done. In the secular world that activity raises the question and begs close examination. Institutional, status prtoection will not do.
    But, Satan always directs his attacks strongest where he fears most. The ship is indeed in stormy seas but The Lord promised that Satan would not have the victory. That is why I like the opening words of the Gaelic poem/hymn “Ag Críost an Síol”. We are going to need the likes of the Ordinariate and the Oratorians when the battle is over.

    1. I cannot agree with Pat. Although the evidence from Archbishop Vigano is not totally watertight, when put alongside other evidence, and in the light of the general behaviour of Pope Francis, there is little doubt about the matter. Pope Francis should tell the truth and not hide behind silence.

        1. I agree to an extent – smoke denotes a heat source. I’ve been around long enough in senior management environments to have learned that initial impressions about the smoke signals and the heat source are not always fully accurate.

  4. First let me agree with what you said in your previous post, Father Ed, about the many “acts of kindness and love” (to use your words) carried out by individuals and groups with the Catholic Church. My own personal experience of this includes the exemplary care and love that my father received during the last few years of his life when he was looked after by the Little Sisters of the Poor. However, I also agree with you that there appears to be much wrong at the very top of the church, although it is difficult to determine what is evidence-based fact and what is just salacious rumour. An example of this difficulty is the claim this month by the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano that it has obtained a 300-page dossier containing “a detailed and disturbing picture of the moral and material corruption of the clergy, with names, surnames and circumstances”. If the claims made by Il Fatto Quotidiano turn out to be true then this may well be more seismic for the Church’s reputation than all the other revelations put together.

    But actually I think the REAL crisis for the Catholic Church is far broader (and less sensational) than “predatory homosexuals” and “an alleged active gay lobby within the Vatican”. The REAL crisis for the Church is that ever fewer people believe in and live by its traditional doctrines and disciplines. Back in the 1950s everyone knew what it meant to be a Catholic:
    # 1950s Catholics attended Mass every Sunday, and believed that the all-loving creator of the universe would subject them to everlasting suffering if they deliberately did not go.
    # 1950s Catholics believed that all abortion was murder.
    # 1950s Catholics did not use condoms. (Most other forms of ‘artificial’ contraception were not general available until later.)
    # 1950s Catholics regarded the clergy and the hierarchy with uncritical deference.

    None of these things is true today:
    # Only a minority of those who identify as Catholics now attend Saturday/Sunday Mass regularly. (I have seen a figure of 30% for Ireland – and about 5% for the Netherlands!)
    # The result of the abortion referendum in Ireland shows that hundreds of thousands of those who identify as Catholics (possibly a majority) voted to repeal the eighth amendment.
    # The vast majority of those who identify as Catholics do not regard the use of ‘artificial’ contraception as being in any way sinful. (I think the figure in the USA is about 80%.)
    # The attitude of uncritical deference to the clergy has evaporated. This undoubtedly has been caused in part by the revelations of sex abuse and associated cover-up, but it is worth remembering that, certainly in Ireland, the change in attitude was kick-started by the revelation in the early/mid 1990s – well before the sex abuse scandal broke – that two of the best-known clergy in the country (Michael Cleary and Eamonn Casey) had fathered secret children.

    I think the contemporary Catholic Church is shirking a big decision. It does not seem to be able to decide whether it will continue to be a huge church open to those (so-called ‘cafeteria’) Catholics who pick and mix what they believe, or whether it will be a much, much smaller entity, admitting and catering just for the tiny and decreasing number of the world’s population who still actually believe in its catechism.

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