Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Church Will Prevail

Like a recurring nightmare, sex abuse by some priests is again in the news.

What seems to have been the index finger to the lips, the ‘don’t tell’ attitude of the bishops and, heaven help us, the Pope, is getting wide media coverage. That has the unfortunate effect of exaggerating the extent of the despicable behavior of a few priests. Simply put, it sounds like the Catholic Church is filled with pedophile priests. Not true. Not fair. It’s as if some critics are lying in wait to attack the Catholic Church.

The good news is that the bishops have long been aware of the abuse of some priests. Eight years ago, they examined the problem and have since been dealing with it. The bad news is that there was a problem in the first place.

In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for a thorough study for the years 1950-2002. Their findings were sad and shocking: a total of 4,132 priests of the 109,000 priests who were active during that 52 year period were accused of sex abuse with minors. Although the total represented, roughly, only 4%, even one priest accused should stagger the mind

Why did the Catholic Church tolerate this depravity in the holy priesthood for so long? Well, I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like the church hierarchy too often considered the abuse as only a sin not also as a crime. And, although some priests were reported to authorities, a few imprisoned, some ‘laicized’ (de-frocked), some sent to rehab and some, strangely, transferred, apparently, mostly, the molesting was considered as committed by ‘one of us’, a parochial attitude that ‘we will deal with it.’ Colossal error.

The Pope, however, is getting unjustly criticized In the one case in Munich, an accused priest was transferred without the knowledge of Cardinal Ratzinger (before he became Pope).In Milwaukee, in an awful case of 200 deaf children being molested, civil authorities were unable to prosecute the accused priest and dropped the charges. Someone from the Vatican- not the Pope-recommended the trial be canceled because the priest was gravelly ill. (He died weeks later).

The disturbing fact remains, however, that two priests committed the dreadful sin of molestation. No excuse. None. Shame on them.

There are those who feel that the Catholic rule of celibacy is the reason for these priests’ sins and they should be allowed to marry. Nonsense. These transgressions were not acts of philandering, but were acts of pedophilia, a recognized mental disorder that is often found among married men. Allowing priests to marry is not the solution. Making sure these pedophiles are never ordained is the only solution.

Having studied for the Catholic priesthood a very long time ago, I believe, however, the rule of celibacy is more than just a rule. It is the price of admission to that life of unparalleled happiness. It is a magnificent sacrifice for the special “calling” for which few are “chosen”. Trust me. Been there and couldn’t quite do that.

For me, then, as a Catholic, these are troubling times. The sins of these priests are disgusting and disappointing, not to mention destructive of innocent lives. Compounding the mess, the apparent failure of the bishops always to report these crimes was disgraceful.

While all of this is disheartening, the Catholic Church will certainly weather this storm. After telling Peter that he was “the rock” upon which “I will build my church”, Christ then said, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Not even the sins of some of her priests.