I was raised Catholic. I no longer consider myself Catholic, or even Christian. But it pains me to see attacks on the Catholic Church which are based on anti-religious sentiment. For about a year now, the newspapers have reported case after case after case of child abuse by Catholic priests. Some of the cases are atrocious litanies of molestation, followed by transfer and more molestation. Others are allegations that a priest held a hug just a little too long 25 years ago.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently instituted a policy regarding the treatment of allegations of sexual abuse. It has received a lot of criticism from victim's groups. I believe the criticism is misguided. The Catholic hierarchy mishandled molestation cases in the past, treating accusations as a shameful thing that had to be quieted. They were correct to a degree: it was a shameful thing, and the accusations needed to be quieted. But not by pushing them under the table, but instead by opening them up to the light of day. They forgot the power of confession.
I do believe strongly that the Catholic bishops have learned this lesson. Some individual Catholic bishops might not have, and may be reluctant to remove from the priesthood men they know and mistakenly trust. However, there are now effective lay groups, as well as concerned people who work within church offices, who will keep a watchful eye on how the bishops handle cases from now on. A good sign that the bishops will treat these cases with the gravity they should is that they appointed Kathleen McChesney to head their Office of Child and Youth Protection, which is the group whose charter is to make sure the new abuse policies are implemented. Ms. McChesney was formerly with the FBI, and the King County Sheriff. She has a distinguished career fighting crime. She will not be looking to cover up allegations.
The alternative is to turn over control of the Catholic Church to lay members and non-Catholics wholesale. Such a change would destroy the Catholic Church. Some would favor that. Some would respond that the priesthood did not live up to it's obligations before, so they do not deserve this chance. Deserving or not, the bishops conference ought to have the opportunity. I do not believe that the good should be thrown out with the bad. The Catholic Church is an institution steeped in tradition. Nearly two thousand years of inertia has built up. It does not turn on a dime. Millions of people have come to depend on this group for meaning in their lives. Tearing it down will leave them foundering. In return though, Catholics have a responsibility to support the abused and make a wholehearted effort to prevent further abuse.
- FBI biography of Kathleen McChesney
- SNAP - Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse
- Voice of the Faithful - a Catholic lay group formed as a response to these incidents that pushes for greater involvement of the Catholic laity in the Church structure
That oughtta get me a bunch of forceful commentary.