Whom to trust if not your priest?

The almost daily reports regarding the so-called

sex scandals

in the Roman Catholic Church are deeply disturbing, and all
thoughtful Americans should be greatly concerned.
The almost daily reports regarding the so-called “sex scandals” in the Roman Catholic Church are deeply disturbing, and all thoughtful Americans should be greatly concerned.

The lives of the children and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the lives of the priests are our most immediate concern. But beyond that, we are deeply concerned over the potential long-term impact the scandals could have on the Roman Catholic Church in particular and on organized religion in general.

We also are deeply disturbed by the church’s continuing hesitation on the subject of sexual abuse of minors by priests, and the statement from American Roman Catholic leaders at the Vatican Wednesday fell far short of what, in our judgment, is needed for the church to put this matter to rest and to regain the confidence of at least some parishioners.

The American church leaders decided to recommend the defrocking of any priest who becomes “notorious and is guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors.” For cases that are not “notorious,” the church leaders want local bishops to decide whether such a priest is a threat to children and should be defrocked. Church leaders were silent on the question of reporting sex abuse crimes to authorities.

The recommendations will be taken up by U.S. bishops when they meet in June and come up with a policy for dealing with abusive priests.

Now then, our primary criticism of church leaders is that they seem to be treating the issue as an internal problem within the church’s bureaucracy, and they seem to be ignoring the impact the problem is having on parishioners and on the public in general.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington seems to have a clearer grasp of the situation than most of his colleagues. He said, “We’ve got to make sure that people can trust their priests.” Also, he said, bishops must be “able to say to our people it is under control. It won’t happen again.”

Church leaders have not reached that point, however, and so the toll on the church continues to mount. Possible repercussions:

* Witch hunts. (Some lawyers have taken out ads seeking victims of “clergy abuse.”)

* Suspicions that good and devoted priests are guilty of behaving improperly.

* At least some parents teaching their children that their priest may not be an entirely good person.

* Fewer fine men entering the priesthood.

Sexual abuse of minors by priests is not a new problem, it should be noted, but given all of the revelations since the start of the year, it seems to be more widespread than once thought. And because the church handled it inappropriately years ago, the problem poses a serious threat now. How, we wonder, will the church remain intact if parishioners do not trust their priests?

It is time for the Vatican to speak loudly and clearly on this matter, and the message should be that when a priest is accused of sexual abuse, he will be suspended and the case will be turned over to law enforcement authorities. And if the charges are proven in a court of law, the priest will be defrocked and jailed.

Sexual abuse of a minor is a crime against society, not a dirty little secret, and it is time for the Vatican to confront the problem head-on.

So far, regrettably, it has not done so … and the church continues to bleed.

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