This week, Pope Francis has taken a stand on the sexual abuse of minors by priests and bishops. He has called a historical first global meeting in Rome where more than 190 bishops and clerics will discuss a clear plan of action on how to protect and help the victims of clerical sexual abuse and bring priests to justice and hold bishops accountable. They will hopefully learn what direct action must be taken to end denial, cover-up and bring justice for victims by holding priests and bishops accountable for criminal acts against minors.
Pope Francis is facing this extremely important and sensitive issue. The meeting is an acknowledgment that the problem is a culture of criminality within the church where thousands of priests around the world have abused and are abusing children. They are getting away with it to the anger and fury of the public at large and especially among Catholics.
The normally arrogant higher prelates who consider themselves important enough to be above the law have to be challenged and confronted with these real crimes, which they have ignored and covered up for decades. They must answer for them before the civil law, which is there to protect children and bring culprits to justice. No one is above the law.
The evil practice of clerical child abuse has been exposed in many Western countries by government tribunals and commissions in the United States, Australia, Ireland, Chile, France and Germany. For sure, the same is going on in other countries but has not yet come to the surface. While much has changed to prevent child abuse by clergy, much remains to be done. All must realize that clerical abuse of minors is not just a church scandal or priests committing “sins” and when discovered are transferred to another parish or diocese to stop the complaints from continuing. That is how it was dealt with for decades. Families are persuaded to agree to out-of-court settlements and forced to sign non-disclosure agreements. Some have been threatened with church sanctions if they pursued a criminal case.
In the Philippines, Archbishop Cardinal Tagle admitted in a television interview that the Philippine hierarchy dealt with the issues of child sex abuse by priests internally. As if that is the solution. He said at the opening of the Vatican meeting that it is a an abuse of power echoing the position of Pope Francis, who has said it is a culture of “clericalism” in the church. However, stating the problem is not solving it.
The abuse of power has been the practice of the bishop and senior clergy to deny ignore and cover up such crimes and to protect the institutional church. They tried to prevent the pries from being arrested and put on trial for crimes that can carry a life sentence. The fear of public disgrace, failure in office, loss of prestige and authority, criticism of the institutional church by the Catholic communities and the media and the huge loss of donations are likely to be behind the practice of cover up.
Concern, compassion, and just anger that little children are abused by their fellow priests seems to be far from their hearts and minds. It’s a spiritual and theological crisis also. The gospel words of Jesus of Nazareth are forgotten. He said that the most important in the Kingdom of God is the child, not the learned and people in authority. They who accept and protects a child accepts Him. Abusers have to be dealt with strictly and “better a millstone be tied around their neck and they be thrown into the deepest ocean.” (Matthew18:1-8)
The deep suffering, hurt and anguish that abused children feel is ignored and unacknowledged. Some even say they like it. A video of children releasing their pent up anger, hurt and pain can be viewed on www.preda.org. Seeing and hearing this release of pent up pain that is in many victims in Emotional Release Therapy gives us a determination to see that the children are healed and justice is done by and for the little kids.
Many clerics have been found guilty and are serving jail sentences. This cover up by church leaders is a systematic obstruction of justice and is a crime in itself. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France is on trial with other clerics for such an alleged crime. A court decision may be released in March. Cardinal George Pell, who held a senior Vatican position, is on trial for “historic child sexual offenses.” The Cardinal allegedly protected a notorious pedophile priest who abused children.
Catholics who for centuries were imbued with guilt by clergy and were threatened with the “fires of hell” are still told to repent and confess their “sins,” and do penance, no matter how little and petty as their so-called “sins” may have been. They are awakening to the truth that they have been duped and misled by an archaic and false theology that has little or no compassion, understanding, forgiveness and Gospel love. Many of these pedophile priests, criminals themselves, judge and condemn the innocent.
The genuine care, healing and support for every victim of child sexual abuse especially by clergy is the first and most important action that needs to be taken by the Pope’s meeting. Every diocese must have an independent trained professional child support therapy team, a therapeutic home with a para-legal to pursue justice and to help, support and protect every child victim.
The team should provide therapy to empower the victims to give testimony against their abusers. The abusers, including clergy, must be brought to trial before a civil court of law and held accountable for child abuse. The accused, if guilty, ought to confess, repent and accept penance in jail behind bars. Nothing less is acceptable.