As is clear, the Catholic Church is grasping the nettle of sexual abuse today and struggling with discovering effective strategies to overcome the problem. The easy part is the procedural. Priests can be and have been shunted into other duties that eliminate the risk and now we are going to see some of them been forced to confront civil authority at least in the developed world.
The hard part is to understand that institutions dealing with vulnerable children are targeted by individuals driven by aberrant sexual needs. That has been true with the Boy Scouts and the educational system and the foster care system. It will also continue to be true unfortunately.
At least now they will not be able to hide behind the culture of general denial that has operated everywhere in the past.
I suspect that the most vulnerable children and thus likely the most abused are those children passing through the government run foster care systems. The children themselves effectively have no protector.
The Catholic Church is at least capable of actually solving the problem better than just about anybody else. They are a hierarchical system of administration that can implement globally corrective systems. So if the underlying problem is solvable they should be up to it.
The good news I suppose is that the actual hard numbers of aberrant individuals appears to be low. Except that their individual ability to cause damage is huge. A hundred victims is almost common. Yet out of thousands we have a couple here and there causing all the agony. One teacher in our system created a serious scandal some years back, yet that appears to be the only serious case in a large school system
Because these folks strike at the core of society’s framework of trust, society reacts heavily. I do not myself excuse the damage caused or think that individuals can be cured, so must class myself as intolerant. Yet the reality is that the perpetrators are victims of their biological urges however wrongly directed. It begs a cure rather than forgiveness.
In short it is ultimately a scientific problem.
I do find offensive that some of the press give free rein to any number of creeps who want to take advantage of the situation to attack the Pope. The Church is a bureaucracy that is naturally behaving like a bureaucracy and Pope Benedict is where the buck stops. He had already made key corrections to repair what was clearly not working. That alone may be sufficient to cut of any internal escape routes for problem priests. What remains is the creation of an open reporting system that is self corrective on the ground. That done and it will be almost immune to the problem.
In the meantime, the church will have to isolate all perpetrators who have any history and allow them mostly to die out. Again this will take careful judgment calls because of the insidious nature of the problem. Some will call for witch hunts and victims have to be addressed and helped. This can be organized. I suspect though that hunting up victims in order for them to recount their traumas is often simply extending the abuse with another form of abuse.
This article outlines a lot of what the church has done and where it now goes. I have little doubt that this will be solved.
The bigger problem remains with the foster care system operated by governments throughout the world. It is likely a whole order of magnitude greater. Moves to correct the problem there have been generally implemented at least to the point of awareness. Yet the institutional structure is still quite vulnerable and no one really knows how to fix it. Things may have changed while my information from many interviews is decades old but I cannot see how.
In Defense of the Pope
Having criticized particular Catholic cardinals for blaming everything–including the Church’s sex scandal–on “the Jews”, let me now come to the defense of the Pope and of the Church itself on this issue. To begin with, this is an extraordinarily complex problem, because the Church has at least five important traditions that make it difficult to move quickly and aggressively in response to complaints of abuse.
The first tradition involves confidentiality, particularly not exclusively the confidentiality of the priest with regard to the penitent. But there is also a wider spread tradition of confidentiality within the Church hierarchy itself.
Second, there is the tradition of forgiveness. Those of us outside the Church often think, perhaps, that the Church goes too far in forgiving. I was shocked when the previous Pope immediately forgave the man who tried to assassinate him. But this episode and other demonstrate that the tradition of forgiveness is all too real.
Third, there is the tradition of the Church regarding itself as a state. The
is, after all, a nation state. The Catholic Church is not big on the separation of church and state, as are various Protestant denominations. The Catholic Church, like Orthodox Judaism, believes that matters affecting the faithful should generally be dealt within the church, without recourse to secular authorities. Vatican
prides itself on moving slowly and in seeing the time frame of life quite differently than the quick pace at which secular societies respond to the crisis of the day. Vatican
Fifth, the Catholic Church has long had a tradition of internal due process. Cannon Law provides for scrupulous methods of proof. The concept of the “devil’s advocate” derives from the Church’s effort to be certain that every “t” is crossed and every “I” is dotted, even when it comes to selecting saints.
None of these explanations completely justify the long inaction of the Church in coming to grips with a serious problem. But they do help to explain how good people could have allowed bad things to happen for so long a period of time. Nor is the Catholic Church the only institution that has faced problems of sexual abuse. Every hierarchical body, especially but not exclusively religious ones, has faced similar problems, though perhaps on not so large a scale.
The problem of hierarchical sex abuse has only recently emerged from the shadows. Singling out the Catholic Church, and for stereotyping all priests is simply wrong.
Pope Benedict, both before he became Pope and since, has done a great deal to confront the issue. He changed the policy that kept allegations of abuse within the authority of local bishops, and he acknowledged that the local option had encouraged shifting abusive priests from parish to parish, thereby hiding their sins from potential new victims. He also met with abuse victims and recognized their victimization. Nor has he tried, as other members of the
Vatican hierarchy have, to publicly blame the problem on “the Jews”, “the media,” and others.
It is obvious that despite Pope Benedict’s good efforts, more must be done, and not only by the Catholic Church but by all institutions that have experienced hierarchical sexual exploitation. They must create structures that assure prompt reporting, a zero tolerance policy and quick action, so long as these processes are consistent with due process and fairness, not only to alleged victims but to the accused as well. It’s easy to forget, in the face of real victims with real complaints, that there have also been false accusations as well. Processes must be put in place that distinguish true complaints from false ones.
Most important, this tragedy should not be used as an excuse to attack a large and revered institution that does much good throughout the world. Blame must be placed with precision and praise should be given with precision as well. The eleventh Commandment, Thou Shalt Not Stereotype, must never be forgotten.