Opinions Expressed in "Rants," while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.
Wounded Children, Wounded Church
So once again, AGAIN, the headlines are filled with bad news, of child abuse perpetrated by Priests, covered up by bishops - this time in Ireland, where Catholicism is as interwoven into the national identity as shamrocks and green beer - and now in Europe. Its the same sad story we saw a few years back in the U.S., and over a decade ago here in Canada.
As one who has worked with kids for nearly 20 years, I have a personal disgust for the idea of child abuse, particularly sexual abuse. When the trust and dignity of a child is violated by a parent or guardian, or anyone in a position of responsibility over that child, the damage to that child is devastating, and permanent. All future relationships, opportunities to know love and intimacy, will be experienced through the lense of that abuse. Child abuse makes me so angry, I serious think I could be drawn to violence if I ever witnessed it.
This is the rage that many feel at the thought of child abuse. That rage and fear manifests itself in many ways, some which are completely inappropriate. And this is exactly what we are seeing in the news, on the radio, in hate mail to the church officials, in demonstrations, in bad jokes told by latenight talk showhosts - we see the desire to use a sledge hammer to do the work of a scalpel. In fact, some of the responses border on hatred, the likes of which, if leveled against another religion or culture, would no doubt be quickly labelled as racism or religious discrimination.
However, to some extent the reaction, while unacceptable, is understandable - child abuse conjures within us the strongest reactions of revulsion, terror, wrath - we become raging mother bears, ready to utterly destroy anyone that would hurt our young ones. Some argue that the response is disproportional to the problem, "only 0.7% of priests have been involved in abuse cases." But its not disproportional - we're talking about child abuse - I can think of no greater wrong than that done to a child.
God feels this rage too - Jesus made it very clear, on numerous occasions, the severity of sin in bringing one of his little ones to harm.
Some argue that abuse of power occurs in every occupation or vocation - certainly the instances of PARENTAL child abuse are much higher, as are teachers who abuse, police who abuse, etc. But there is a higher standard to which priests must be measured. How much more deplorable it is that some, as vicars of Christ, even using their position of trust AS a vicar of Christ, would prey on children. Its much worse. Its an abuse of GOD'S power. And, in addition to damaging these children's ability to have relationships with each other, it also hurts their concept of GOD itself. AND it hurts the rest of us, who turn away from the Church, and in doing so, from relationship with God.
As such, surely our concern for each and every child so victimized must always be our FIRST concern.
Its true that the priests involved in these crimes are certainly victims of their own illnesses, and they should be treated accordingly. In fact, we should have a certain amount of compassion for them, and even pray for them, even consider the possibility of FORGIVENESS for them. Their sins are no more unforgiveable than any other, simply because God's ability to forgive is greater than ours to sin.
So while we can certainly be aware that child abuse does elicit the wrath of God, we must also know that God is all-forgiving to those who seek him, even forgiving of a sin as serious as this one.
Nonetheless, taking care of sick priests must ALWAYS be our SECONDARY concern, and the victims PRIMARY. Sadly this has not always been so.
Now we have a bunch of Bishops who apparently, when becoming aware of priests within their jurisdictions who had abused children, apparently dealt with the problem by moving the priest to a different posting, rather than REmoving them from office altogether. Was this the wrong decision? Well, obviously to us, in heinsight, we see that this was a brutal error.
Why did they do it? Well, even though their actions were unacceptable, their intentions were not ALL bad - they wanted to protect the reputation of the Church, as vicar of Christ - to protect it from all the scandal that we now see it experiencing today. Of course, by trying to hide it, they made it WORSE - but this was not their intention. The Church is an inherently good thing - it is access to the infinite love of God - but it, like any of God's gifts, can be corrupted.
The fatal mistake that they made, which is a mistake made by so many well beyond the scope of this particular issue, was to SACRIFICE THE INDIVIDUAL FOR THE SAKE OF THE WHOLE - in this case, the whole is the Church as a whole. There may be nobility in one sacrificing themselves for an ideal, however one must do so WILLINGLY. If their sacrifice is forced on them, then all nobility is gone. In the case of the Church, if the individuals within it are sacrificed for it, then the Church shows itself to be inconsistent with its own teaching - and then, what's the point?
God doesn't love "humanity" as a concept - God loves each and every individual human being, one at a time, knowing each by name, having counted every hair on our heads. God likewise only loves "the Church" insofar as he loves the individuals that make it up, one at a time. And God takes a preferential option for the church's weakest members.
In typical mob/sledge-hammer mentality, many have called for the resignation of the Pope himself for these crimes. Some have even accused him of cover-ups while he was himself Bishop in Munich. Apparently these allegations have no merit at all. Nonetheless they continue, as in societies rage, it seeks someone to scapegoat the blame to.
Still, one could argue that as Pope, he is ultimately responsible for what goes on in the Church - this is probably true. The thing is, no one knows this more than the Pope himself, and so we can expect that whatever action he takes will be in the best interests of the Body of Christ, which I have no doubt will include its individual members, i.e. the victims, and not just its conceptual reputation.
So we should indeed defend the Pope against the attacks leveled against him, but we shouldn't be TOO defensive, for a whole list of reasons - the most important of which, OVER-DEFENSIVENESS IMPLIES INSECURITY. God will take care of the Pope, so long as the Pope continues to dedicate himself to the work of God.
Neither should we feel PERSONALLY attacked when the Pope, or the Church, are villified. Blessed are the persecuted. Jesus told us ahead of time that it would be like this.
Is Celibacy the Problem?
In general, I don't think so, as there are indeed incidents of abuse in other ministries that aren't celibate, and in other vocations and occupations - in fact higher incidents. Nonetheless, one must at least ask the question, whether someone who might be dangerously sexually repressed (which may be an ingredient in a potential sexual predator) might be attracted to the validation, and even STATUS, that they get by living as a celibate priest. I'm not sure what the answer is to this question, but I think its very important that we ask it.
So has the Church been wounded by these allegations having now come to light? I think not. I think the church was ALREADY wounded, from the fact that its weakest members were wounded. The only difference between before and now is that we know about it now - for that which has been said in darkness will be brought to the light and shouted from the rooftops.
We need to pray that God will heal his church - but we need to be aware that such healing will only come about once the disease that is hidden within is brought out into the light.