Monday, April 12, 2010

Scandal in the Catholic Church Heats Up

A month ago, I blogged about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. At the time, I thought it was a story was passing from popular conscience. But then it got "legs" big time. More allegations in more places and cases where it seems the Vatican took no or little action.

In the wake of the media activity, the Vatican took the stories as "attacks" instead of efforts to learn the truth. To many of us who are Catholics, it seemed that the Vatican was missing the simple point of the matter: protect children and remove the pedophiles.

All in all, it seems that the Church is missing the clarity it seems to have for issues like abortion. So let me state it clearly: sexual abuse of children is a mortal sin, a grieveous offence against God. That's how I interpret the Catholic education I had as a child.

I, and many, are at a loss to understand why the Church seemed to downplay these offences, using words like "failings" instead of "mortal sin" or "serious sin." How could they not get these 4 aspects of abuse:
  • Violation of a priest's celibacy
  • Violation of the Church's teaching that sexual relations should be limited to married couples
  • Violation of the trust that the laity place in the priesthood
  • Violation of the bodies of innocent children. The Church often refers to the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. This abuse violated that temple and therefore offended God. And the victims have been seriously scarred for life
The formulation for the Sacrament of Penance would also tell any Catholic how the Church should have proceeded in the knowledge of such serious sins committed by its priests:
  1. Confess the sin; acknowledge the truth. Jesus said "I came into the world to testify to the truth." (John 18:37) So, let the Church testify to the truth: priests committed mortal sins in the abuse of children.
  2. Where serious sin was also a crime (e.g., robbery, murder, etc.), I learned that the sinner should also surrender to civil authorities and accept their civil sentence as part of the penance for their sin. So, clearly, the Church should have encouraged the offenders to turn themselves into the police.
  3. The Act of Contrition includes the words "avoid the near occasion of sin." For pedophiles, this is unsupervised access to children. Thus, it is so hard to hear how offenders were transferred by Church officials to new assignments and still had access to children.
  4. Finally, the sinner must resolve to reform his life. Any non-repentant offender should have been stripped of ministerial duties immediately. Even repentant offenders had so violated the trust of their ministerial office that they should have been banned from active ministry.
Finally, it also seems that many Church officials wanted to keep these mortal sins quiet, as publicity might damage the reputation of the Church. But, we all know that strategy backfired. If the Church had acknowledged the sins from the start, it could have used this as a "teaching moment." Even priests can commit serious sins, but as part of the Penance process, abusers of children must be removed from ministry and face the civil charges associated with their crimes.

If the Church "testified to the truth" as Jesus spoke, there might still be a scandal, but people would acknowledge that the Church acted properly in handling the scandal.

And why should the Church and groups like the Catholic League be so defensive? Being a Christian sometimes means being misunderstood and getting bad press. Believers should be glad the days of feeding Christians to the lions is long gone! In comparison, a little heat in the press should seem like nothing.

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