The Catholic Church has paid more than $2 billion in abuse settlements in the US alone in the past decade. Cases of sexual abuse by catholic priests have emerged in Ireland, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy and New Zealand to name a few, and such actions have severely damaged the credibility and appeal of the Catholic Church.
Members of the church hierarchy argue that sexual abuse is a common phenomenon in the secular world as well as in other religious institutions, and the rate of incidence is lower than in the general adult male population. Citing the ills prevalent in other religious denominations or society at large to justify one’s own despicable actions is pathetic. Just because sexual abuse is a prevalent offence doesn’t make it okay. An institution that derives its legitimacy from spirituality, purity of values and the will of God should be horrified at such offences as they poison the very root of its authority.
Public outcry and media hype focuses on the fact that not only are these abuses taking place, but they are being covered up by the top brass of the institution. Instead of recognizing the issue, reporting the crimes and working to address the cause of such behavior, the clergy is trying to cover their tracks by outright denial, moving the accused to a different parish or concealing evidence. Not only has the Church not reported many of these crimes, it has worked aggressively to obstruct any investigation into these allegations.
Many of the accused priests were sent for psychological treatment but more often than not this didn’t cure them. The hierarchy has been harshly criticized for not acting more decisively to remove and defrock these priests, and the international outcry has put added pressure on them to act. On March 18, 2010 the Pope formally apologized for “stray priests” and asked the victims for their forgiveness and the guilty for their penitence. The Vatican on the 12th of April, 2010 also posted a guide online outlining the procedures it wants bishops to follow in abuse cases, but only words will no longer placate the public.
People want to see drastic changes in the procedures of the Church and Vatican. They want more transparency on the part of the chain of command, consequences for the offenders, cooperation with investigative authorities as well as compliance with civil law. The bishops should not be allowed to hold trials, pass judgments and take matters into their own hands, as the clergy is not above the law.
In November 2009, the Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse reported its findings in which it concluded that, “the Church’s pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.”
How can one follow an institution that not only comprises of people who can commit such crimes, but is led by people who do nothing about it? The Pope along with every member of the Christian fraternity can no longer let offences go unpunished to protect their name. The standing of the Catholic Church doesn’t depend on secrecy or lack of scandal; it depends on the public believing that their church is the house of God and their priest a pure spiritual leader.