Scandalous. That's the first word that comes to mind when I think about the issue of paedophilia and sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. And I do have to think about it. As a teacher of religious studies, as a holder of the responsibility of Catholic character in our College, as a catechist in the parish, as a musician in the church, most importantly as a Catholic parent of three children, representing so much that is Catholic, I HAVE to think about it. It seems intolerable that some people raised and trained to be bearers of God's messages are not respectful of the beauty and innocence of childhood. How can that be?
The first thing I would consider is how many people out there in the world are like that. A lot, I suspect. I read Rock Spider, an Australian book about paedophiles and how they hunt and trap their prey, sometimes after years of ingratiating service to a community group or family. So it may not be a huge surprise (but very disturbing) that a small handful of young men who end up in the solitary position of priesthood may have gone there to do this very thing. Perhaps others joined the priesthood because they recognised their own inability to form a 'normal' relationship with another adult so fled to the apparent solitary confinement of priesthood. And maybe some were taught by older priests in positions of responsibility that it's okay... that would be, to me, the most reprehensible.
But saying odds are some priests are paedophiles simply because some men are, is not a good answer from the Church's point of view. A priest is a very special person to people of faith. It is believed that a priest can hear your sins and grant you God's forgiveness. It is believed that a priest can take bread and wine and offer them to God in the Mass, producing the Body and Blood of Christ. It is believed a priest can bestow God's baptism upon a baby, child or adult, allowing the fullness of the Holy Spirit to bestow gifts of love, peace, patience, kindness, joy, gentleness and ... OMG self-control. So a priest is special. And single. There isn't room for a family if you're a man of God, I was told by one former priest (who now is married with four children). And yet another priest told my friend one time that if priests were allowed to marry, he'd be the first at the altar! I don't know. They say Anglicans have better sermons because their wives tell them if they're getting boring... *g*
So the idea of a priest abusing a child is horrific. But if you understand the power a priest can hold in a community of faith, you might have a better grasp of how this might come about. Traditionally in a parish like ours, where there is still a strong European? and particularly Irish? sense of obedience to the priest, it would have been an honour to have your child selected by the priest for altar serving training, for a 'talk' in the Presbytery or whatever else these men dreamed up. You always did what the priest asked. Check it out, ask any nun in the '60s. Many of them practically melted in a puddle on the floor when the priest spoke to them. So for us ordinary lay people, it was the same. Do what the priest asks. Does. Says. Whatever. And if he abused you and said don't tell, you didn't.
And remember, it was a society that back then didn't really want to address or comprehend the implications of this dogmatic and autocratic behaviour. In fact, most problems at home or at school stayed right there. People didn't go to counsellors. Children didn't tell. Problems were swept under the mat. We were told to be quiet and toughen up. There were not many people aware of looking into HOW children were affected by anything. We had no grief counsellors, no guidance counsellors, no school psychs, no caring deans in schools, just a discipline master or a detention room. Those were the '60s and '70s as I knew it. The lucky kids had a Sister of Mercy interested in their welfare. Some very lucky kids got to spend time with the priest...
So why do priests abuse children? Is it because they don't marry? I am not so sure. Paedophilia is a sexual attraction towards children. That's surely not really that common. But is it more common when people are not ALLOWED sex with adults? Just as men in prison can turn (so to speak LOL) to one another, can people prevented from sex with adults (who might tell on them) find a way to fulfil their urges with children (who are not allowed to tell, and won't be listened to if they did)? That is a very sobering proposition.
Should the Pope step down because he didn't fire an abusive priest back in time? I don't know. Should priests be allowed to marry? I say, hell Yes! Will this shake the authority of the Church? I kind of hope so. I want to see a more humble Church. I want to be led by Jesus, not by Pharisees and Sadducees. Maybe that's not possible, of course, because to lead one must have power, and charisma alone won't haul the Vatican out of this hole. Power comes, unfortunately, from wealth in our world today. Money and power and a strong hand. But they need to take a step back, put the Pope in a black cossack, walk him around a few slums and get him to sit down at a table with some families from Slumdog Millionaire in Calcutta or Rio or Swaziland or Warsaw or Apia. Do that once a month. Then I might start loving the authority that would come from a true Jesus figure on earth.
I read a paper by the Bishop in Ireland who said this shakes our faith but Jesus did tell us to bring ALL our burdens to him and maybe this is a burden we can bear... that just didn't wash well with me. It reeked of a clutching at straws.
The people still need more apologies. From everyone who did anything wrong and everyone who was in power and covered it up, moved priests to other towns, silenced victims, shuffled papers and denied all or any of it. Monsignor Carde always told our little children that reconciliation is the easiest sacrament for them because they're already so good at it. How many times have they been told to say sorry already? Lots, they say, rolling their eight-year-old eyes. So the Church needs to practise what it preaches. Reconciliation. To every child abused by a person in power. The violence I witnessed as a child in Catholic school is still very clear in my mind. That violence was handed out by nuns wielding long leather straps or, in the case of the Brigidine sisters, the fly swat handle. I recall dozens of such moments. How much more frightening for those who were the victims? And how much more horrific, unbearably so, would it be for those who were sexually abused? Threatened? Overpowered? Violated? Raped?
And so very not loved. Child victims of adults who preached love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Trustfulness. Gentleness. And ...self-control.