A great deal of the rage and shock felt by the public about the Catholic Church's self-inflicted child sex abuse scandal centers on a simple question: WHY didn't those in authority DO SOMETHING right away when they heard about THE PROBLEM?
Of course, many of those in authority DID do something right away: They either ignored it, blamed the victims and swore them to silence after wrenching, blame-switching interrogations, or transferred the offending priest to another parish or even another country where he was free to renew his evil acts. A few sought to send the priest, or the victims, or all of them, to a Church psychiatrist (a responsibility I know well) -- hopefully to both sort out the truth, arrive at a just solution consistent with canon and civil law, and to help begin the process of emotional and spiritual healing needed by all.
Sadly but honestly though, this latter path was the exception rather than the rule. And an even less-followed path was simply calling the police, although in Ireland particularly, the Church had built itself a very high pedestal from which to "rule" its flock -- which the police were part of. They were not in the business of arresting priests on the word of a couple of young, probably "misbehaving" boys.
I am sure it will not shock you to hear that the Church has a BIG problem with sex. In fact, the pedophile scandal has probably forced the Vatican to use the word "sex" more often in the past couple of months than it has in the past couple of centuries. There is little in the Gospels to help it offer the Faithful a very clear "What would Jesus have done?" about anything relating to sex -- much less, sex crimes. And they haven't gotten very far with just "Be fruitful and multiply" and the strong implication that sex is for having children (and, oh yes, expressing love).
Whether or not the Church's asexual structure -- priests and nuns taking a vow of chastity and living in same-sex cloistered communities (as I do) -- helps or hurts the problem has been much debated. I don't intend to take it up here, not because I fear its honest discussion, but because it is a topic unto itself and one that the medical community's long-term studies of pedophilia simply do not seem to make relevant to the current scandal. It may be, it may not be -- but that is for another time. Put simply for now, there is almost no evidence to support a connection, as "logical" as it seems to many.
The Church's intense fear of sex has only grown more complicated and problematic as has sex itself over the years. There are variants (I'm sure some would prefer a harsher word) such as polygamy, bisexuality, homosexuality, transgenerdism. There is sexual addiction, rampant and degrading pornography, prostitution, and forced sterilization. There is the issue of sex education for the young and contraception for all. There is the crime of rape, and rape at its most-disturbing -- in acts of pedophilia against God's most-innocent. And of course, there is abortion, an assault on God-given Life that unbelievably is mandatory in some cultures.
So, if you're like many in the Church and can't bring yourself to say "penis" even if you teach biology, then dealing with the rest of the list is pretty much of a lost cause.
And that brings us to the Church and its dealing -- or not dealing -- with pedophile priests and their victims.
Pedophilia, one of the most-studied and researched areas of psychiatry, is a mental illness which, at the moment, is lacking either an effective therapeutic or medical treatment, much less a cure.
Acts of pedophilia, especially sexual acts involving another human being, are among the most-serious of crimes. Hiding or covering-up such acts is also a crime.
Although Jesus did not discuss pedophilia during His Ministry on Earth, He often spoke of the sick, and of justice. Compassion for the sick is a Gospel imperative. Justice and ultimately, God's Forgiveness, come through Confession of our sins to Him, AS WELL AS earthly atonement for them. These two elements, while separate, cannot be separated.
Although in law enforcement, the term "pedophile" is loosely used to describe those convicted of child sexual abuse or the sexual abuse of a minor, the American Psychiatric Association's authoritative "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" describes pedophilia as an illness in which a person either has intense sexual urges toward children, and experiences recurrent sexual urges toward and fantasies about children that they have either acted on, or which cause them severe distress and interpersonal problems.
The medical criteria does NOT require actual sexual activity with a prepubescent youth. The diagnosis can be made based on the presence of fantasies or sexual urges even if they have never been acted upon. Of course, a person who acts upon these urges yet experiences no distress about their fantasies or urges can also qualify for the diagnosis. Acting on such sexual urges is not limited to overt sex acts, and can sometimes include indecent exposure, voyeuristic behavior, or achieving sexual satisfaction from child pornography.
Given this scientifically and correctly broadened definition, it is probably not hard for some people to think of friends, co-workers or acquaintances who -- while they might not ever commit any kind of child sexual assault -- are nonetheless immersed in our hedonistic, youth-and-beauty worshiping society in a dangerous way. Many people are all too proud to admit over a beer how they "like 'em young, the younger the better!" Or, "if she was a just a couple of years older..."
Yes, most are probably lusting after teenagers or young adults, not children. But what would you say to a very dear friend who asked if he could tell you some dark secret about himself that he found deeply troubling, something awful that he could not stop - and it was that he craved sex with children, or indulged in child pornography? As a beloved friend, you'd likely urge him to immediately get professional help.
Would you have the courage, or desire, to ask the next question: "Have you ever actually...?" Would you really want to know the answer? And if the answer came and it was the one you feared, then what? Remember that the person facing you with this awful truth is someone you cherish.
Would you tell your dear friend that you would call the police? A psychiatrist -- despite the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship -- is required to. Would you? Perhaps the answer is yes -- I hope it would be.
But perhaps not. Your good friend might beg you not to ruin his life, destroy his family and career, and likely send him to prison. He might promise that the victim he told you about would be the last, that he would get help right away, that he would stop.
Whatever you did, it would probably be one of the most-difficult moments of your life. And this is how many "problem priests" first come to the attention of their superiors. Like you and your friend, they too are "brothers" who have shared much through their common vocations and work. It can be a wrenching moment.
But I'm sad to say that if I had to bet the rent, I'd be more trusting of a morally honest answer from you than from the Church. I believe that sooner or later, your conscience, guided always by the Holy Spirit, would lead you to do the right thing. And the right thing, without any question and despite any consequences, is to protect the children.
Why hasn't the Church done what you likely would have done -- and refused to do it repeatedly and over decades? And believe me, it has brushed under the carpet priests who are not agonized and sorrowful like your friend -- there have been unrepentant monsters who were gleeful, serial child-abusers, and escaped justice or even reprimand.
Of course, there are many answers - and all of them are bad. The misguided belief that serious pedophilia can be "counseled away." The sheer inertia of the Church's giant bureaucracy. The evil complicity with the abuser by hiding the truth. The fear that the ring-kissing respect many in the Church continue to believe they have would be lost. The worry that the Church would be financially ruined. The embarrassment of having to step down from their self-created royal pedestals and walk - as Jesus did - among the people, instead of ruling them and judging them from above.
But there is also this reality: A Church which will not let itself fathom the wide, ever-changing and expansive territory of human sexuality can never hope to deal with pedophile priests with an ounce of intellectual integrity, religious commitment, rigorous honesty, fidelity to canon and civil law, and ultimately, with God's Own Love for all, especially His innocents.
God bless you all!
-- Father Tim