Today, I feel called to depart from the normal tone of my blog to address the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal that rocked the United States and Canada 10 years ago and now rocks Western Europe. Today’s paper reported a recent homily given by a Vatican official that casts the Vatican in the role of scapegoat and the feeling that they are being unfairly discriminated against in a way that is similar to the anti-semitism of the Holocaust. This statement paints a very real picture of the official church’s response to the sexual abuse scandal – they are choosing the role of victim instead of issuing a formal apology and doing the work of eradicating the problems that created this issue in the first place.
Choosing the role of victim is just another way for the institution to look the other way and hope they can sweep the issue under the rug while they create diversions (investigations of the women religious, alterations to the mass, etc. ) that they hope will make the faithful and the world forget that this ever happened. Fortunately, I don’t think the faithful or the world are soon to forget. Whether we are Catholic or not, the institution of the Catholic church (and any other religious structure who is guilty of allowing this kind of abuse of power) needs to be held accountable for these problems.
Having worked within the institution of the Catholic church for over 10 years, I had to the opportunity to witness firsthand the system that creates the environment in which this kind of abuse of power can take root and grow. Sexual abuse by priests is a systemic problem and will require a complete reform of the way candidates for the priesthood are screened, formed, empowered and supported in their ministry. Personal/Spiritual formation and accountability (neither of which currently exist) will be the key to resolving these issues. The problem the institution currently faces with implementing these reforms is that the pool of men who will remain after this kind of rigorous formation will be far fewer than the already miniscule few. This presents a whole other issue that the Vatican is equally reluctant to face – the crisis of vocations in the way that they are currently defined (strictly male and celibate). In the end, they have their work cut out for them.
As a woman who still calls herself Catholic, I am deeply saddened and ashamed of the response of the institutional church to this scandal. My heart goes out to the victims and their families and in compassion, to the abusers who did not receive the help they needed to avoid this compulsion in the first place and who were simply shuffled over to another parish in which they could be tempted to indulge these compulsions again. Sad. Sad. Sad.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. While I do not excuse the behavior of the institution, I do see the revelation of the abuse as the work of the Holy Spirit effecting change. The “sins” of the institution are being revealed and the people of the world will not remain obedient or silent in response to this scandal. The institution of the Catholic church will be forced to change or die. The big question is, which one will it be?