April 14, 2005

Church must protect youth if it wants to attract more

Chicago Sun-Times

April 14, 2005


"Sex abuse, as terrible as it is," an American priest said here the other day, "ought not to be part of the media coverage of the conclave. It's an American issue and only a small part of the problems of the universal church."

I figured my ears must be playing tricks again. Sexual abuse of one sort or another is, alas, a universal problem. It has existed always and everywhere. Sexual abuse of children by priests happens wherever there are priests and children. It has become a public problem in the United States (and other countries like Britain and Ireland where common law prevails) only because the American media and the American legal system have forced the church to stop hiding it. For which I say thank God.

The crisis in the United States has revealed dangerous weaknesses in the structure and culture of the Catholic Church which exist everywhere and to which the next pope must pay serious attention (not that I expect that he will). How can the cardinal electors speak about finding a pope who will appeal to young people if the pope is unwilling to impose those reforms that will protect young people from abuse?

The current structures of Catholicism do not provide a system of responsibility and accountability for bishops -- save for the ad hoc system existing now in the United States. Only the hapless Cardinal Bernard Law has been forced out of office (and is viewed here as a victim of the American media and activist laity) for reassigning abusive priests. The existing clerical culture insists on the need to protect priests, almost at all costs. If the founder of the Legionaries of Christ were an American priest he would have been removed from active duty, given the strength of the allegations against him. Here he was a personal friend of the late pope and immune from serious investigation.

Posted by kshaw at April 14, 2005 08:11 AM