There’s an interesting and distressing article in the LA Times on the tenure of Roger Mahony as archbishop of the Los Angeles diocese of the Roman Catholic church, concentrating on the sexual abuse scandal that plagued the church during the time he was bishop and in which, frankly, he was complicit. Like most Catholics I find the whole subject unbearably distressing and I have found that while it has not shaken the faith of many Catholics it has shaken their trust in the organizational church.

Overall I found it a good and informative article but, sadly, the article furthers two of the errors of reporting that burden the issue. The first is that the incidence of sexual abuse among Catholic priests is no higher than among men, generally. That is not a defense. I think, in particular, that the response of the church hierarchy to the problem has been criminal. But I believe that the most likely explanation for the focus on sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests rather than, say, male teachers, doctors, or lawyers is anti-Catholicism. Additionally, the article uses an incorrect definition of pedophilia. More than 80% of the victims have been male and more than 75% have been pubescent or post-pubescent rather than pre-pubescent which would meet the definition.

My own remedy would be the same one adopted by Chicago’s Joseph Bernardin when the issues came to light: zero tolerance. Report the cases to the police, as is required by law in the schools. I also think that there should be more women in positions of influence and power in the church. Won’t ordain women? Fine. Put non-priests in positions of power and responsibility in the church. Anything else is sexism which has been condemned in papal encyclicals.

6 comments… add one
  • Jimbino Link

    While the rate of pedophilia among priests may be no higher than that among the general male population, the rate of organized cover-up is astronomically higher. The individual priests may be sick, but the church is evil.

  • TastyBits Link

    I believe that the Church was applying Canon Law for the clergy. The original purpose was similar to a Status of Forces Agreement. The Church did not want the clergy to be subject to state persecution.

    The Church asserted a claim upon its member’s (laity and clergy) soul or salvation, and the right to absolve or punish them. When the infractions were also civil matters, the state asserted a claim upon the laity. The church asserted the absolute claim on the clergy.

    In modern secular nations, the clergy are protected by civil rights, and the Church has no claim on their secular activities. Those who covered-up the crimes should be treated as any other criminal.

  • That’s a good analysis, TastyBits, but I see the whole sorry situation a little differently. The bishops had competing obligations: their pastoral responsibilities to the young people in their dioceses and the responsibility not to bring scandal upon the Church. They sacrificed the first in favor of the second and failed to accomplish the second. They chose wrong.

  • TastyBits Link

    @Dave Schuler

    … the responsibility not to bring scandal upon the Church. …

    I disagree. The child molesting scandal existed, and the coverup was an additional scandal. The Church has had many scandals in the past, and it will in the future. The Church is made-up of people, and people are fallible. Pope Alexander VI and indulgences are just two of them.

    The Church exists to further the Will of God. The coverup was to further the will of man through the Church. God’s judgement and man’s judgement are different. The basis for God’s judgement are unknowable by man. The legal system is a method to impose man’s judgement upon people.

    The Church is infallible, but the clergy and laity are not. The Church, as an instrument of God, cannot be sullied by man. The bishops were trying to keep individuals from being sullied.

    “Your soul belongs to God, but your ass belongs to man.”

  • Perhaps another poor choice of words on my part. How about “their obligation to protect the Church from scandal”?

    None of this should be construed as my defending either the perpetrators of the heinous acts or the systematic cover-ups of the heinous acts in any way, shape, or form.

    However, as is typically the case for me, I look at the issue on a day-forward basis. How can the problems be prevented in the future? A zero tolerance policy on the part of the bishops is only one aspect. I think there needs to be a change in how priests are recruited and trained. A married clergy would be one approach. There’s nothing doctrinal opposing it—many of the uniate churches have a married clergy.

  • CStanley Link

    Agree completely with your post, Dave, but disagree that marriage for priests would be a solution. How many pedophiles in secular positions are married? Wasn’t Sandusky?

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