2002-03-28 / This Week's Attitude

This Week’s Attitude

This Week’s Attitude

By Neil S. Friedman

Silence About Pedophile Priests Is Not Golden

The celebration of the holiest week on the Catholic calendar has been soiled by a dark cloud of scandal of the worst kind — pedophilia.

This outrage should not, however, deter Catholics — devout or otherwise — from losing faith. Nor should it give non-Catholics any reason to condemn or eye with suspicion every ordained member of the Church.

Nonetheless, there has recently been a flood of information that the Church for decades has mishandled — and covered up — widespread allegations of sexual abuse against children by Catholic priests.

Like the tip of an iceberg, only a small portion of sexual abuse has surfaced. (A lot of abuse may never be known because victims are reluctant to confront what they perceive as shame and embarrassment. Conversely, many accusations may prove to be unfounded.)

The incidents that have been made public are not isolated, but part of a crisis that is, unfortunately, widespread and not limited to a specific community or diocese. Last week, a Roman Catholic priest was dismissed as the president of a boys’ parochial school in Encino, California, when it was alleged he molested boys more than 20 years ago. In St. Louis, two priests accused of molesting minors in the 1980s were recently removed. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, NY, quietly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of years to settle cases involving priests accused of sexually molesting children. A Florida bishop recently stepped down after admitting to sexually abusing a seminary student.

It’s time to stop sweeping molestation charges under cassocks.

Simply calling "sexual abuse of children an abomination," as New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan did last week, is not enough. Pope John Paul II called it "a grave scandal" that is "a mystery of evil." Those kind of vague statements further damage the credibility of the Church.

Based on those flimsy responses, it would appear the Church is less concerned about the innocent victims than predatory priests. The Church can remedy that problem by fully cooperating with civilian law enforcement that should be authorized to conduct full-scale investigations.

The Church — from the Pope to the smallest parish’s priest — must take bolder steps and come clean. Disclosing the names of offending priests would undoubtedly better serve the cause of justice as well as the Church’s bungling of the problem.

No plea-bargains. No leniency. No sanctuary.

These sins, which also happen to be crimes, if verified, are unforgivable and deserve maximum punishment and public disgrace.

Now is the time for a no-holds-barred inquiry that will hopefully determine what Church officials knew and when they knew it. When it comes to sexual misconduct by members of the clergy, the treasured Constitutional separation of Church and State must be overlooked. Any investigation must be taken out of the hands of the Church hierarchy and turned over to competent civilian authorities.

No more stonewalling. No more White-Collared Wall of Silence.

And allowing priests to marry, as some have suggested, will hardly solve the problem. Celibacy has absolutely nothing to do with this scandal. The accused priests are only alleged to have sex with male CHILDREN, not consenting adult women!

The emotional scars left on the psyches of the abused may never heal. Nevertheless, it is time for the Church to heal itself and eradicate the cloud of suspicion under which it now stands.

All suspected priestly perverts should be tried and treated just like any other sex offender. Any clergy convicted of sexual abusing minors should be subject to Megan’s Law and listed on the same web site as other offenders so parents will know if these depraved men are still preaching from the pulpit every Sunday and dealing with their children.

Whether it’s a priest, a rabbi, a minister or a relative, in instances of alleged child molestation, silence is not golden. It is an utter disgrace that must be painstakingly scrutinized because we’re talking about men who are held to higher standards because they hold positions of absolute trust that has been wholly — and holy — desecrated.

The only way for the Catholic Church to restore its revered reputation at this point is to break the vow of silence it has too long imposed on itself.

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