Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Plaintive Question

I was recently facilitating a little group that was dealing with a variety of topics in and around the Catholic faith. A person had a question about the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. At first I thought the question might be of the angry, attacking variety. But it wasn't. It was a plea, in a way. Please tell me if things are different. Will sexual abuse cases be handled differently now and in the future, or is the same old, same old, attitude of cover-up still around?

I sensed the emotional tone of the question. My answer included first-hand information to the effect that priests in our Archdiocese, and I am sure everywhere else certainly in North America, have been told in person at meetings that they have a legal obligation to report child abuse of any kind, to the Children's Aid Society. They do not call anyone for permission or authorization to do so. The Church has underscored and endorsed this obligation.

I added that in the same spirit, I at least suspect that the days of moving known abusers around, no matter what the motivation (eg, prevent public scandal, avoid embarrassment, etc, etc), are hopefully over. I believe they are.

Yesterday, I read an article in the National Catholic Reporter that adds to my hope. My hope not only that there is a process in place to handle 'cases', but more importantly in the long run, addressing the systemic issues. Being open to look at the question 'who have we become, that allowed this to take place?'

The article was written by Tom Roberts and is dated Apr 22, 2011. Mr Roberts is reporting on a conference he attended at Marquette University Law School, titled “Harm, Hope, and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal.” Here are some excerpts:

Not much new surfaced in terms of content. The difference in this conference -- indeed, the something new -- could be seen in two elements: Bishops and priests were speaking in a way that one rarely hears them talk about sex abuse; and in their prepared remarks, many of the clerics dared to look at themselves and what we call, for lack of a term that accommodates more nuance, clerical culture..........

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, whose speech -- by now widely circulated -- was the plain-spoken antidote to the worst of the clerical culture’s equivocations about the crisis.

His questions ranged to what might have been going on in seminaries that abetted a culture that accommodated abusers. He wants a priesthood reformed with candidates who display a high level of maturity regarding not only human sexuality “but in overall mature behavior and relationships.”

He is concerned by young priests who seem more interested in achieving “some form of personal security or status” than with service and by the signs “of renewed clericalism” among new priests. At a time when many think enhancing Catholic identity means a greater separation between clergy and laity, Martin wants his seminarians to be educated with laypeople “so that they can establish mature relationships with men and women and do not develop any sense of their priesthood giving them a special social position.” ...............

A panel of six priests of the Milwaukee archdiocese spoke movingly of personal conversions, of moving from betrayal to new understanding, from disbelief of early reports of the scandal to a new awareness of the need for truth. “We must speak the truth, I must speak the truth, and not close our eyes to the truths that are all around us,” said Fr. Howard G. Haase. “We must not pretend we don’t know and convince ourselves that if we wait long enough it will all go away.”

I sign my letters and emails with the tag, "Remember, we are in the hope business." Perhaps that assertion is being vindicated here, and meaningful change is underway at many levels. The entire Church community will be the beneficiary, and the Good News of Jesus will continue to lead us.