The Catholic Church has been rocked by the latest exposure of sexual abuse of boys by priests. This is nothing new; in fact, it’s been going on for decades, if not centuries. It is only “new” because the media has seen a “sexy” story (as they call a ratings-boosting news item) and has run with it.
I am glad it is getting exposed. It should have happened a long time ago. So far, though the results have been less than gratifying, especially in terms of the responses of the Cardinals called to account in Rome. Cardinal Bernard Law should have been forced to resign immediately. It is clear, even to a media-callous observer that knows how to see through the bias of the media, that this man clearly knew about boys being sexually assaulted by priests, and he did nothing. Repeatedly. For years. That is unconscionable, but that IS what happens when someone in the clergy gets elevated and isolated to the place where they believe they are above answering to “common people.”
It was disturbing to learn, according to one CBS news report, that Canon law treats the sin of a priest having sex with a woman as graver than having sex with a child. I suppose that the tree grew from that rotten root.
Whether the Catholic Church really cleans house, or merely does a “bait-and-switch” magic act to reassign priests is yet to be seen. I don’t have much confidence in their ability to do so, and if they do not, you will see an increasing number of people leaving the church to find a place where the safety of their children will be assured.
Lest the reader think that this is an anti-Catholic tome, be assured that the abuse of children (especially boys) is not exclusive to the Catholic Church. Far from it. The Protestant denominations, Charismatic ministries, youth ministries and evangelistic outreaches have all had an ample amount of abuse of kids – most of which never even gets reported to the police, much less the media.
Why? Well, that is a complex question. And one I have yet to fully answer. Part of the problem is that we have a fear of the world, especially with legal matters, and many times, we should. I have been concerned for a long time about the invasiveness of the government into church matters, from the IRS to “politically correct” rulings which will eventually make it against the law for us NOT to hire practicing homosexuals, etc.
So when a sexual abuse incident is discovered, we try to handle it “in-house.” The problem is, sexually assaulting a child is a CRIME by anyone’s standards legally. If someone murders someone, we wouldn’t think of handling it “in-house”. But somehow, admit it or not, most Christians (except those violated and their families) don’t consider it THAT serious.
This is curious to me. When a person is discovered to be homosexual in most evangelical churches, for the most part, there is an outcry, excommunication, and worse. Finding grace to receive, heal and help them is largely an unknown concept in the church. But a child molester? Suddenly we find forgiveness.
Unfortunately, that is especially true if the molester is a pastor or in leadership. Why? Because we are so concerned about our image, and the effect that public exposure will have on our mission, that the welfare of the abused child becomes secondary.
I don’t need to remind you what Jesus said should happen to those who cause “one of these little ones to stumble.” It grieves me that we refuse to apply this to this horrible matter.
But, you say, can’t a “pedophile”…or a “child molester” be forgiven? Absolutely they can. But that is not what is at issue here. God’s grace and forgiveness, I believe, extends to the most grievous of sins. But the consequences of some sins far exceed others, and this is one that certainly does. One of the OBVIOUS consequences is that those who molest children should never be allowed to be in a position to have access them again. Zero tolerance, as they say. That’s not PUNISHMENT as much as it is PROTECTION for the children. If it seems harsh, then there is a problem with your understanding of the lifelong damage inflicted on victims of sexual abuse.
And you can think of it this way. A lifelong drunk can be forgiven, cleansed and restored. But you would be INSANE to give them a job in a bar. In the same way we should clearly make it understood that NO person with a history of child abuse should find any place among us to work with kids – period. That is the only way we can insure the safety of our little ones.
. This is the moment we as believers need to step up to the plate and make it absolutely clear that we will not tolerate – will not condone – will not cover up – and will not accommodate those who ruin the trust and innocence of our children. If we do not, we should not complain when people turn away from the church because they do not feel safe in our midst.
Now is the time for the church to reach out to abused kids – not to pay them off and shut them up-but to embrace them, heal them, and let them know that whatever it takes, whatever loss in prestige, status or community standing, we will put them first, and we will make them whole.
Dr. Gregory R Reid, DD