Sex abuse in churches

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The revelation of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests involving vulnerable children in their care has provoked a storm of protests in Europe, Australia, the United States and Latin America. The victims, many emotionally scarred for life, no longer content to suffer in silence, are coming out in large numbers to reveal a pattern of systematic abuse that has been going on since the 50s and perhaps even earlier.

The faithful in the Catholic Church feel betrayed beyond words that the one sanctuary upon which they pinned their hopes for a Christian life on earth and a glorious afterlife in paradise has been badly bruised. Many are questioning their role in a church that allows heinous sexual acts to be performed on minors by ordained priests. Some of the reports are disgusting; like the case of a serial paedophile priest in Wisconsin, United States who repeatedly violated 200 deaf and dumb children at a school under his care.

Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Catholic Church has been trying to contain the wrath caused by the disclosures of thousands of abused children many of whom are now adults. For the first time, the Pope has issued an apology meant for the Catholic Church of Ireland but in reality addressed to Christendom. In a pastoral letter the Pope expressed profound regret and sorrow to all those who have suffered grievous harm at the hands of the clergy. The Pope went on to say that, "It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity violated".

But the furore continues with many calling for punitive action against the offending priests and the bishops who shielded them from justice. Amidst the continuing row, top members of the Catholic Communion have rallied behind Pope Benedict and are doing their utmost to limit the damage caused by these sex scandals. There have been strident calls for reform as well.

There is no compulsion to become a priest of any church or denomination. Those who aspire to religious leadership must abide by their vows. The high status enjoyed by priests in society is owed to a popular perception that as reverend gentlemen they subscribe to a higher standard of purity and holiness than is found among secular authorities. When they succumb to the base instincts of common criminals, not only do they undermine the faith the congregation reposes in them, they weaken and in some cases destroy the citadel upon which their power and respect are based. Reverend Fathers being representatives of the good shepherd have a duty to lead their flock unto righteousness and salvation.

Although world searchlight is currently on the Roman Catholic Church, it must not be assumed that the other Christian churches are immune from the maladies that afflict the Catholic Congregation. Deviant behaviour of a sexual nature exists in all the churches. They are mitigated somewhat in those instances where priests are allowed to marry. Even so, cases of adultery, may be not paedophilia, abound in other non-Catholic institutions. It will be in order for every church to do a sexual audit of the clergy to determine how far they are clean and to take appropriate remedial action where necessary.

In Nigeria, priests of all denominations are often more well off than the majority of their followers. Their needs are provided for by an impoverished but willing congregation of worshippers. Many of the poor, suffering from hardship and unemployment troop to churches as an escape from hopelessness and in a fervent desire to achieve the good life now and a better one hereafter. For the children of these poor people to be abused by priests to whom they have shown total allegiance, confessed their sins, asked for penance, is callous and reprehensible. The men of God must ensure that they do not create trauma and doubt among the meek and the lowly for whom the church is everything.

The Vatican should use the opportunity of current controversies to objectively look at its practices with a view to exploring in which areas changes could be made. It is clear that the veil of secrecy, payoffs and transfers hitherto resorted to in cases of sexual abuse can no longer be sustained. For instance, American dioceses following this policy of secrecy have paid more than $2.7 billion in settlements and other costs since 1950.

The Catholic Church must provide decisive leadership. It should strive to be more open and should not hesitate to report sexual perverts to law enforcement. The lack of punishment of previous offenders has encouraged more priests to desecrate their frock and disobey the church's teaching on morality. Ultimately the leaders of more than one billion Catholics owe it to themselves to insist on the truth and on accountability. It is a known fact that fewer persons are inclined to join the priesthood nowadays. However, reducing numbers should not mean a fall in standards. On the contrary, with these unsavoury revelations, the recruitment standard for priests should be raised. In addition to cant and creed, they should be schooled in the development of human character and the discipline to overcome temptation.

Source: NRG Guardian

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