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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
How can the Vatican restore trust in itself?
American cardinals have taken a major step towards approving a policy of sacking Roman Catholic priests who have abused children.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, who heads the United States Episcopal Conference, said there was a "growing consensus" in the Church that the reassignment of offending priests was "not an option".
Bishop Gregory said a final decision would be taken at the next conference in Dallas, Texas, in June.
The cardinals' announcement follows the Pope's comments that there is no place in the Roman Catholic Church for priests who sexually abuse children.
Over 2,000 priests are now being investigated in a crisis which threatens to bankrupt the Catholic Church in the US.
Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who has been under pressure to resign, has acknowledged that the scandal is undermining the Church and that more must be done to overcome the crisis.
How serious is this scandal for the Catholic Church? How can the Vatican now restore trust in itself?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Paul H, Essex UK
I don't understand why priests should be considered as special cases. They are human beings just like all of us, and just like all of us, should be made to take responsibility and face the consequences of their actions. What kind of example does the Church think it is setting by trying to make do with some feeble attempt of justice such as "sacking" the offenders? Why should they not be arrested and tried like any other child molester would be?
The Roman Catholic Church will not change, not because it is run by Evil or even misguided men, but because it is run like a government. Ask anyone who works for a government department in any country of any political persuasion what happens when something goes wrong, the first thought is always to prevent the public from finding out, even if the Catholic hierarchy wanted change, how many junior ranks would admit to knowing anything, knowing that to make any admission would be the kiss of death for their promotion hopes.
Julian Ziegler, UK
The Vatican and the Catholic Church could start by admitting it is rotten to the core, disbanding itself, and apologising for holding the world back for over 2,000 years.
You think this scandal will change the Catholic Church? Think again. These are the same people it took over 300 years to realize that earth went around the sun. Do you really think that a sex scandal will change them? Please. It is barely a mark in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. If anything changes for good it will only be that the church realizes it can no longer sweep such things under the rug like it did before the emergence of strong secular governments.
Excuse me, but isn't child abuse illegal in America? Or is it enshrined in the Constitution as an inalienable human right, some sort of distorted extension of the right to freedom of expression? If it is illegal, then why are these monsters still free to prey upon their innocent victims? They should be locked up forever and defrocked, and the bishops and other high officials who connive in this cover-up should also be incarcerated for conspiracy.
A lot is being said about how to deal with priests who abuse. What about their victims and their families. What is the church doing to help them? Whole family lives are scarred for ever, like my family. The damage these priests have done is nothing short of pure evil, they represent the devil. These priests can not be called Christians, nor the Bishops who covered up and protected them from the law. I am not saying the church should not forgive them if they are truly sorry, but I think most are not sorry and even when they do confess they continue to abuse.
I have never known such evasion and lack of commitment to end the suffering of the innocent. Does the Catholic Church or any other paedophile support group for that matter, literally mean that all our children should suffer in order to 'come unto the Lord? These children are the future of our civilisation and in ever increasing numbers more and more of them are becoming damaged or found dead. The Church should allocate its vast wealth to investigating and extracting the disease which seems to have found an accommodating host from which to spread its poison.
I do not doubt that some level of abuse has prevailed in the church for centuries, but I also do not doubt that the get-rich- quick compensation bonanza is persuading some people to jump on the band wagon with unsubstantiated accusations. Wreck someone's life and grab a few million? There's plenty of people up for that.
I am amazed at the anti-Catholic
undertones in this debate. Of
course any paedophile priest
must be punished by the criminal
authorities and any Cardinals
found to be covering up must
be severely censured. However,
by some of the comments on
here it seems that many people
are looking for an excuse to once
again express their prejudices. The
Catholic church is like any large
organisation, it has good people
and some very nasty people.
I remember back in the 1960s hearing and telling jokes about Scout Masters and Choir Boys. The awful thing about these jokes were that everyone laughed and that meant that we all knew that some sort of child abuse was going on, and far from condemning it, we actually thought it was humorous. But no-one in society (police, parents, teachers, clergy) did anything about it but laugh. It was regarded as a 'fact of life' that this happened. So its not just the Catholic Church that needs to hang its head in shame but virtually everyone.
Al Faux, UK
2000 years of abuse, war mongering, and mental and physical torture, sack them all and the institution they represent
There is no possible justification for allowing priests found to have abused children to continue as priests. The very idea is disgusting.
The "scandal" of paedophiles in the priesthood and the extent to which the Catholic Church continues to provide a safe haven for these criminal activities is but a symptom of a possibly terminal condition. The past and present complicity of the institution amounts to structurally facilitating the crime.
In the World Court of Secular Opinion the Vatican is increasingly being held responsible in a similar way to other authoritarian regimes which have by default, omission or otherwise sanctioned crimes in the protection of a self-serving ideology.
This just goes to demonstrate what atheists have been saying for ages - The Catholic Church, like all religion, is a tool to manipulate and exploit the vulnerable. Time to give it up.
Anonymous , Zimbabwe
We had a parish priest who was subsequently convicted of sexual abuse and is now in prison. I can never forgive the church for making me ask my 16 year old daughter if he had molested her. I should never have been put in the position of having to ask.
The fact that there is a "growing consensus" implies that there are some that think reassignment of priests is acceptable. Regardless of your religious beliefs abuse of children is inexcusable. That a "final decision" would be taken at the next conference in Dallas is also a joke. This is the year 2001, child abuse is not acceptable in any form, the rest of the world recognise this but still the church has to take a "final decision" on the fate of those that commit these crimes. These people are criminals, the fact that they are also priests is irrelevant. There are many decent and law abiding clergymen that help many people throughout the world and should be recognised for this. No one should be above the law because of what or who they are. The whole community, regardless of religious belief, must come together and protect the children. The children are out future and we MUST protect them and nurture them the best we can so that they live full and happy lives.
These are sad times for the Catholic Church, she must learn from her mistakes and make sure this never happens again. I would ask the critics of the Church; how many of you or any other organisation were sufficiently aware of the pathology of paedophilia or 30 years ago and knew how to deal with it? I am not excusing the mistakes that were made, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Also, we have heard little mention of the many cases which are totally false and thrown out of court either. It is just a shame that most of the people who have contributed to this page have chosen to air their ill-informed prejudices against the Catholic Church on irrelevant matters rather than be constructive.
I feel very sorry for the Catholics of the world who carry on their daily life believing that all will be well in the morning. There is too much old age in the church and too many old fogies to tempt the young minds of to-day. Why doesn't the church advance its thinking and let a young pope under the age of 50 lead the church? The present pope kind and great as he may be is too old to be a leader and should be retired as most people of his age are.
The Pope has said clearly that there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young. He did not say that there was no place in the Church! All sinners are welcome there, that was the purpose for which the Church was established. In the Old Testament we read that even if our sins are as red as scarlet the Lord will make us as white as snow. And Jesus said that we should forgive our brothers seventy seven time seven! 'Let they who are without sin cast the first stone!' John 8:7
I think we have to realise exactly how large the Catholic Church is, before we can make sweeping statements condemning it, or its governing body, because of the actions of a few individuals.
Condemn the crime, by all means, put the offender on trial. Convict anyone found to have covered up a crime according to the law of the land. But judge the entire Church for the actions of a few?
Abusing children is a big intolerable crime - those who are responsible and those who hide such crimes should be punished severely. They are not above the law!
I am terribly sad about what has happened as it gives rise to further misconceptions about the teachings and role of the Catholic Church. It has also undermined the fact that there are some good priests out there who carry out their vocation wonderfully.
There is a sad side to the problem gripping the Roman Catholic Church, which in many ways goes beyond the question of sexual malpractice of some of the clergy. Pope John Paul II, a good man who has done much good in his pontificate, is too frail to deal with this problem. The whole structure of leadership in the Church is in crisis and the Magesterium itself has lost its credibility for millions of Catholics. This accounts for the fear and indecision that paralyzes the Vatican. In the long run this is the area that must be reformed.
At the moment, I'm disgusted by the Catholic church. How can a bishop relocate paedophiles instead of turning them over to the police? It's absolutely shocking. The Pope seems to have to explain that molesting children is a sin. Well, duh. These paedophile priests are not only sinners, but brutal criminals and they should be locked up. Imagine a paedophile priest telling his congregation that they are sinners. This kind of hypocrisy is rampant in the Catholic church, and it needs major reform if it is to regain any moral credibility.
When are people going to finally realize that it is a tendency for child molesters to become priests and other figures in local congregations? That is the real problem. I do believe that the structure of religion is a great thing for many people, and there are a lot of good priests and benefits locally from churches, but WAKE UP ALREADY! It is not homosexuality that makes a paedophile, and it is not abstinence that makes a paedophile. I know this first hand from my own dealings with child molesters. Here we are in 2002, and by the voices on this talking point it is clearly still the blind leading the blind. Support your local community, not the multinationals like the Catholic Church.
The Catholic church's idiotic views on such things as homosexuality and birth control are the reasons why it has no moral authority. The church is doomed unless it becomes more enlightened about these facts of life. What could be more immoral than condemning condom use while millions around the world are dying of AIDS? The Pope's anachronistic morals are as dangerous as they are ridiculous.
The Catholic Church has been a hot bed of homosexuality, paedophilia and immoral abuse. In order to regain some measure of credibility the hierarchy must be completely restructured and a massive house cleaning undertaken. if the unholy old guard attempt to spin and obfuscate their problems away they and the church are doomed.
The Catholic Church has not handled the situation well. While its people live very much in the present, the Church still lives about 150 years in the past. Back then, sweeping things under the carpet was simply the way things were done (and not just in the Catholic Church). It will take time to bring such an old organization governed by a very, very traditional, old-school hierarchy, up to the present. The Church's leaders are beginning to recognize this and have taken the first step. They can't undo the mistakes or abuses that have been done in the past, but they can do their best to rectify them and make the present and future better.
Kathy Willsea, USA
This shame on the Catholic Church is a glance to what the society is. However, we can't now say that the Church has failed and that all has gone to a ruin. If we admit that there are "failed" priest, we have also to admit that there are many others who are really "good shepherds". For me I think that this has not only happened to the Catholic Clergy but also to many other people in this (US) society where this practice seems to be rampant.
If the Roman Catholic Church was a business the management would be expected to stand down.
The present management has to take responsibility for the terrible practices of its company. It's time for the Pope and his inner circles to fall on their swords. They must accept responsibility for what has happened in their institution.
If a member of the clergy can be
booted out for just one incidence of
monies, then he should also
be booted out for just one complaint
There was a Bishop/Archbishop [Birmingham?] on the radio this morning, using "most paedophiles are not priests" as his main defence. The church will not regain trust until the hierarchy stop trying to brush events like this under the carpet, pretending that crimes like this are simply a sad fact of modern life and that cover-ups are OK because everyone does it.
Note ("Chris, England") that Protestant churchmen have committed the same horrible crimes as Catholics - the problem is with humans, not doctrines. Though many evangelical churches are guilty of preying on the more simple-minded members of the community, I don't know of a single organisation [religious or secular] that encourages abuse - but there are many who cover it up once it has happened.
Jeremy Cedenio, UK/Bermuda
Any person within the Church who has any knowledge of these disgraceful acts should face criminal charges as much as the offender themselves. It is a blatant abuse of trust. At the very least they should be de-frocked. If this means half or more of the hierarchy of the church in America go then so be it. In my opinion any one found guilty of child abuse in any manner shape or form should face the death penalty.
I read the text of the Pope's speech and all I saw were weasel words, very carefully chosen to sound like things would be done when in fact business as usual is continuing. The phrase "no place in the priesthood ... for those who would harm the young" which has been so widely quoted and misquoted is explicitly in the future or conditional tense, and does not state that those who harmed children in the past are not welcome in the church.
How can the Catholic Church fix the problem when it doesn't know the difference between homosexuals and paedophiles? One bishop said we don't want homosexuals in the priesthood, what in hell has that got to do with paedophiles. My second point is that there might be a greater number of child molesters out in the community, but there higher percentage amongst priests. I can already see they have no idea what they are doing.
It is a sad situation but the Church will come through. God is a god of love and forgiveness. We should pray for all those who have been hurt abused and abusers so that they can start afresh.
I am a Catholic and I believe in God's redemptive power if we only put our trust in Him. The essential truths do not change even if weak sinful humans do things that are wrong.
As a practicing Roman Catholic, I think that homosexuals, practicing or non-practicing should be told that there is no place for them in any form of religious ministry. Most of the "children" involved in these scandals were into their teens; the problem is caused by homosexuality not paedophilia.
This case reveals the Medusa head of hypocrisy. Perspiration is stronger than aspirations. The world's leading religions can always aspire to perfection. But they will always, time and again, fall on their faces. Rather than spent time and millions on the mysteries of theology or claim superiority over the rest of humanity, religious institutions would be better off acknowledging that we are all fallible.
This is an organisation that took almost five centuries to confess Copernicus had been right and that the world was round. They took just as long to apologise for the inquisition. I can't really see the Vatican suddenly screaming Mea Culpa and begging forgiveness from its flock for something that happened last week. As the bride of Christ and the voice of God on Earth, the Vatican's self-belief is God- given.
What can they do to restore trust? Pray for a miracle?
I have recently been considering applying to become a priest. As part of the application procedure one is required to have a psychological assessment by a independent clinical psychologist. It is very probing! In no other profession, even teaching is one required to go through this despite the fact that most child abusers are not priests.
Adam UK is quite right to say that several million people dying of AIDS is worse than several hundred children being abused by priests. Both are horrific, but the Africa Aids problem has surely got to be the more horrific of the two. Shame on you all shameonyou's for shaming Adam.
Abusing children is reprehensible, but let's face it, it isn't the worst thing the Catholic Church gets up to. What about their opposition to condom promotion campaigns in Africa? Their arrogance in considering their own religious whims to be more important than preventing millions of AIDS deaths is breathtaking.
Dear Adam (UK), How can teaching against artificial contraception be worse than child abuse? Pull yourself together! Those people in Africa can choose to ignore the teaching (primacy of conscience). Victims of child abuse have no choice at all. The Church must adopt rigorous child protection procedures and we must work to stamp out this evil.
I am stunned by the comments by Adam, UK. Child abuse is a horrific crime. It destroys lives. Have a little compassion please. All of the people who have written in this forum claiming that this is not the worst thing the Catholic Church has done: I ask you: have any of you thought about these children who were placed in the care of the church? For what they went through? Or is that possibly a bit too much?
The current problems are as old as the Church itself and will continue while it is governed by a bunch of old, half-men. The answer is simple, put a woman in charge and join the 21st century.
I agree with Mark, USA. The Vatican is a huge source of secrecy with studies in many diverse areas and a vast amount of wealth. The Church hides many secrets from the public and we should be allowed access to them. If these secrets are messages of God then surely ALL God's children should be privy to them. As for the Royal Family - Mark USA - They get their money from the tax payers (and they pay tax too) and from inherited wealth and property. And the public can find out where their money goes and how it is spent should they wish to - their wealth is therefore not secret.
If the Church doesn't quickly and drastically put its own house in order and be seen to be doing so, then the damage will be irrecoverable.
Whilst not a Catholic myself, I think that their church is one of the few bulwarks against more people becoming more godless every day. Such institutions are sorely needed but they have to be in good repair or they do more harm than good by showing that these bulwarks can not be relied on either!
Religious people persist in the notion that the representatives of their religion are somehow superior to the rest of us. In fact, the behaviour of these priests is no worse because they are priests. Sexual abuse of children is a betrayal of trust by any adult. The Roman Catholic faith is more vulnerable than most religions because it claims the Pope to have a unique relationship with God, and confession and celibacy set the priest above the common herd. In this respect, Roman Catholics create a rod for their own backs. The solutions are obvious and were implemented hundreds of years ago in the Protestant revolt.
Meenan Vishnu, USA
Sexual and marriage issues aside, this "crisis" illuminates the chasm that exists between the North American Catholic Church and the Vatican. Heady talk by US bishops of discussing priests marrying as well as homosexuality in seminaries quickly dissolve into silence once in Rome. The US Church is busily picking and choosing among doctrines to remain popular with Americans (i.e., birth control) while the See decays into non-relevance.
I am appalled time and time again by the inability of the Catholic Church to take the initiative and deal with the grim matter that is the sexual abuse of children by a number of priests across the world. There should be no tolerance of this whatsoever. By all means help them to deal with their problem but to allow them to continue to gain access to minors when they have offended is quite frankly abhorrent.
Marion Washington, USA
I am not Catholic, but I think that it is sad that people are losing faith in the religion just because a couple of cardinals did a really bad thing. Faith is supposed to come from inside not from a priest. If someone's faith is shaken because a religious official has done something immoral, that person should evaluate how religious they really are.
Sexual abuse is a crime and the police should become involved in any investigation. If the abuse is proven, the priest should go to jail. People's lives have been damaged. Apologies are not enough.
I know someone whose life was devastated through sexual abuse by a priest. Because people feel guilty and are afraid to go to courts, they went through the local bishop. Result: zero. It was clear they tried to sweep matters under the carpet, while the priest moved to South America and is continuing the same thing there. Unless the church openly recognises they have a problem, caused by putting priests under the horrible constraint of celibacy it will never stop. And because priests still have a respected position in many communities they can easily get away with it. The solution is easy, we urgently need a down to earth and modern Pope.
I think Peter from Belgium is confusing the issue. I too believe that celibacy should be questioned. However, celibacy does not cause paedophilia! I recently heard a man who was sexually abused by a priest as a child say that priests don't become paedophiles - paedophiles become priests. I completely agree. Priests that have a problem with celibacy might have an affair but they don't go after children. Celibacy and paedophilia are completely different issues.
Until the Pope quits looking at sexual abuse as a problem to be swept under the table and truly opens the church up to scrutiny, there is no possibility that the problem will be resolved.
As a member of a different Catholic Church (The Free Catholic Church), I would encourage the Holy Father in Rome to accept responsibility at the top for the past cover-up and relocation of violators. I find it impossible to believe that the Vatican did not have ongoing knowledge of their priests throughout the world. He should set a zero tolerance standard for such serious misbehaviour and make it clear that they will cooperate with civil authorities where criminal behaviour occurs. All priests under suspicion should be removed from ministries involving children until charges are cleared.
The pope should also move to consider marriage for priests and bishops. There is nothing Biblical to prevent this. Women should to be allowed to be deacons, priests and bishops to relieve the existing shortage of priests and to recognise the full dignity of women. Better background screening of candidates for the priesthood should also be established. We in the Free Catholic Church took care of these issues a long time ago. It is time for the Roman Catholic Church to do the same.
What we need is very tough actions against priest paedophiles with no concessions, ifs or buts. These unfortunate actions should not be allowed to bury the immense good that has been done hirtherto by the church the world all over. On the part of the bishops who might have not done enough - it would be a greatest and humblest service to the Church and its good name to step down or ask to be relocated to less responsible positions. His Holiness the Pope should not concede an inch. Drastic situations call for extreme and drastic actions.
In their refusal to speak to the press, they are implying that the Church is above earthly criticism and exists as an entity entirely separate from the individuals who compose it. So, the choice: to accept that the rules of the state supersede its own in matters of crime, or reject that idea and retreat further into obsolescence. I have no doubt that millions of people will continue to consider themselves Catholic whatever choice the Church makes; but if it continues to reject the teachings of the modern world, many of those millions will cease to view the Pope and his priests as legitimate leaders of the faith.
Religion was created by those who wished to control the masses and the Catholic Church is at the top of the pile. Organised religion has been used to allow very evil people to carry out great crimes and has also been the main excuse to wage war. It is about time man put aside such things and took responsibility for his actions.
I know many Catholics, good people, who are ashamed of themselves at the moment. While they should bear no shame (priest paedophilia certainly isn't their fault), the Catholic hierarchy should at last take a long hard look at themselves and take responsibility for the actions of its own clergymen.
Why become a priest in the first place if you cannot "practice what you preach"? It makes me sad and angry to hear about the children who are the ones who will be traumatised for the rest of their lives as a result of these immoral actions.
Chris, England: Within the past month there have been newspaper article and television documentaries detailing child-abusing Moslem clerics, Hindu priests, as well as Protestant and Catholic priests - this is not a problem allied to Roman Catholicism alone, but to any organisation where certain adults have a disproportionate moral authority over the rest of their 'flock'
I have never heard of child sex abuse in any other religious organisation. It seems in so many ways the Catholic organisation contravenes the teachings of Christ. The question has to be asked, whom does it represent?
Jack Burge, England
Nathan of the US seems to forget that the church has a very long history of abuse of confidence apart from the violence carried out in its name, the Inquisition, burning innocent people at the stake, the crusades, it has covered the abuse of children throughout the world and throughout history. This "phase" has lasted long enough and it's time it was stopped once and for all.
I love Holy Mother Church will all of my heart. This scandal is nothing more than a phase. If we can overcome the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, then this new crisis within the Church and the Vatican is nothing more than a part of our rich, ongoing history. The Western Church must survive and no matter what the behavior of a few clergy members might do, I am still going to continue doing my Hail Marys!
I am utterly stunned by the comments of Nathan, US. It is precisely this head-in-the-sand attitude and misplaced blind faith that has allowed the Church to become riddled with corruption and sexual predators - to the point where the once solid institution of the Catholic Church is unravelling before our eyes. Only by facing facts and cutting out the silent cancer which is consuming the Church will you save the very institution which you so loyally seek to protect.
Elizabeth Hullett, New Zealand
The Catholic Church does have a serious situation on its hands. Whatever the Vatican decides it will take a long time to regain the trust of people again. I know I will never allow my children to be in a position where they may have to be alone with a priest. They have been told that it is not necessary; I will also try to talk them out of becoming an altar boy/girl if they ever show any interest, and I think that is the saddest thing. All priests have been tarred with the same brush, but as a parent, I would rather that than risk my children's innocence.
Gerald Joyce, Chicago, US
Paedophilia is a symptom of a much larger problem. As long as the hierarchy operates under an umbrella of secrecy and deceit, confidence in bishops, cardinals and the pontiff will be shaken. If our cardinals truly want to make a difference, they will articulate the need for an inclusive priesthood, despite the fact that our pontiff has repeatedly stated that this is a "closed issue."
How are we to respect and obey the Magisterium (as we are instructed to do) when we continue to be treated as mindless individuals?
Mike W, US (UK citizen)
The Vatican and the Catholic Church lost respect many years ago when people stopped taking interest in simply attending Church. I am a dedicated Catholic and go to church week in, week out and I feel this scandal will be a poor excuse for people to turn their back on the Catholic religion.
I am a lapsed Catholic. I feel the best way the Church can clean itself up is to sack all bishops who have been protecting the priests who have done wrong.
I believe that the Catholic Church is guilty of complacency, guilty of turning a blind eye and finally guilty of deceit. It has been known that this was going on, it moved those accused without investigating them, and when hard evidence was provided, it ignored it and then covered it up...often moving those who were guilty into another parish or diocese. A crime against any child is unforgivable, and the perpetrators should have been investigated, tried and convicted (if applicable) using the local law enforcement agencies available. This has undoubtedly damaged the reputation of the Church.
It's time for radical change. In the past the Catholic Church has 'apologised' to women, but did nothing, nothing to change its central messages that oppressed them. Let's hope that abused children now aren't in line for a papal apology. Let's not forget, either, just how incredibly formidable the Catholic Church is. People buy, and are still buying, into its doctrine of guilt and repression, knowing full well that, among other things, it has condemned the use of contraception for those with the HIV virus. And they are the very same people who cannot be surprised to learn that Catholic priests were abusing the children (if they are, where have they been?!) and yet the Vatican still remains a supremely rich and powerful organisation.
Rosa-Linda, Rome, Italy
I'm shocked by SCB's nonsensical comment that adultery is not a sin.
The Church has always been corrupt. Child abuse at the hands of the clergy is nothing new and yes, has done a lot to undermine the confidence of the congregations in the church. However, child abuse also occurs in state-run orphanages and in many child centres. The best way forward is for screening of all employees in roles that involve children. In the churches case it is about time that it recognised that sex outside of wedlock is not a sin (it is not a commandment) and therefore a new look at religion in contemporary society would be best.
Give an honest accounting of the problem instead of one of those meticulously written and ambiguous quasi-apologies.
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