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Monday, 16 December, 2002, 10:03 GMT
Can trust in the Catholic Church be restored?
Controversial Boston Cardinal Bernard Law has resigned over his handling of alleged cases of sex abuse in his archdiocese.
An offer of his resignation had been made to the Pope in April but was not accepted by the pontiff.
The cardinal flew to Rome last week after abruptly cancelling an appearance at Sunday mass, as pressure grew on him to resign.
Cardinal Law has been facing widespread calls for his resignation amid allegations that his archdiocese allowed priests accused of abuse to keep their jobs.
The Boston archdiocese is facing more than 400 civil lawsuits over child abuse claims and is threatening to file for bankruptcy.
What now for the Catholic Church in the US? Can trust ever be restored?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Of course trust can be restored in the Catholic Church again. The only question is how we can begin to trust our Parish Priests around our children. It's going to take a very long time. We are all going to take it one day at a time and continue to pray. I am also glad that we live in a country of law and order and that all the priests who committed these crimes are brought to justice.
For years the Catholic Church has covered up everything from priests having affairs with women to sex scandals. Finally, people are standing up and not allowing this to continue. They are not above the law.
Peter Vevang, USA
From the beginning of the Church's history it has been walking after society, so why do we think it is going to be different now?
Trust in the Catholic Church is for Catholics to decide. What is for society to decide is whether criminal acts have been perpetrated and appropriate action taken. Furthermore this should be a wake up call to all of us about the vulnerability of children and minors to individuals like this. Children brought up in Catholic families (or any religion for that) are indoctrinated with the rhetoric from the pulpit from an early age. As a consequence the "Fear of God" becomes intrinsic and this is how these people get away with such acts.
You are sadly mistaken if you think this kind of abuse would disappear by simply allowing priests to marry. Marriage does not cure paedophilia. This is not, fundamentally, about sex or sexual orientation. It is about power and trust and the abuse of both. It is abominable that these trusted men of the cloth exploited the avenue of their own sickness to abuse that power and trust, but they would be and will continue to be sexual abusers if they are defrocked or allowed to marry or take up other sexual relationships.
There may have been many self-serving reasons for the church instituting the vow of celibacy, but those who take it do so because they are called to serve God. The fact that many find themselves unable to keep that vow does not mean that the church is wrong for asking it of them.
Kustaa Punkari, Finland
About time the Church of Rome accepted that they have done something wrong. Now they must force more resignations. The Roman Church's lies and misdeeds have gone on for much too long. Who kept us in Dark Ages for so long? They disgust me!
It does not surprise me that the most damning condemnation comes from those outside the Catholic Church. Yet, having said this I do agree that the Church does have a social responsibility towards all people. It may be true that at times the values of such a big institution need to be re-examined, but it is also true that society as a whole needs to look at how it presents itself in the new Millenium. Threatening the Church by withdrawing donations seems very short sighted to me.
Sounds like most of the responses on this page are from non-Catholics. It is up to Catholics to decide if they want to be part of the Church or not. We don't need biased non-Catholics to make our decisions.
It's comments like Patrick's (from USA) that highlight the issues involved. Criminal acts have been committed and he states that it should be resolved by Catholics and that non-Catholics should keep their noses out. That is exactly the reason why there is a problem today. The Church acted autonomously and covertly to 'resolve' the problems but only acted in a self-serving way. Until the Catholic Church can be transparent in their actions they do not deserve to be trusted.
I am proud to be Catholic and will die Catholic. But I do believe that those individuals need to be dealt with regardless.
Fred Jones, USA
Many have suggested that priests should be allowed to marry. I completely agree and it's certainly not biblically supported that they should not. I'm sure the reason for this outdated church policy is that the Vatican is not willing to sacrifice its enormous income to support a priest's wife and several children.
The offenders should be allowed to remain priests... in prison. Forgiveness has nothing to do with allowing someone to sin again. You can be "forgiven" by God and the Church for murder, but you do penance in jail.
Remove the root cause. God said, "It is not good for man to be alone". Listen to what God said and all priests including the Pope immediately submit to God's wisdom and get married.
This is really a question about justice and forgiveness. The Church should be about both, justice for the victim and forgiveness for the perpetrator.
This is the Christian faith. If we want strong justice, then why can't we have strong forgiveness?
They seem to be two sides of the same coin.
There not only needs to be a change in the heart of Catholics as to how they deal with the Church, the civil authorities must also have the courage of their office. As a Catholic myself the solution I recommend is withholding from the collection baskets. If you want to get the Church's attention that should do it. If the importance of an issue can be determined by the number of sermons given about it, I would say money is in the top three.
Does anyone wonder why there is very unhealthy democracy in most Catholic countries? Why would any nation want this type of mentality as displayed by Cardinal Law applied to society at large?
It seems that the threat of litigation in America scares them more than the fires of hell! Having attended a Catholic school briefly I have no sympathy for JP II or his ilk.
This is a spiritual war that must be fought in the spirit. A lot of people have been saying things that do not befit Christians at all. The Catholic Church has no problem at all - it is just some individuals that need to change.
The Catholic Church as an organisation is more interested in protecting the accused priests than in protecting their victims. As long as this remains the case, who can trust it?
This is probably the beginning of the end. Let's not forget that there must be thousands of cases of abuse that never made the headlines, and there must have been hundreds of thousands of abusive priests in the past who were never caught. The Church must allow priests to marry and stop living in an unnatural and unhealthy way.
Too much importance is given to the clergy. Individual prayers must be encouraged and rooms or meeting places where people come in contact with the priests should be rearranged in modern office style with an open view concept. Abusing the trust is a serious offence and anyone found of an indecent act or abuse should be prosecuted.
Perhaps the Vatican doesn't understand the damage it has caused to its most generous benefactors. That reality might sink in when the contributions start drying up.
Charlotte Levick, USA
After centuries of being in positions of power, the Church is being stripped and humbled. She will come out of these crises stronger and perfected. Why? Because these sins of the past will eventually promote and give witness to the power of forgiveness.
The Roman Catholic Church could have set a good example with their handling of this problem. Instead they have attacked the messenger (the press), hired expensive PR firms and gone after the victims in ways that would be considered contemptible if done by organised crime. Last week a Mafia boss died and was denied a Mass by the Catholic Church. If he had done considerably more damage to society, yet were a priest, he would have been treated much better.
The general reaction in the US press is that it will be very difficult to restore trust. The Church still fails to recognise that it has a systemic problem with the way that it recruits and trains priests and in the way that it tries to keep scandals secret. The Church is still trying to make this appear to be a series of isolated incidents and Bishops are still giving statements making the victims partially responsible for molestation.
If the Church would abandon (or at least temper) its corporate mentality, it would not only prompt a restoration of trust, but also a restoration of its own pastoral identity. The hierarchy is more frightened by the threat of lawyers than the reproach of heaven.
There is still a lot of trust in the Church because for every molesting priest, there are thousands who do not. The only people who have no trust in the Catholic Church are non-Catholics, and that doesn't bother Catholics much anyway. Trust will be restored as this institution is too old and too large to be shaken to its foundation by such a crisis, regardless of its scope.
Here in the US the Church is in disarray. Now we hear that it has been suggested at the Bishop's conference that if a priest had only one episode in his past, he could stay on in the Church. They just don't get it. There's no such thing as one episode. I've heard the experiences of these victims who have been interviewed and it is sickening, not to mention the damage and near suicides.
Prem Pulami, USA
The Catholic church is as dead as a doornail if it doesn't obviously and truthfully reform itself soon. Superiors have totally lost touch with what the people they serve think, and operate the institution in such a way as to add no value to them.
If radical liberals weren't constantly trying to reform the Church, we wouldn't have had these problems in the first place. Get rid of the liberals, and then the trust will be restored.
Most of this would stop if they would just let priests marry. I am not condoning these priests, but what kind of religion is it that will not permit normal sexual interaction between male and female? Seems weird to me.
Joy Jones, US
Is this limited to the Catholic Church ? I don't believe so. It is covered up in other religions and most abhorrently with in families. Paedophiles never reform and cannot be treated. Lock them up forever.
I am a Catholic and for me the church is the rock on which my faith rests. I am very disappointed over the scandals. Extreme measures should be taken against such offenders and they should be brought to account and be made to repent publicly. I am aware of the lack of enthusiasm by clergy and Bishops for self correction. I have had occasion to report a priest to my bishop whom I regarded as being out of order in matters of faith and morals, however the response I got was one of pouring oil on troubled waters rather than addressing the real issue. My confidence in certain clergy is low, however in others it is high!
As a practising Christian I despair at the people who use the Church to get into positions where they can abuse others and the pathetic self-centred leadership that allows it. Trust is like a piece of china and once broken is impossible to mend. This will take more than a generation to restore any semblance of trust in a church that has shown that it protects its own without a thought for the injured and abused. What price Christian principles?
Jude Machado, England
I agree with Axle from Belgium. In my view, belief and faith in God is a deep personal matter and should be kept as such. "Organised" religious belief has been nothing but trouble for the w world. Keep it simple folks and become humans so that you can aspire to reach God.
This whole scandal has brought shame to the whole Church. There needs to be a top to bottom search. Any offenders need to be thrown out of the priesthood. But more importantly, the ambiguities between canon and civil law need to be addressed. If priests and bishops are US citizens, they must be held subject to US and state laws. Paedophilia is and should be a serious crime. All proven offenders, be they priests, bishops, or cardinals, belong in jail.
These are the people who stand in their pulpits and preach to us about how we should do this and shouldn't do that, and yet they're obviously no better than anyone else. What happened to the ten commandments? There should be no question about the zero tolerance approach; what happens if another person in a position of trust betrays the people who they serve, for example if a teacher abuses a child? They'd lose their job. Why should clergymen be any different? It's about time the church got their act into gear and did something about it like any other responsible organisation would.
I used to be a practising Catholic. Having seen all the atrocities caused by religion to normal people, I've decided to cut out the middle man. If I want to talk to God, I'll do it. I don't need a man in a dress to tell me how.
Basically, criminal acts have been committed. The only right and proper thing for the church to do is to hand over the offending priests to the police for prosecution. Anything less would be deemed a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. It's as simple as that. The church is subordinate to the laws of the land, not an alternative to it.
The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a rest home for saints. However having said that Jesus teaches that sinners should genuinely repent of their sins, seek forgiveness for them and go and sin no more. A major way to follow this dictum is for a priest to remove himself voluntarily or be forced to move from any situation in which further sexual sin is likely.
M Hall, Northern Ireland
There can be no further trust in any form of religion. It seems to be either an outmoded way to control the masses and prevent uprising against the richer classes or an excuse to kill people. In this day and age we have the scientific proof that most of the teachings are just not true - so let's all grow up and stop believing in fairy tales and get on with working together toward a brighter future!
May the force be with you!
They shouldn't be discussing zero tolerance, they should have been practising it from when the Church was set up. The phrase 'reform or die' comes to mind.
I think the Catholic Church is a force of great good and certainly could do a lot better with a more liberal Pope. The clear failing is the inability of priests to marry. This is a ridiculous rule and there is nothing in the Bible to support this. Peter as first Pope was married. In the Church of England vicars are usually married and they form a team. I would like to see married priests, women priests and a woman Pope. If priests are gay then they should be open and married to their partners. Openness and honesty and natural relationships are a necessary human requirement, obviously it doesn't tackle paedophiles but it does go a long way to supporting priests and giving them normal lives. The Greek Orthodox Church also seems to allow this.
The vast majority of Catholics are (like the vast majority of society) good people, disgusted and horrified that such things have gone on in their midst. We should not tar everyone with the same brush. This should never be allowed to happen again, but don't forget the great deal of good that Catholics do. The religion isn't at fault, it's the individuals that took those actions who are the ones at fault.
This isn't the first example of sheer lack of perspective from the Catholic Church. In the past, "infidels" (take the victims of the original crusades and the inquisition) and controversial researchers (take Galileo) have been terrorised and abused by the Church. The revelation that an institution which has historically valued salvation through suffering would still find itself entangled in the abuse of the defenceless, brings really nothing new under the sun. It's time for society to grow up from religion, and move on.
This whole Church scandal isn't a surprise to me. The people whom you expect to do good are the main ones doing wrong. The Catholic Church has been corrupt since day one. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and I believe that this will go on as long as the Catholic Church is still allowed to operate under the conditions that are taking place now!
The rotten core of society is represented neatly by religion and all it stands for. It just disgusts me.
As a lifelong Catholic, I have to say it cannot be restored as long as the offending bishops are allowed to continue in their current capacities. Sodomy is apparently the unspoken sacrament of the Church to be defended with as much energy and commitment as earlier generations defended transubstantiation.
Dan Wentzel, USA
I imagine they could restore trust by not molesting children.
Order an independent review whose findings will be made public; ensure that those guilty of criminal behaviour are prosecuted; ensure that senior cardinals who abrogated responsibility in taking tough decisions are relieved of their duties; elect a maverick as the senior cardinal in the US; plan for drop in attendances for 3-5 years; accept that it will take a decade to restore faith in the institution; behave honourably for a decade.
I agree that the policy should be zero tolerance. All such offenders should be turned over to the civil authorities for prosecution. Treatment, yes but ministry, not a chance. We are not dealing with a misdemeanor here but a felony. I am a Roman Catholic and I have been absolutely disgusted with the Church's handling of this issue and the cover-up by the bishops.
The measures being discussed seem only to be ways to punish priests after the offence. I suggest that a "buddy" system be instituted - any meeting with a priest should take place with a minimum of two people.
I have never trusted institutions. I trust people I know, and believe the teachings I have studied. Trust the art not the artist. Trust in God.
The ostentatious wealth of the Catholic Church should be sold off and donated to centres that could be set up worldwide for the help and healing of victims of abuse, not just caused by Catholics, but by any abuser.
The Catholic Church needs to rid itself of ALL people connected with the abuse cases and their cover-up as soon as possible. All this stalling and doubletalk are only tarnishing its already disgraced image. The longer they wait to take action, the more people will lose faith and the emptier the collection tray will become.
Trust cannot be restored to American Catholics, especially me.
The question ought to be "Should trust in the RC Church be restored?" The Roman Catholic Church is a totally out of date autocracy, propagating a doctrine and dogma that no longer meets a need and which is actually of negative value in the modern world. Roman Catholicism is grossly overdue for radical reform.
I think any priests who committed such crimes should be removed and turned over to the authorities. Most importantly, I believe their superiors who were aware of abuse and did nothing or covered it up should also be removed and turned over to the authorities.
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