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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.

Your reaction

These horrible crimes have provided some with the ammunition necessary to denounce a mostly benevolent organisation

David, USA
The angry language of those blaming Catholicism and/or Christianity for this situation is a frightening reminder of the scapegoating and intolerance that has been aimed at the Christian Church in centuries past. Tradition and orthodoxy still have a place in society, providing us with the solid foundations we need to achieve great things together. Unfortunately, these horrible crimes have provided some with the ammunition necessary to denounce a mostly benevolent organisation. Their motives should be questioned, as we pray for and work toward justice. The Church asks priests to be holy, but none of us forget their humanity or their fallibility.
David, USA

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.
Frank Agudah, Dallas, Tx, USA

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.
Ed Jerlinski, New Hampshire, USA

It will take decades to see the end of this

Peter Vevang, USA
Rome had better watch out. The American legal system has a way of tearing corrupt and vice ridden organisations to pieces. The Church is wide open to a nationwide and systematic legal campaign, just like the asbestos and tobacco companies. There will be justice, but it will take decades to see the end of this.
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?
Angel Bohorquez, Spain

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.
AW, Canada

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.
R McNaughton Phillips, USA

Western Christianity is dying with the Catholic Church

Kustaa Punkari, Finland
Catholic leaders around the world should end this practice, they should understand that they have failed, and that they can no longer give spiritual guidance to their followers. Because whatever guidance they give is bad. Everything it can offer can basically be bettered by any other religion. Western Christianity is dying with the Catholic Church.
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!
John Karsan, UK

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.
Enrico, Rome, Italy

Perhaps those best suited to priesthood are the men who don't want to be priests

Kevin, UK
What is all this rubbish about allowing priests to marry in order to curtail child abuse? Most child abuse takes place in the child's own home by the people the child should most trust. The problem here is that "power attracts the corruptible". Perhaps those best suited to priesthood are the men who don't want to be priests.
Kevin, UK

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.
Patrick, USA

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.
Nick, England

I am proud to be Catholic and will die Catholic. But I do believe that those individuals need to be dealt with regardless.
Owen O'Connor, South Africa

It is disserving its followers

Fred Jones, USA
The Catholic Church suffers from its bad choices. First, it decided to prohibit its priests from having wives. Second, it attempts to shield its lawbreakers, in this case child molesters, from their legal responsibility. Until the Catholic Church changes its policy on marriage for its priests, and submits its criminal offenders to criminal and civil action, it is disserving its followers.
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.
Tony, USA

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.
Chris, USA

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.
Rajesh S, India

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.
Chris Wollet, USA

Everyone has always known of this stuff being rife, yet people seem to be surprised

Michael, Ireland
This is what happens when you have a state within the state. Just like organised crime or big corporations, they are above the law and show no transparency and no accountability. What surprises me, though, is that everyone has always known of this stuff being rife, yet people seem to be surprised.
Michael, Ireland

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.
Pat, Philadelphia, USA

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?
George Bateman, USA

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.
Lawrence Taylor, Japan

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.
Davies, Nigeria

The Church seems more interested in protecting its own than protecting its image

Nigel, Scotland
I don't think you'll find any more incidents of sexual abuse per head by Catholic priests than any other religion. However the celibacy vows probably don't help matters. What I think most people will find upsetting and disenchanting is the way that these allegations have been handled. The Church seems more interested in protecting its own than protecting its image.
Nigel, Scotland

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?
Katherine Willsea, USA

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.
Agha Ata, USA

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.
John Henry, Singapore

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.
Mark, USA

There ought to be a uniform way of dealing with Catholic priests who abuse children

Charlotte Levick, USA
Amid the media coverage of the Catholic problem, a respected US newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, has quietly reported that sexual abuse occurs more often in the Protestant churches, and abuse is also worse in US society at large than it is among Catholic priests. There ought to be a uniform way of dealing with Catholic priests who abuse children, but the suggestion that corrupt priests are always dealt with wrongly, even if true, says nothing about the marginal proportions of these mistakes.
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.
Ed, Switzerland

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.
Bill Carter, USA

The Church continues to give forgiveness to the big contributors

The Church tolerates parishioners with big pockets because it is a charitable organisation. So as the Church continues to give forgiveness to the big contributors, it also is willing to allow the inside rot to continue. It has also become corrupt as so many other institutions. It's another big cover up.

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.
Jon Livesey, USA

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.
Robert del Valle, USA

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.
Gordon Silliker, United States

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.
Vivienne Bluett, Los Angeles, USA

I wonder why the focus is solely on American priests?

Prem Pulami, USA
Having attended a Jesuit school in Darjeeling where I was sexually abused by an Irish priest, I wonder why the focus is solely on American priests? What about those of us in other parts of the world who were abused but had no chance to speak out? I am from Nepal. My parents thought I was receiving the best education from the most wise and compassionate men. I lost my faith in all religion at that time. My parents will never know the pain I suffered at the hands of this man, who came to a poor country to rape young boys. The Catholic church is sick...
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.
David M. Radka, USA

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.
Elizabeth, USA

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.
Judith Di Chio, Canada

The church should require them to remain cloistered in monasteries for the rest of their natural lives

Joy Jones, USA
I agree with turning priests over to the secular authorities when they are accused of this crime. But rather than removing them from the priesthood when they return from serving whatever sentence the secular court gives them, I think that the church should allow them to stay in the priesthood but require them to remain cloistered in monasteries for the rest of their natural lives.
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.
JT, Japan

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!
r steward, Great Britain

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?
Terry Emerson, London, UK

Zero tolerance is not enough

Jude Machado, England
Zero tolerance is not enough. The clergy who were aware of the incidents should be convicted too for perverting the course of justice. Lives have been damaged permanently. The clean up has to be thorough and permanent. One wonders, if this has happened in the US with a rather open society for so long, what is happening with the defenceless poor children in Asian and African countries, where is Church is seen as the most powerful institution. The fact that the Church moved suspected clergy from one parish to the next means the Church too as an institution wanted to cover the whole matter up. No amount of forgiveness will repay a shattered life.
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.
Jas, UK

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.
James, USA

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.
Ian Jones, UK

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.
Peter Connolly, England

Those damning Catholicism altogether on the basis of this have an agenda which has nothing to do with the welfare of children

Violetta, UK
It worries me that many people seem to be pouncing on these scandals with something approaching glee, relishing the opportunity to pass hasty judgment on the Church (especially those who think they understand the Church just because they are Catholic by birth). The Catholic faith has never justified child abuse - it's simply ludicrous to suppose otherwise. As an organisation, however, it is made up of human beings with weaknesses and flaws. Child abusers come from all walks of life, and we should blame the people who commit abuse (although often they are very damaged and vulnerable too) not their employers, or the religion they belong to (which condemns their actions). Those damning Catholicism altogether on the basis of this have an agenda which has nothing to do with the welfare of children.
Violetta, UK

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.
Graham Rodhouse, The Netherlands

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.
Lois, New Zealand

These physical abuses surely are indicative of the spiritual condition of many inside the church

M Hall, Northern Ireland
These physical abuses surely are indicative of the spiritual condition of many inside the church. If I was a Catholic I would be questioning more than the integrity of the priesthood as this problem surely points to a lack of spiritual life in the church. The more details that come out about abuses across the world, the more the doctrines that these people espouse become meaningless. Thank God for the reformation.
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!
Anne, UK

The Church does nothing to protect its people

Axle, Belgium
This horrible episode shows perfectly that the Church does nothing to protect its people in the modern society of today. If people choose to have faith in God, they are now realising that they must reject the Church and find faith as an individual.
Axle, Belgium

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.
John, Scotland

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.
O Blackbourn, Germany

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.
Stephanie Clarke, UK

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.
Thomas Carlsson, Finland

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!
Steve Little, USA

The rotten core of society is represented neatly by religion and all it stands for. It just disgusts me.
AC, Australia/UK

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.
Stephen M Pickstone MD, USA

Zero tolerance defies the Church's goal of forgiveness

Dan Wentzel, USA
I actually haven't lost my confidence. The Church is an organisation of sinners. It's who we are. Mistakes have been made. We must now correct them. I'm not really in favour of zero tolerance. It seems to defy the Church's goal of forgiveness. And I'm still unclear on what kind of evidence (or just a "credible accusation") would be required before removing someone from the priesthood. I'm worried that the burden of proof is being set too low.
Dan Wentzel, USA

I imagine they could restore trust by not molesting children.
Rob, US

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.
Rhys Jaggar, England

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.
John Olivo, USA

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.
James Lester, USA

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.
Lou Mason, USA

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.
Johanna Boulanger, Florida USA

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.
John, San Antonio, Texas, USA

Trust cannot be restored to American Catholics, especially me.
Attapmann, USA

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.
Ken Simmonds, South Africa

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.
Joe Wesson, United States

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

Around the world



See also:

22 Apr 02 | Americas
22 Apr 02 | Europe
16 Apr 02 | Americas
09 Apr 02 | Americas
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