Even though we knew it was imminent, the release of a list about priests and monks who had “likely” sexually abused children is still a shocker.
It’s one thing to hear nameless statistics about clergy abuse, but it’s quite another to see this list of names, actual men who used their positions of authority to prey upon trusting boys or girls.
For many years, reports of clergy abuse were hidden in the shadows of parishes, and abusers were often transferred to other parishes or sent for psychological counseling out East, with some of them returning to parishes throughout the nation, where they continued their patterns of sexual and physical abuse.
Here in central Minnesota, which has always been predominantly Catholic, this never-ending news of clergy abuse is sad news, indeed. Think of all of the good, kind and loving clergy who would never so much as consider harming a child, and then think how those good people who “wear the collar” have been tainted somewhat through guilt-by-association and clouds of suspicion in the minds of parishioners and the public at large. It’s an example of rotten apples spoiling the barrel.
This clergy abuse, so often hushed up and unreported to the public, has gone on for many decades and most probably longer than that. In the “old” days, children most often did not report such abuse for fear of embarrassment or fear of not being believed. And, in fact, many times parents and others did not believe those children, thinking mistakenly no clergyman would ever stoop to such a sin, such a crime.
The Catholic Church, based in Vatican City in Rome, is one of the oldest religious institutions in world history, nearly 2,000 years old. However, even many of its popes lived in denial, refusing to acknowledge child abuse was a problem worldwide within the shadowy recesses of the churches.
In recent years, progress has been made. More cases have been reported, and many offenders have had to face the consequences of their crimes against children. More Catholic leaders, including the new Pope Francis, have vowed to deal strictly and immediately with reports of child abuse.
Printing lists of those who “likely” abused is a step in the right direction. But it’s not enough. Policies must be implemented and then enforced to assure every report of child abuse at the hands of clergy will be reported and dealt with through civilian law agencies, not just within the church in a hush-hush manner.
As one of the world’s great institutions, the Catholic Church must purge and cleanse itself, to renew its vows to protect its parishioners, including – of course – its children. Adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse would renew the Catholic Church and give it and all involved with it a renewal of spiritual unity and strength.