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hurt your children; I love your children.' So thundered Fr. Percival D'Silva, trembling, in his sermon at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Chevy Chase, MD," wrote Maureen Dowd in her weekly column in the New York Times (Dowd, 2002). Fr. Percival has been one of the few to speak out against the defensive attitude of the Catholic Church -- one of obfuscation, dishonesty and callousness to the victims. Fr. Percival called for Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, co-indicted in several child abuse cases, to resign.
The Catholic Church has been rocked recently by allegations of sexual abuses -- especially against children. The problem is not isolated but all pervading. The cases of child, sexual abuses are about the same percentage as the general population. Most of the cases are not, in the strictest sense pedophilic -- sex with pre-pubescent children, but ephebophilia -- abuse of adolescent children. In a comprehensive study of 2,252 priests for 30 years, only one case of pedophilia was found. It involved a priest with two-six-year-old nieces. Between 5 and 10% of priests were pederasts (ephebophiles). (Jenkins, 1996)
The first nationalized case of child sexual abuse by a priest was in Lafayette, LA; Gilbert Gauthe accused of abusing 37 boys. Gauthe was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment. The biggest case so far has been one of John Geoghan who abused over 130 children between 1962 and 1995. Most recently, 54-year-old Russell Dillard was suspended over allegations of molesting two teenage girls 18 years ago. Older minors have also been abused: In Florida, the bishop of Palm Beach, Anthony O'Connell, was accused of sexually molesting a seminarian who approached O'Connell to complain about abuse by two older seminarians. Bishop Keith Symons of Missouri admitting to molesting five boys earlier in his career. And 165 cases were brought against priests in New Mexico. Under pressure, Cardinal Law turned over the names of 40 priests against whom allegations were brought up. (Cannon & Sheler, 2002)
Cardinal Law and Cardinal Egan -- former Bishop of Bridgeport, CT and now Archbishop of New York -- have also been named in lawsuits. Though no direct allegations have been brought up against these two, they have been held responsible for not holding the priests involved responsible -- Sin of Omission. The response of the Catholic Church has been typically one of ignoring the problem at its root. The natural response was to transfer the priest to another parish where the abuse would continue. The Church would, behind closed doors, admonish the priest. The tragedy of the situation is that no priest was held accountable until the Catholic Church was taken to task recently, under the weight of so many cases coming to light.
So why should the Church comply with the law? Because the sexual abuse, in any way, shape or form, whether perpetrated against a pre-pubescent, teenager or adult is a crime. Non-clergy has been sentenced to several years' imprisonment. Even after their release, pedophilia is the only crime that follows criminals throughout their lives -- Megan's Law (Megan's Law Online, 1996)
From the perspective of the victim: the immediate and long-term suffering of the victim does not change or become alleviated because the perpetrator is a priest. In Biddeford, ME, Michael Doucette abused David Gagnon for three years starting when David was 15. David, now 37, has been in therapy. He has tremendous difficulty with intimacy. David's complain to the diocese was a check for $10,000 and a legal release. (Cannon & Sheler, 2002)
Also, there is ample proof that individuals abused at a younger age become abusers themselves.
In criminal hierarchy (if there is such a thing), pedophilia and pederasty are considered as the lowest of the low crimes.
The victims are defenseless and the consequences are far reaching. Priests who abuse are criminals and should not be exempt from accountability and the consequences of their actions. Wearing the cloth does not in anyway diminish the intensity or the pain caused. On other hand, the suffering might be worse; children are brought up to trust priests, see them as beacons of goodness and human manifestations of Christ.
The frustration Catholics and the general public feel in this matter is exacerbated by the attitude of the Catholic Church -- one of almost irrational defensiveness.
A few priests in their sermons describe the behavior of their brethren as "reprehensible," but never go ahead and call it criminal. In the recent U. S & News Report, Angie Cannon and Jeffrey Sheler have written a comprehensive review of the problem. In that they mention the comments of Pastor Cieri: "This is also a time of carrying the cross and great difficulty. This is like death. But God brings life out of death, just as God raised Jesus from death, so our hope is that he will raise us from the dead, too." Platitudes; they really do not address the problem. Even the Pope has come out against the priests. He apologized for the past wrongs and has sternly rebuked those who have sexually abused minors. The Vatican, in 2001, suggested holding tribunals for trying cases of sexual abuses by priests. The officers of these "courts" would solely be members of the Church.
The Church does not want civil or criminal charges brought against priests. This is tantamount to saying that priests in criminal acts are above the crime. One cannot imagine the Church also creating a system of jurisprudence where abusive priest might be installed in a Church prison. And what about sins of omission, by the Cardinals and Bishops who turned a blind eye?
In order to understand the Church's attitude, one has to understand the entire physical, hierarchical and emotional structure of the Catholic Church. There are good reasons, from the Catholic Church's perspectives, of protecting the Church.
One of the reasons is the question of celibacy. Celibacy goes against the natural urges of man. It would be near impossible for anybody to curb these impulses for the length of their lifetime. There is a strong lobby promoting marriage for priests; this lobby uses sexual abuses among priests to make the case for marriage. Therefore, abuses by Catholic priests are headlined more strenuously than if a Protestant Minister were involved. The Catholic Church regularly provides statistics that Protestant Ministers and members of other vocation-like professions have an equal percentage of molesters.
There is no direct relationship between celibacy and pedophilia. But the Church puts the requirements for celibacy at a high premium (Biechler, 1999). This way, in the hierarchy, they are a step above the laity. In other words, they are better than regular people. Celibacy is equated to purity. There are no biblical instances for the celebration of celibacy, except no record of Jesus Christ consorting with a woman. There is also the question of the virgin birth; the gospels also do not provide any information of the family life of Mary and Joseph. The institutionalization of celibacy affects the development of seminarians whose attitudes are one of denial. In this position, family life and procreation are relegated to a status of inferiority. It is possible that celibacy in one sense leads to sexual abuse.
Another matter of contention is the knowledge that more than 90% of the victims of abused are males. This leads to the question of homosexuality. Kevin Haggerty a rector at a seminary in Surrey, UK recently published a paper that uncovers seminary practices of factions of homosexual and heterosexual seminarians (Haggerty, 2001). The Catholic attitude towards homosexuality has been that homosexuality is not in the mindset but in the performance of homosexual acts. If a person remained celibate, he was not a homosexual. The Catholic Church was the first to openly recruit homosexuals to the priesthood in the hope that they would remain celibate. The error of such an attitude is the same as that of assuming celibacy. Gay lobbies, of course, would rightly protest the characterization of homosexuals as pedophiles.
Sex-related reasons aside, the most important reason is political and survival. There are several denominations in Christianity besides Catholicism: Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Mormons and Lutherans. There is a struggle for members and the money that they bring into the Church. Also bragging rights. One of the defenses that the Catholic Church uses to defend itself in lawsuits brought by victims is that the Church in its hierarchy is rich and therefore a target. That money can be traced back to and extracted from the Vatican. To this date in the United States and all over the world, more than one billion dollars have been given out as reparations to victims (and lawyers) involved in cases priests' abuses. Some of the money has been given out at the cost of Church property that has been sold or mortgaged.
With all the financial and emotional burdens caused by the behavior of a small number of priests, it would seem easier to completely disavow the priests, excommunicate them, and turn them over to the legal authorities.…[continue]
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