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Will the sordid scandals ever end?

Damning revelations will go on without more transparency

  • Fr Desmond de Sousa, Panaji
  • India
  • March 20, 2013
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The child sex abuse scandals that have ravaged the Catholic Church were a series of sordid revelations of abuse committed by predator priests on minors mainly between the ages of 11 and 14.

They exploded onto the scene in the early 1990s in Boston diocese in the United States and spread like wildfire from the United States to Ireland, from Europe to Australia, creating a global crisis for the Catholic Church.

A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops to keep these crimes secret and to reassign the accused elsewhere where they continued to have unsupervised contact with children.

This allowed the abusers to continue their crimes. Many cases span several decades and only came to light years after the abuse occurred.

It has been observed that the scandal is “a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode in Asia, Africa and Latin America.” This means that we have just seen only the tip of the iceberg.

The Church did not initially have the expertise to understand the issues of pedophilia (sexual attraction to children) and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to adolescents) and relied upon doctors' recommendations. 

In the 1950s, Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of a religious order that treats Roman Catholic priests who molest children, concluded, "[such] offenders were unlikely to change and should not be returned to ministry." 

Since ephebophilia, according to some authors, is a specifically gay phenomenon, various research projects over recent years have tried to estimate the number of Catholic priests who are gay. Figures come in at between 10 and 30 percent.

At the lower and more realistic end of the scale, that is nothing surprising, merely mirroring what goes on in society. But at the higher end, does it indicate the priesthood is attracting more than its fair share of homosexuals?

The Church hierarchy has usually put the Church’s reputation above the safety of children. Activists say that several cardinals were implicated directly or indirectly in the scourge.

Cardinals and bishops themselves have been directly involved in sex abuse. The most recent revelations indicate that the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain, disgraced Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien had a secret sex life.

The UK's Independent newspaper has revealed that Cardinal Bertone purchased a US$23 million apartment block in Rome that houses Europe’s biggest gay sauna.

Cardinal Ivan Dias, an Indian and former prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has a luxurious 12-room apartment there.

Cardinal Dias, the report adds, considered conservative even by Vatican standards, believes that gays and lesbians can be cured of their “unnatural tendencies” through the “sacrament of penance.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson coordinated the response of the Catholic Church in Australia to revelations of sexual abuse from 1994 to 2003 as co-chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. His reflections on his experience are revealing and invaluable.

There is no simple, one cause explanation for child abuse by priests and Religious. Child abuse in the community is most likely to occur when three factors come together: an unhealthy psychological state; unhealthy ideas concerning power and sex, and an unhealthy environment or community in which a person lives.

Bishop Robinson believes that these three factors interact with each other to produce a murky world out of which abuse arises. Sexual abuse as an end result may occur in only some cases, but these three unhealthy elements have negative effects on all priests and need to be addressed.

The Vatican has taken a number of recent initiatives, including an unprecedented conference at the Gregorian University in Rome last year, which brought together victims, bishops from around the world and psychologists.

In 2011, the Vatican also called on bishops' conferences around the world to come up with guidelines on how to deal with abuse, but not all countries have responded and there is concern that countless abuses remain hidden.

Some critics of the Vatican’s handling of the Church’s sex abuse scandals have breathed a sigh of relief, and hope that a changing of the guard will mean a change in the handling of current and past sex crimes. But Vatican officials and Church leaders will never be the ones to bring an end to this crisis because they are part of the problem.

It is up to courageous survivors and organizations and others around the world to continue to demand accountability and change, and for the rest of the world to listen.

“We’re not in the least bit optimistic," said Sue Cox of the Britain-based Survivors Network Europe, herself a victim of a pedophile priest when she was 10-13 years of age.

Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, in the United States said the tide of revelations couldn’t be turned back. “Criminal cases are breaking all over,” she said. “The floodgates are opening.”

If the new Pope is not sufficiently committed to transparency and rooting out corruption and nepotism, it can be expected that fresh leaks of sensitive Vatican documents will occur, a mole within the Holy See told La Repubblica newspaper.

Paolo Gabriele, Emeritus Pope Benedict’s disgraced butler, was not the only person stealing and leaking confidential papers. He had the sympathy and support of around 20 others, including members of the Secretariat of State, the Vatican administration and L’Osservatore Romano, its official newspaper.

“I hope that there will no longer be a need for moles to speak out,” remarked one. Dubbed “Vatileaks,” it was intended to expose nepotism and intrigue at the heart of the Holy See and improve transparency.

Can the new Pope bring a closure to the sex scandal in the Church? It would seem, despite our best hopes, not in the foreseeable future!

Redemptorist Father Desmond de Souza formerly served as the executive secretary of the Office of Evangelization in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference. He was closely associated with the Churches in Asia from 1980 to 2000. He is now based in Goa

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