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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

Catholic leaders are duty-bound to be defenders of children

Catholic leaders are duty-bound to be defenders of children

New Catholic Church protocols and rules to report every suspected act of child abuse must be strictly implemented. (Photo: Eloisa Lopez)

Published: November 17, 2021 10:41 AM GMT
Bishops, priests and laypeople must care for child victims and stop coddling and protecting pedophile clergy

Shame, anguish and anger at child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church should lead to a devoted commitment to eradicate abuse everywhere.

This active stance must be the primary focus of society and of the Church and every individual member.

Jesus of Nazareth said children are the most important of all. If we continue to fail children, we fail Christ.

The established institutional Church and many members — laypeople and priests — have spectacularly failed to care, protect, help, support and compensate innocent vulnerable children for heinous crimes against them.

Many bishops, priests and laypeople have over the years denied, covered up, transferred abusive priests, lied and forced child victims to shut up.

The most recent shocking revelations of clerical child abuse in France led to a pilgrimage — to Lourdes no less — by clergy to confess their incompetence to protect children.

It is a conspiracy of sorts because charging a priest in court with such crimes is unthinkable, embarrassing and scandalous for the institutional Church

What they and clergy everywhere need to do is to surrender their absolute power and invite independent prosecutors to investigate all priests and lay suspects against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse have been made. The culture of silence in the Church is the shield of the abusers.

The chronic lying and covering up by some clergy in authority about the extent of child abuse and turning a blind eye to it, as if children had no rights, resulted in as many as 216,000 children being abused by French pedophile priests from 1950 until 2020.

The silence of bishops and other priests makes them accessories to the crimes. It is a conspiracy of sorts because charging a priest in court with such crimes is unthinkable, embarrassing and scandalous for the institutional Church.

Bishops, priests and laypeople must first care for child victims and should stop coddling and protecting pedophile priests.

The good, honest clergy and laypeople who defend children should be as angry as Jesus was at abusers and give them the Mill Stone of Justice (Matthew 18:6) to help them repent, confess and accept it as penance. Then, mercy and forgiveness can follow. That is the elementary lesson of Jesus Christ.

The number of French children sexually abused is 330,000 when we add in the abuse by Catholic laypeople. It is a worldwide problem.

Child abuse and covering it up are a shocking abuse of power that must be removed. This is because the institution is male-dominated and there are no women with positions of authority and leadership to hold the diocesan leaders to account.

The roles that Jesus gave to the apostles and bishops were to be the washers of feet, servants of the poor and healers of the abused. He said the tyrants of the heathens ruled with total authority but it must not be like that among you. 

“Whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you, he must be your slave — just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.” 

How many clergy obey that command? To stop child sexual abuse by clergy, the power structure must change. Pope Francis has denounced this abuse of power as clericalism.

The new church protocols and rules to report every suspected act of child abuse must be strictly implemented.

However, unless women are given greater positions of authority to serve and protect children, the abuse will never end. 

Why should they be shamed and brought into disrespect because some bishops and priests abuse authority to support pedophile priests and cover up their child abuse?

Pope Francis said: “I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered. It is also my shame, our shame, for the incapacity of the Church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns.”

We should feel more just anger than shame. Jesus was angry at his disciples when they blocked children from approaching him. "Let them come for the Kingdom belongs to them." (Matthew 19:14)

The abusive clergy think the Kingdom is for the clergy. How much angrier is Jesus today with child abuse in the Church and outside it?

There are hundreds of thousands of good, self-sacrificing laypeople, priests and many bishops of true commitment and virtue working for justice in impoverished circumstances, sacrificing themselves daily for the poor and risking their lives fighting for human rights and dignity.

Why should they be shamed and brought into disrespect because some bishops and priests abuse authority to support pedophile priests and cover up their child abuse? The sins of a few are vested upon the many. This is another aspect of the injustice.

Many more good clergy and laity must speak out and support child defenders and stand against the cover-ups and shame brought upon their vocation and life’s work. They are being unjustly and wrongly smeared with the crimes of the few who are protected.

That deference and protection for pedophile priests must end. Not to report abusive clergy is being part of the problem.

The honest, innocent and hard-working priests and laypeople should act as Jesus of Nazareth did and denounce the evil and protect and support the victims.

Their silence should not tarnish and should never tolerate the cover-up and secrecy protecting pedophile priests or any child abusers.

Anyone with knowledge of an abused child can give tip-offs anonymously to child protection NGOs like the Preda Foundation as to the whereabouts of victims and abusers.

Transparency and the needs and rights of child victims must be the top priority, not protecting pedophiles or the institutional Church's reputation

In the Philippines where child abuse among the clergy is systematically covered up and denied, victims are intimidated into not making complaints and parents are paid off not to pursue complaints. An independent investigation like that in France is long overdue. 

In 2002, some victims of clerical abuse complained and spoke out and the Philippine Church apologized. No one was charged or convicted. Ever since then, there has been a total silence and lockdown.

The Church policy of dealing with clerical child sexual abuse as a secret internal matter, as Cardinal Luis Tagle has said on television, must change.

Transparency and the needs and rights of child victims must be the top priority, not protecting pedophiles or the institutional Church's reputation.

Many child abuse cases are referred to [email protected] and the victims are found, rescued and brought to protective sanctuary where they are protected, affirmed and the abuse is verified.

The children are healed and empowered and the abusers, no matter their power or status, will be brought to justice.

It has been the true Christians, adult laypeople, the brave and courageous child victims, that have come out in public to make complaints and demand justice in recent years in other countries.

They found the courage to speak out and their numbers grew demanding justice. It led to independent investigations around the world. The children and supporting adults must report abuse and demand justice and compensation.  

All Christians need to act to heal the wounds of physical, emotional and psychological suffering inflicted upon children.

It is a terrible evil that continues today. As Jesus said, to be great and good we have to be active dedicated servants and defenders of children, never condone defending their abusers.

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

2 Comments on this Story
DESMOND COUTINHO
Men like the author are part of the problem. They prop up institutionalised abuse by offering cheap commentary that has no authority. If any of the abusers or their protectors felt threatened by this man's words they would have silenced him. Instead they allow him and his ilk to publish thus giving the optic of allowing reform while business continues as usual. This article could have been written in 2000 or 1980 or 2040 with minor changes on provinces. Plus ca change.
BIENVENIDO BAISAS
Would that our church leaders in the Philippines wake up to the moral obligation of defending the rights of children and hold accountable clerics and lay leaders who sexually abuse minors. No more cover-ups or secret amicable settlements!
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia