It seems as though children are at risk of sexual abuse everywhere — in public institutions, at schools, gyms, and in the Church. When children are abused, the people of God are abused, too, for we are one family. Hardly a day passes without us reading of yet another case of a child sex abuser being caught, sentenced, and jailed. One revelation follows another. It is good news to know that pedophiles and child rapists are being exposed, caught, and brought to justice at an ever-increasing rate. It is one of the most potent means to prevent child abuse
. There is more awareness and reporting of child abuse now than ever before, yet much has still to be done. Few clergy are caught nowadays. Giving justice to the victims and jailing the abusers prevents the perpetrators from abusing many more children. Yet many are hurting children with impunity on a daily basis in their own homes, in their community, and online.
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Biological fathers, live-in partners, and pedophiles in the community are the most frequent offenders, but there are others among clergy, teachers, doctors, and from all manner of professions. Every one of us has a solemn duty and responsibility to stop this scourge. It is sometimes challenging and difficult to report abuse, but it is necessary. Not reporting it can make one an accomplice. For defenders of children, the victims and survivors of child sex abuse are their first concern. The victims have been hurt, damaged and traumatized. They are emotionally stunned into a life of fear and even guilt. The abusers threaten them with punishment, or say they will take their revenge on their families if the crime is reported. If the abuser is a relative or a priest, the child is not normally believed, and may even be accused of lying. In the Philippines, rarely does abuse by clergy get reported. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila says that most cases are dealt with internally. The storm of child abuse revelations by clergy and years of concealment, denial and payoffs behind closed doors, including forced signatures on non-disclosure agreements, has yet to be exposed. The sins of the fathers
have to be revealed, confessed, justice served, and penance conducted. The victims are often misinformed by clergy or their parents that they must forgive their abuser, when in fact justice is what they deserve and need. If the abuser confesses, goes to trial, and accepts his penance in jail, then forgiveness may come. The children suffer the most and therefore need all the protection, care, therapy, and support possible. The silence and cover-ups by bishops and senior clergy in a bid to hide the scandal of child sex abuse and protect the reputation of the Church is leaving children untreated, unhealed, and suffering. That is the biggest sin committed by those bishops who try to cover child abuse, besides living luxurious and sinful lives. We need an independent group of laity to investigate the bishops and expose these cover-ups. Allowing Church authorities to investigate themselves is akin to having the foxes guard the chickens. Laity and clergy who are hurt and shamed by the crimes of child abusers would welcome more justice, transparency, and openness. When priests are accused of abusing children, they are moved to other assignments and the abuse continues. Victims are ignored, intimidated and paid to stay silent. The Church's reputation is always put first, before the rights of the young victims. Pope Francis has roundly condemned this practice and demanded zero tolerance of clerical child abuse in the face of credible evidence. We must get help for these children, protect them, and report their abusers to the civil authorities when there is sufficient evidence available to do so. We can take inspiration here from Matthew 8:1-8, where Jesus put children first. He called for symbolic millstones to be tied around the necks of their abusers, with which they could be thrown into the ocean. Seeking justice for victims is a top priority. Some bishops are even being called to account by Pope Francis for covering up child abuse. In Chile, several bishops have resigned over this contentious issue. In Australia, Archbishop Philip Wilson, 67, has been sentenced to home detention. Judge Robert Stone said Archbishop Wilson sought to "protect the church and its image" by covering up the crimes of Father Fletcher, who has been found guilty of abusing at least 10 boys. Meanwhile, in the United States
, a Pennsylvania grand jury reported this year that 300 clergymen allegedly abused more than 1,000 children over a 70-year period. Adding to this, a study by the German Church in September claimed that 1,670 priests sexually assaulted 3,677 children from 1946 to 2014. Yet hardly any such cases have surfaced in the Philippines. This year, social workers at the Philippine Preda Foundation in Olongapo City, which protects child victims, won 15 court cases against alleged rapists and pedophiles. They all received long jail sentences. These shocking, abhorrent and horrendous truths should make us ashamed and concerned that so many children have suffered for so long without redress or help. We can be angry, too, that so few, if any, of the perpetrators are ever brought to justice. Yet justice can be done. The prestige and respect for priests and other members of the Catholic hierarchy has been greatly diminished as a result of all these cases. Pope Francis has called on bishops and cardinals to end their exalted or princely status, be humble "washers of feet", and follow the words and example of Jesus. He said during his recent visit to Ireland this summer that he was ashamed. He described the abuse meted out by priests "repugnant, repelling crimes." We must continue to protect children, report on abuse, and bring the perpetrators to justice so the victims can be healed. Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights, especially those of child victims of sex abuse.