Archive for Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Betrayal of trust

March 19, 2002


The Catholic Church has much to answer for concerning instances of priesthood pedophilia.

When a list of ultimate betrayals of trust is compiled, sexual abuse of a child by a parent or guardian has to be one of the leaders. And so must similar crimes against youngsters by people they trust and have been taught to admire like members of the clergy.

In the forefront of many news reports these days is the longstanding thread of pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood.

Writes Elizabeth Mehren of the Los Angeles Times, "Fueled by media scrutiny and victims stepping forward, a scandal is spreading through the Roman Catholic Church. The crisis is gathering momentum each day and causing fear in the church that its ancient wall of secrecy may tumble down. As never before, the (John J.) Geoghan case documented that church officials knew all along that child molesters were at work in the priesthood."

Geoghan is a defrocked priest who has been penalized, finally. He may face new charges.

The outrage "is at tidal wave proportions," says San Diego psychiatrist Dr. A.W. Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and expert on sexuality in the church. "It is going to hit every major diocese in the country. And it is not going to stop there. It is going to be worldwide."

Since January, for example, the Boston archdiocese has given prosecutors the names of nearly 90 priests suspected of child abuse over 40 years. At least 84 other priests in 11 states also have been accused this year of sexual misconduct with children. Of those, some 25 already have been removed from active duty.

Consider the poor child beset by sexual advances by a parent or guardian. This is an adult the child has come to trust, to obey and sometimes revere. Consider the disgusting horror of someone using that status for such terrible purposes.

Then there are the members of the clergy, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or some other faith. Consider the fear, intimidation and trust they trade upon in such miserable efforts. For years, Catholic priests had such control over youngsters that the children felt compelled to do what they were told.

Just as bad, of course, is the way people in the Catholic hierarchy have covered up misconduct, by calling for silence, reassignment or retirement of guilty priests. The "moral passivity" or the "passivity of silence and ignorance" are totally unacceptable and officials of any church, including the leaders in the Vatican, have a lot of explaining to do over their constant tendency to sweep depravity under the rug.

It is difficult to believe, but the Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, the nation's fourth largest, said the far-reaching spread of the pedophilia crisis caught church officials by surprise.

"I don't think anybody realized the extent of the problem, not just here in Boston, but in the United States," said Coyne. "Before, we could just say that each case was an isolated incident. Money from the church no longer is enough to silence the waves of victims coming forward. Confidentiality agreements have fallen by the wayside, as victims learn that, instead of being thrown out of the church, their abusers were reassigned."

This current crisis is one that will haunt the Catholic Church for years to come.

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