Catholic church must be held accountable

March 31, 2010


God knows — and he does — Protestants shouldn’t be throwing stones at the Roman Catholic Church for the scandals involving the abuse of children by some priests. Protestants have a blemished history of how they have handled their own scandals involving extramarital sex, misappropriated funds and arrogant behavior.

The hall of shame in the last century includes Aimee Semple McPherson (an alleged affair with her radio engineer, Kenneth Ormiston), Garner Ted Armstrong (Hustler magazine carried a story in September of 1978 called “In Bed with Garner Ted Armstrong — America’s Promiscuous Preacher,” which detailed gambling, adultery and the alleged rape of a young stewardess who worked on his private jet), Jim Bakker (sex with his secretary), Jimmy Swaggart (sex with a prostitute) and Ted Haggard (sex with a man), among too many others.

The difference between them and what is happening in the Catholic Church is that the sex — though still sinful — was (with the exception of Armstrong’s alleged crime) between consenting adults. Those swindled or otherwise deprived of their money were old enough to have known better.

If a priest having sex with children is not the unpardonable sin, it’s pretty close. Listening to adults tell their stories of abuse as children and the burden they have had to carry, in some cases for decades, is heartbreaking.

If Pope Benedict XVI were a politician, there would be those asking, “what did he know and when did he know it?” about the behavior of a priest under his direct supervision when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Munich. The New York Times reported last week that Cardinal Ratzinger “was copied on a memo that informed him that a priest, whom he had approved sending to therapy in 1980 to overcome pedophilia, would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish.”

Various apologists claim Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t know about any of this. In politics, that is called protecting the president by giving him “plausible deniability.” The pope’s continued denials are not plausible.

The Vatican has also strongly defended its decision not to defrock an American priest accused of molesting boys at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin. Church and Vatican documents show that in the mid-1990s, two Wisconsin bishops urged the Vatican office led by Cardinal Ratzinger to let them conduct a church trial of the Rev. Lawrence Murphy. Murphy appealed, citing a statute of limitations and poor health. The trial was never held. Murphy said he wanted to die a priest and be buried in his ecclesiastical garments. So he did and so he was.

In Ireland, where stories of abuse of children have captivated public attention and deepened disgust with the way the church has handled them, Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, will be pressured to quit if he refuses to resign, according to the London Times. The Northern Ireland Assembly is preparing to begin an investigation of Brady and child abuse in the province.

The president of Switzerland, Doris Leuthard, has called for a central registry of pedophile priests.

The problem for the Catholic Church is that it is extremely difficult to “fire” anyone. If shame does not cause abusive priests and their protectors to quit, nothing else can, except perhaps an exodus by Catholics from their congregations (taking their contributions with them instead of seeing the money go to settle victims’ lawsuits). Other options include conversion to another faith, or no faith at all.

In all of this, it appears that the Catholic Church is more interested in preserving the institution than the integrity of the One it is supposed to represent.

The Catholic Church must be held accountable. A formal investigation should be conducted, which exempts no one, including the pope. It should be run by people not in the church hierarchy or beholden to it. Anything less will not satisfy public opinion, much less a Higher Authority.

In his instructions to Timothy about the qualities necessary in a pastor, Paul writes, “...the overseer must be above reproach.” (1 Tim 3:2). The behavior of these pedophile priests, and those who covered up for them, is beneath contempt.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. tmseditors@tribune.com


Rex Russell 8 years, 2 months ago

Wow. I never imagined this comming from Cal Thomas. And in one of the most rarest occasions, I agree with every word written here.

georgiahawk 8 years, 2 months ago

The actions of pedophiles is inexcusable! Cal may be right, but I have to question the timing and message of converting to another faith coming on the heals of Beck and his advice to leave the catholic church because they believe in "social justice", which is, of course, liberal speak for communism. Not that I am saying that the bats-in-the-belfry-conservatives are marching in lock step, but it appears that the bridge is swaying!

Paul R Getto 8 years, 2 months ago

Surprised me a bit too, but Cal is on the right track here. The Catholics treated rape as a sin and not a crime, then tried to cover it up. This is their biggest problem. Given the right's new attack on the church fulfilling their real mission (social justice) the column could be attached to that idea as well. Cal wrote a good column years ago bagging on the churches for accumulating wealth and property instead of helping the poor. In that case he was right. It will be interesting to see how much they can shelter the Pope from this since there is no real mechanism to deal with it and, if he resigns, there is no rule on who should accept it. Adults prey on children; always have and always will. The problems are exacerbated by the coverups.

steveguy 8 years, 2 months ago

Its not the Catholic religion its the people running it all the way up to the pope. All the money we were asked to give to the church, through out the years, went to pay of the families of the victims. This is why we are looking for a different church. Very sad.

CreatureComforts 8 years, 2 months ago

"The Catholics treated rape as a sin and not a crime, then tried to cover it up"

NO, it was the CHURCH, not the Catholic people. I never tried to cover up a thing, neither did anyone I know from my Sunday services. I think you mean the church and not us everyday Catholics, but I want to make that clear.

lettingoffsteam 8 years, 2 months ago

Please do not confuse those who are doing wrong within the Church with the teachings of the Catholic Church itself. I have seen firsthand the good works done using the money I "put in the box" each Sunday. It is easy to simply point a finger at the entire Church, because admittedly there has been widespread, inexcusable behavior. But do we attack the Boy Scouts organization because of pedophilia that exists within that organization? The sad truth is that there are certain venues where this type of heinous act is more easily carried out and that is where criminals like this will gravitate. I believe pedophiles, and those who protect them, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Further, I believe that individual members of the Catholic Church, and individual parishes, must take a stand against those who seek to harm our children. This does not mean we should leave the Church. It means we should drive out those who commit such an unforgivable crime.

Paul R Getto 8 years, 2 months ago

"NO, it was the CHURCH, not the Catholic people." === Good point, and I apologize for the sloppy language. The higher-ups in the church are too used to their lifestyles and will do anything to protect it. Once again, thanks.

smarty_pants 8 years, 2 months ago

The Pope, Bishops, priests and any others who covered this up and protected the pedophiles are going to burn in Dante's lowest level of hell reserved for those who victimize someone with whom they share a special bond of trust.

Go to hell, you self-righteous a**holes!! You are an insult to true Christians everywhere. Down with catholicism--down with it's life-denying, abusive, misogynistic teachings!

smarty_pants 8 years, 2 months ago

@lettingoffsteam: Why not leave the catholic church? I did! Why continue to be brainwashed about it being the "true apostolic church?" Hasn't this scourge of pedophilia shown that these guys aren't holy...the farthest thing from it, as a matter of fact. So why go on supporting an institution that is rotten to the core?

Paul R Getto 8 years, 2 months ago

"So why go on supporting an institution that is rotten to the core? " === Smarty: I'm no fan of organized religion, but this is too broad a brush. Church officials covered these matters up because they could see no good way to handle it. That was wrong, in my opinion. Most priests are wonderful folks dedicated to service. I doubt the Catholics have the corner on child abuse. As I recall, other churches suffer from similar problems and I doubt the rate of abusers in the ministry is higher overall than other populations. What leaders need to do, however, is to make sure when the problems come up something is done and the person is not simply moved to a new hunting ground. People are weak, we all know that and priests and others who serve with youth can be weak too.

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