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. firstname.lastname@example.org