Monday, April 19, 2010

Vatican Abuse Scandals-A Cause for Outrage or Excuse for Bigotry?

The sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church are, unfortunately, nothing new. The U.S. Catholic Church has been dealing with the aftermath and subsequent media exposure for at least the last decade. However, this year we've been finding that there's more than meets the eye. With new findings in Ireland and Germany, as well as the revelation of more cover-ups in the U.S., Catholics and non-Catholics alike are angry. At the same time, there are those arguing that the media is persecuting the Church, that the Church is doing something good, but that no one appreciates it because Catholics are society's favorite scapegoat these days. Any call for justice is met with accusations of "vengeance" and "not respecting the seal of the Confessional," while any criticism is met with accusations of anti-Catholicism or, if one is Catholic, disobedience and pride.

In all honesty, I'm surprised more Catholics are not outraged.

Main reason: Sex abuse of children is horrific. It's even more so when committed by a spiritual leader, one who is supposed to have moral authority. By itself, this crime destroys the trust of children and manipulates their desires for affection, love and attention. Adults guilty of this misuse the tendency of children to obey and look up to their elders. This crime harms a child's ability to bond with others in many ways and can impede with their ability to have healthy relationships (platonic and not) when they are of age. When committed by a spiritual leader, this can harm a child's ability to relate to God and connect to their faith. These children grow up seeing God as someone who thinks they are sinful and worthless, only to be the plaything of His representatives. How can we not react with anger?

Pro-life ethics: As Catholics, we are called to uphold the sanctity and dignity of life. This includes ensuring justice, especially for the innocent among us. If we are so horrified by abortion, horrified enough that excommunication is the automatic punishment, we must also protect children after they are born, preventing them from harm and violent crime. We have failed in this. In order to save reputations, the Church instead relocated "problematic" priests to other parishes or sent them to ineffective therapy treatments, even when the psychiatrists themselves said it was ineffective. When children are in our care, we have a sacred and moral obligation to keep them out of harm's way, before or after they are born. How are people supposed to believe that we're right on saving the preborn if we refuse to protect the born?

Punishment: Some Catholics seem to think that my advocacy for punishment and justice is a call for revenge. Not so. Forgiveness is something we must all strive for. I never once declared that these priests and those who aided them deserved to burn in Hell. At the same time, we need to send a clear message to society that this crime is not acceptable. Is it not just to remove an offending priest from priestly duties, turn him to secular authorities and forbid him contact with children? This is not about eternal condemnation or hatred. This is about keeping children safe and sending a warning to others who may be tempted to abuse their power. Punishment serves as a deterrence. Confession is great, but does not suffice for society. Society needs to see that this crime is a crime and that no one's clerical status excuses one from the consequences.

Bigotry: While I will not deny anti-Catholic prejudice in society and through the media, I feel that accusations of using someone else's trauma as an excuse for persecution are misplaced. First, it is a slap in the faith to Catholics who are truly being persecuted or murdered by their governments (China, some Middle Eastern nations, etc). Second, while journalists and outlets bring biases with them, I'd highly doubt that no Catholics are present on any of the staff and could not at least fact check. Third, how is it bigotry to admit that our leaders did something wrong? If our leaders are truly the successors of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, should we not hold them to that standard? Is it not loving to keep them accountable?

To all Catholics: Criticizing a policy is not the same as promulgating heresy. We have an obligation to protect the innocent and to keep each other accountable on the path to Heaven. This is not unforgiving, prideful, or wrathful. Instead, it conveys humility, justice, and the courage to do what is right (as opposed to what is politically convenient at the time). Dear Catholics, we make a vow at our weddings to raise our children to know Christ through His Church. Let us make their journey one that edifies and uplifts their precious souls as they mature in His name. Let us ensure that they are not abused in the Holy Name of God, for that would be our greatest scandal.