The scandal of clerical sexual abuse

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While Pope Benedict XVI is not without fault in his dealings with the sex-abuse crisis afflicting the worldwide Catholic Church, his shrillest critics in the media are not offering any legitimate criticism or constructive advice. Instead, they are exploiting the occasion to serve up the vilest anti-Catholic prejudice and abuse.

Benedict deserves much better. In a pastoral letter read out in every Catholic church in Ireland on Sunday, he made an unqualified apology to the hundreds of victims of child-abuse by members of the Catholic Church in Ireland. “It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church,” he said. “In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.”

George Weigel, author of Witness to Hope, much the best biography of Pope John Paul 11, has welcomed this statement. In an article entitled “The End of Euphemism: Benedict XVI and the corruptions of Catholic Ireland” published in National Review Online, Weigel observed: “The letter breaks ground for the Vatican by acknowledging, with admirable candour, that parents and entire families have ‘suffered grievously’ because of the ‘abuse of their loved ones,’ and that these families’ ‘trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated.’”

Weigel regrets that Benedict took so long to speak out with such candour about the evils of clerical sexual abuse. That is fair comment.

The same cannot be said for the contemptible column by Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times headlined: “Sorry, Holy Father, we can’t forgive the sins of your church.” Liddle charged: “The (Catholic) Church still gives the impression that while its legions of kiddie-fiddling priests are, on the whole, probably a bad thing, they are not half as Satanic as stuff like condoms, socialism and gender equality.’”

Liddle is an Anglican—“gloriously Anglican” in the words of his colleague Ruth Gledhill, the ever so progressive religion correspondent for The Times. He asked: “Has the time come for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to open the door to the many millions of British Roman Catholic worshippers who may be worried that their children are likely to be interfered with by priests? I think it’s correct that young children are slightly less at risk from the Anglican clergy, although it would be unwise of Rowan to offer any cast-iron promises, just in case.”

Liddle is right on that point. The Catholic Church has no monopoly on sexual abuse. And neither do all the Christian churches taken together. An upsurge of sexual abuse has stained all segments of society, clerical and secular, since the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Among the culprits most responsible for the scandalous increase of sexual abuse within the churches are theological liberals like Gledhill and Liddle. Having no regard for the primacy of Sacred Scripture, they have conformed their thinking to the secular pattern of the contemporary world that denigrates the fundamental moral principles enshrined in the natural and divine law.

In contrast, Benedict is the foremost champion of the traditional moral teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. He affirms the commandment of Christ that sexual intercourse should be confined within marriage between a man and a woman. Of all Christian leaders, Catholic and Protestant, he bears least responsibility for clerical sexual abuse. 

For faithful Christians, this is the season of Lent. It is a time not to gloat over the sins of others, but to repent of our own most grievous faults. For all have sinned and fallen far short of the divine perfection.

Still, for the sincerely repentant, there is no reason to despair. Having excoriated the disgraced clergy in Ireland, Benedict reminded them: “Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from even the most terrible evil.

“At the same time, God’s justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing.

“Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.”

Latest posts by Rory Leishman (see all)

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