After a surprisingly long period of silence Pope Francis’ finally responded to the latest sex scandal to rock the Catholic church. The Pennsylvania Attorney General has released a report showing how far reaching the sexual abuse by priests of young people has been. What’s most disturbing about it is that it is only of a small area of one state, yet over 1,000 were affected and there were hundreds of priests implicated. Therefore, it is only a microcosm of how big of a problem this really is. It doesn’t include the whole country. In fact, it doesn’t even include a whole state. The worst is likely to still come out.
The Catholic church is not only being accused of having a blind eye to the behavior of these pedophile practicing priests, but allegedly actually coordinating an effort to both protect them (at the expense of their victims) and exposing these molesters to potential new victims (even if that was not the intention, it happened) as they were relocated around the country.
The Pope’s letter is scathing. We have not seen these type of words used by a church leader. He opens the letter by quoting scripture, “‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’ (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.” He goes on to say “If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228). Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person. A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption.”
In spite of the strong rhetoric, Pope Francis seems to miss the point of the depth of the problem facing the church and of the crimes it has been implicated in. He needs to provide full disclosure of the corruption. One is reminded of the scene in the movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in which the principal character, Mildred, confronts a priest who came to visit the family because of his concerns about her treatment of the sheriff. It is one of the most powerful scenes in the film where she eloquently equates the way law enforcement dealt with street gangs and how priests should be dealt with the same way. I’ll let her express it herself (below).
One can easily go beyond Mildred’s powerful assessment of the situation facing the Catholic church. The Catholic church is not only being accused of having a blind eye to the behavior of these pedophile practicing priests, but allegedly actually coordinating an effort to both protect them (at the expense of their victims) and exposing these molesters to potential new victims (even if that was not the intention, it happened) as they were relocated around the country. It was like a body had cancer in one part of the body and a decision was made to spread it in other parts. In some ways, it is a new twist on the sex trade industry. The Catholic church was not making any money on this perverted system, but they were protecting its “reputation” at the expense of the safety of victims at the time and in the future. That is, at least, until their activities caught up with their reputations.
In fact, the system developed by many nefarious church leaders is very analogous to organized crime. Certain members of crime families find themselves “over their heads” or “in too much heat” and would leave to go to other parts of the country through the help of other members of the “crime family” until that the pressure cooled for the criminal. The Catholic church went even further, providing a permanent sanctuary for these wayward priests, and new opportunities to destroy the lives of others.
In fact, the system developed by many nefarious church leaders is very analogous to organized crime.
Of course, it is not believed that Rome itself coordinated it, but the depth and breadth of the coordinated effort is nothing short of breath taking. Rome had to know about it long before it came to light. And in light of recent revelations, took far too long to address. This recent letter by the Pope seems like one more example of “too little, too late.”