Fr. Barron on Abuse Coverage

Fr. Robert Barron of Word on Fire provides a compelling and concise response to the most recent coverage of the abuse scandal. As expected, his take is worth a read. His post also has a good summary of some of the relevant Catholic coverage.

Here’s Fr. Barron’s response to the issues of “defrocking” a priest and the problem of analyzing past decisions of Church prelates in the light of current information:

I feel it is important to make two points in particular. First, the insinuation that by delaying or, as alleged, refusing to “defrock” a priest, Benedict is somehow obstructing justice or “looking the other way” is absurd. The formal removal of a man from the priesthood is the last and most drastic disciplinary action that the Church can take and it is done, appropriately, only after long consideration, consultation and due process. But there are many much more expedient ways, shy of “defrocking,” to remove a priest from ministry or contact with children. In the Milwaukee and Oakland cases, for example, this was done even if the priests in question had not been “defrocked.” The implication that Joseph Ratzinger was trying to find a way to “protect” abusers or to abet their abuse is simply a calumny. And the second point is this: it is extremely problematic and unfair to retroject what we currently know about the sexual abuse of children by priests or any other adult back twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years and use our current knowledge about the phenomenon to indict church officials of the time. Prior to the early 1990’s, most people in the Church and in the culture at large were unaware or only beginning to come to grips with the prevalence of this horror and the high rate of recidivism among abusers. Accordingly, many leaders- and not just in the Church- felt that sex offenders could be treated pharmacologically or therapeutically and then returned to their former lives and occupations. Many bishops throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s sent priest abusers to treatment centers and received reports from therapists recommending that priests could be safely returned to ministry. God knows that we have learned from painful experience how utterly inadequate this approach was, but it seems unfair to hold bishops to standards that developed much later. I find the suggestion that bishops and cardinals were intentionally and with malice aiding and abetting the sexual molestation of children to be an outrageous accusation. Were they uninformed, naive, imprudent, indecisive, and, in some cases, far too willing to trust psychological and legal counsel? Sure. Should those prelates whose lack of proper judgement led to the victimization of so many have to accept personal responsibility for their actions? Yes. But were they consciously fostering sex abuse? No.

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3 Comments

  1. I don’t think the majority of the observers and Catholics think that bishops and cardinals intentionally or with malice aided sexual predators. However, with their conduct and lack of action, they allowed the problem to continue.

    It is disappointing to me to continue to read more comments from the Vatican about Cardinal Ratzinger not being involved in the case reviews, about the bishops being the ones responsible, about comparing the “attacks” on the Church to anti-Semitism or blaming homosexuality to the incidents.

    The bottom line is the Church knew what was going on, and didn’t do enough to protect our kids, from local priests all the way up to Pope Benedict XVI. We need to start the healing process in our great Church, and this can’t happen if we continue with the excuses and finger pointing.

    Moving forward, the Vatican has to make a STRONG statement accepting responsibility for not doing enough to protect our children. It needs to come from our Pope, and it needs to include the fact that he personally didn’t act fast enough when cases came to him.

    The Vatican needs to follow the strongest policy against priests or any other Church employee that has an improper conduct with children (or adults). That might be the policy established by the US Bishops organization or a more strict policy. Whatever policy is applied, it has to include a no-tolerance statement with clear steps to follow when even a rumor starts to float about child molestation. The process needs to be clearly stated in every church, so that priests, employees and parishioners know and understand what to do when they face a similar situation or hear of something that might be going on.

    I have been a Catholic all my life and honestly, I am disgusted with the Church’s attitude. I want our Church to help me gain the trust I once had in it. I want to be proud of my Church again. I want to raise my children and grandchildren in this Church. The question is, are you, Catholic Church ready to accept that responsibility?

  2. Rape children, be protected from prosecution.
    Advocate condom usage, get defrocked without a second thought.

    Your religion shames the name of a pious carpenter.

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