This week I am reproducing (with permission) a leading article from the Catholic Herald of 31 August. As I had something to do with the initial drafting, it certainly expresses my view. But it may not express yours. So this is an opportunity to discuss the whole ‘abuse’ situation. How did we get to this? How do we get out of it?
“The grand jury report into Catholic clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses in Pennsylvania should shock but should not surprise. There have been many such reports on the US and elsewhere. Perhaps the most detailed is the Australian Royal Commission in 1917, following five year’s work. There are telling similarities. A commentator (New York Post) described some of the incidents in Pennsylvania as reading like scenes from a Marquis de Sade’s novel. Another, in the Washington Post, declared that the Church “has proved itself incapable of self-investigation and self-policing.”
It is this last issue which we need to address. Bishop Egan of Portsmouth has written to Pope Francis proposing a major synod on the life and ministry of the clergy. It would include the laity and other experts familiar with the whole area. It would be concerned with the rule of life of clergy, accountability and supervision. He goes on to note the lack of ministerial assessment and supervision between the diocese and the ordained. We wonder how many diocesan bishops have had the managerial training and experience needed by senior executives elsewhere.
We can easily understand the wish of a bishop to avoid scandal, to care for the sinner, and to live ever hopefully that he will repent and never sin again. And even if this is so for some individuals, we surely have by now the evidence that this is quite inadequate. The abuse of children is a grave crime. We know how children can be seriously damaged not just at the time of the offence but throughout their lives. We also know that the tendency to commit this crime is deep in the psychology of the offender. Whatever the proposed synod concludes, it must rule that such crimes, known outside the Confessional, should be reported to the police for investigation without delay. And that those in authority who seek concealment of the offender, irrespective of motive, should be treated as accessories.”