Writing a weekly column is both an honour and a challenge; it gives pleasure and pain in almost equal measure. The truth may well set us free but first it makes us miserable, sad and sometimes mad. To speak truth to power is a duty and a privilege but what do you say or do when it is your own home and institution that has abused power, been corrupted and covered up its own crimes? That issue confronts me today when I feel the pain of the latest revelation of child abuse in the Catholic Church.
Like many other folk, the latest revelations coming from the American Church make me angry, sick and very sad. A lot of words have been spoken and written on the matter but to remain silent here would be a huge injustice to the victims and survivors of this abuse. The rot can only be dealt with by speaking, talking and acting. Any more silence is just another injustice.
This would appear to be the same motivation and inspiration for Pope Francis’s letter released this week and addressed to the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide. The Pontiff no longer refers to the sex abuse of children and vulnerable adults as sin but calls them crimes. Crimes are punishable while sins are forgivable. In the letter he is encouraging the Catholic family to “join forces in the uprooting of the culture of death... and no effort must be spared to create a culture to prevent such situations from happening again, but also to prevent the possibility of they being covered up and perpetrated”.
The Pope acknowledges that the Pennsylvania report deals mostly with crimes from the past up to 70 years ago but that does not lessen the guilt and shame or the pain of the victims, both living and dead. Pope Francis in his honest and candour manner says definitively, “we showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them... and these wounds never go away.” Painful reading and painful words from the Pope to the faithful worldwide.
The Pope is appalled by the extent of the rot and decay. Initially these revelations emerged in the English speaking world: America, Ireland and Australia. But in the past year similar disclosures have been found in Chile and Honduras. Many analysts are predicting that horror stories on sexual abuse will soon surface from this continent too. In any case time is running out for the church in every continent to deal with the scandals and the crimes as people’s patience with the manner in which the crisis is dealt with is exhausted.
Celibacy may well be an intricate part of the problem as it places huge burdens on the lives of priests and religious leaders, and appears to contradict our very nature and humanity. But perhaps the culture of clericalism is the biggest fault for the malaise and evil. I have frequently written about the clerical culture that makes religious people frequently believe that since they do the work of God they are less accountable to the secular law, and less transparent in their dealings. Pope Francis says “clericalism helps to perpetuate many evils. To say ‘no’ to abuse is to say ‘no’ to any form of clericalism.”
Abuse is indeed found in every faith and denomination and frequently covered up lest it cause scandal to the followers and deal a blow to their faith. Fact is that God is well able to speak for himself and does not need us to defend him. Our only duty in this respect is to put children first and treat their abusers like other offenders whether they are bishops, imams, pastors or presidents. Francis has spoken well but we need actions and remedies urgently. Chilean bishops resigned over their failures. Others should be removed from office immediately for their failure to report to civil authorities when they have knowledge of abuse in their dioceses.
What is urgently needed is mandatory reporting on a global basis of any abuse of children and vulnerable adults in any faith or charitable institution. The question arises; are we prepared in this country for that level of safeguarding and accountability?
Soon, instances of abuse will start emerging right in our midst. Are our churches and mosques ready to address these honestly or will we cause further scandal and hurt to victims by buying time and silence as “the pain of victims was ignored, kept quiet or silenced for too long” as Francis so bluntly states.
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