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Being the only Catholic priest in Delaware and seeing that it was my turn to provide a column for the Gazette in the religion section, it was staring me in the face that the most relevant topic would be to comment on the recent headlines that have become all too common regarding the priests’ sex abuse scandal. So, it is with fear and trepidation that I delve into this messy morass. Since August 14 this evil has once again erupted in an egregious manner with the voluminous report issued by the Office of the Attorney General in the nearby state of Pennsylvania. It is sickening and to me likened to another episode of a mass school shooting. You would think that by now the worst was over and this madness would end. For those of us who are Catholic our faith is put to the test when this behavior is exposed, and for me as a priest it adds an additional prejudice of guilt by association. But, this is not first and foremost about us but the harm that has been caused to the young and innocent by predator priests and bishops not acting in the best interests of the children as their primary responsibility. This latter sin looms in the forefront of the Church, and until that is cleansed by a transparency of records, a humble admission of wrongdoing by church leaders, and working to make whole the lives that were shattered, this type of headline news will continue to repeat itself from one state or one country to another.
I have not read through the 900 page report, or even perused through it, as my life is pretty well occupied. That there were over 1,000 victims and 300 priests involved over seven decades are staggering figures. At the same time I would fare to venture that since the Charter of the U.S. Bishops for the Protection of Children and Young People that was drawn up in Dallas in 2002 the incidences reported following that date have drastically diminished. Most, if not all dioceses, have set up a review board comprised of local leaders who evaluate every reported incident and determine if the case is credible. If it is credible then the bishop will remove that priest from active ministry. The process that is in place today is far different than what was done before the Charter of 2002, and does put caring for the victim ahead of protecting the church and the offending priest. On the other end, there have been priests who have been wrongly accused, and have suffered as well.
Unfortunately, this latest report does magnify the ‘sins of the fathers’. It is hard to swallow that so many priests were involved and that the tactics employed in responding to this plague often exerted an authority of arrogance or played a shuffling game of protecting the guilty. Even though the report goes back to seven decades ago there is still a huge amount of unresolved hurt that exists. The bishops of today, the majority of whom were ordained post 2002, have unfinished business of righting the wrongs of their predecessors, and especially in reconciling with the victims on their journey to wholeness. They also have the charge of ordaining men to the priesthood who demonstrate a healthy sexuality, and who see themselves created as desirable in the image and likeness of God. But they also seek the redemptive love of Jesus Christ first, and to live a celibate lifestyle, which is a way to love God above all else. Sexual desire is directed not to self-indulgence, but to the divine lover, who refines, purifies, and makes us whole. It is also this Divine Lover who is the ultimate healer for both the victim as well as the perpetrator. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.