The news out of Philadelphia has been sobering. Not just a handful of priests, but dozens who committed assaults on children. Systematic abuse in which certain children were given special gold crosses that identified them as having been groomed for pedophilia so that they might be passed around from one priest to another. This sort of scandal has rocked the Roman Catholic Church to its core.
What makes these sex crimes even more troubling is that these victims very often--most often--don’t share their trauma until much later in life. In the case of these priests, the statute of limitations has expired and they cannot be charged under the law. And so the perpetrators escape accountability.
To make matters worse, the decision-makers of the church have conspired to cover up these crimes for decades. How? They simply moved priests from one parish to another, but never revealing the charges against them from previous parishes.
This is the place for me to remind us all that although these kinds of stories from the Roman Catholic Church have been too numerous over the last twenty years, the vast majority of priests in the church are faithful, humble servants of Christ. I often believe that they are also victims because they get lumped in with all those criminal priests.
And although this is a particular Roman Catholic issue, this news affects Christians of every stripe. For those who dwell outside the walls of Christ’s Church, they rarely differentiate between one particular denomination or another. It all gets thrown together as “CHURCH”. And there is, after enough of these kinds of stories, an erosion of trust and credibility that occurs until those folks simply consider us irrelevant.
And this erosion cuts across denominations, too. How many stories have you heard of inappropriate relationships within other churches? Theft and Fraud of church funds?
We, in the church, must be held to a higher standard of behavior because Jesus told us to. The world is watching. Sometimes they try to hold us to impossible standards and seem to get some sense of satisfaction when we fail. We are, after all, still human. We will make mistakes. But we simply must be more accountable in the way we live.
I have no sway over the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope does not have my number on speed dial. But if he did, I think I would tell him that although these guilty priests cannot be punished in a court of law, they can and should be defrocked by the church. I would also tell him that the vow of celibacy required by priests seems to be a contributor to this crisis. Celibacy was not always a part of the vows--it didn’t occur until the 11th century. I’m not certain why it occurred when it did. I would tell the Pope that allowing priests to marry would not diminish their vows to God. And finally I’d tell him it’s way past time to allow women to serve as priests. I seriously doubt we would be hearing of such a scandal if the priesthood were made up entirely of women.
I grieve for my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. I grieve for those faithful priests who are being painted with the same brush as the guilty ones. I suspect Christ grieves today, too.