Quick, name a group of people that has more sex abusers than any other. I bet you thought Catholic priests, right? The same way that Tiger Woods’ career has been reduced to a punch line, the priesthood has become associated with the few who besmirch its good name. Just the other day, I read an uninformed statement by Roseanne Barr urging parents to keep their kids away from all Catholic churches.
The truth is that sexual abuse is more than just a Catholic problem. Yesterday I saw a Newsweek article that confirmed my belief that “Priests Commit No More Abuse Than Other Males.” I think that abuser priests get more negative publicity because, in addition to their crime, they are also breaking their vow of celibacy. However the percentage of pederasts is about the same among teachers, scout leaders and ministers of other denominations.
We’ve all heard gossip about who is sleeping with whom in our workplace, community or school. I guarantee that when the rest of us hear about an attractive female teacher having an affair with an underage male student, his classmates are not surprised by the news. When I was a kid, the rumors in my neighborhood were about a scout leader who got too friendly with a boy trying to earn a merit badge. The rest of us took it as a warning to avoid being alone with the older man. Throughout my entire life, I have never heard any rumors about an abusive priest in the parishes near where I have lived. The only thing that was close were unproven rumors about a priest at a parish in California and an adult woman.
Bishop Richard Stika posted a pastoral letter this week about the policies to protect children in the Diocese of Knoxville. Before becoming our bishop, Stika was director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. As you may have gathered from reading my blog over the years, I know many employees of the Diocese of Knoxville. They are required to go through strict VIRTUS® training to get and to keep their jobs.
Media reports yesterday keyed in on the Vatican’s plan to post easy-to-read procedures on its website. The news stories said that the unfortunately named “lay guide” should be released Monday. The mainstream media was full of reports about the “church in crisis” during Holy Week. If you read any of those articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, you should also read the other side of the story from the canon lawyer who prosecuted a case involving deaf students in Milwaukee.
The Catholic Church has mishandled the crisis in the past. However, those victims who courageously spoke up have had a tremendous positive impact. The current policies make the Church safer now than ever. The bishops are quick to remove offenders from the priesthood, instead of giving them a second chance. When I think about why the pederast priests were formerly transferred and allowed a fresh start at a new parish, I always remember that the entire organization is built on the concept of the forgiveness of sins. The criminal priests may have sought forgiveness from their superiors but they neglected to observe the final line of the Act of Contrition: “to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”