The Church is in a good position to stop abuse
In a recent online poll, our newspaper asked readers if the Catholic sex abuse scandal affected their opinion of the church. Out of 82 total respondents, 12 percent said “Yes, I’m Catholic and I stopped going to church when the problems surfaced before.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that they were Catholic, but they didn’t believe that all priests were bad and that the scandal has had limited impact on them. Forty-three percent answered, “I’m not Catholic, but clearly church officials shouldn’t have covered up the abuses.”
My answer to the question would be the last two choices. I’m not Catholic, but I believe that there are good priests as well as bad. As a Protestant who’s been around for a while, I can say the same thing about our leadership too. There are good leaders and bad. As much as laymen like to deny it, pastors are human beings too. They may have a so-called “special” call from God, but they are also susceptible to temptation.
Hurting people hurt people, a pastor said on Sunday, and it is true. Many pastors and priests go into the ministry with skeletons in their closets. Or, if the skeletons have come out of the closet, so to speak, they are shared in dramatic testimonies while parishioners stand in awe. Those skeletons can either be redeemed through prayer, professional counseling, if necessary, and a lot of love from the body of Christ. If the skeletons have remained hidden, they will haunt that leader and eventually a congregation in terrible ways.
“I’m not Catholic, but clearly church officials shouldn’t have covered up the abuses,” is easy to say from a Protestant standpoint, but none of us can point fingers. Remember Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker? These men fell, but they are the ones who are out in the open. What happens to the ones who are not? Most of the time, they move from church to church imposing their brokenness on everyone they meet.
Shifting a priest from parish to parish, just like allowing a Protestant minister to go from church to church, just reinforces the behavior. The intricate web of deceit and sexual abuse keeps reoccurring, thus increasing the number of victims and the amount and intensity of the hurt. It also continues to hurt the abuser. They are incapable of helping themselves. The source of temptation must be removed. They must have counseling and spiritual renewal. Certainly, sweeping these kind of situations under the rug never helps, it only makes things worse.
Pope Benedict is in a good position right now to stop the pain. Despite his past mistakes of sweeping incidents under the rug, the pope can decide to take a very tough stand on this issue so that dysfunctional priests are removed from their positions and placed into counseling. Priests, like pastors, are in a position of trust. I believe when this trust is broken by something as heinous as sexual abuse, it both saddens and angers the heart of Jesus. Why would we hurt Christ and insult him by allowing these sins to continue?
The reason this happens is because we view the church as an organization that must be preserved. We may say that this preservation is in the name of Christ, but is it? Would Jesus allow sin to continue?
These are hard questions, but they require answers. The world is watching.