Timothy Lawson, Mixed Reactions to Papal letter on Irish child sex abuse
By Timothy Lawson
For the last three decades, the Catholic Church has been plagued by accusations, scandals and lawsuits associated predominantly with the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. On the 18th of March this year, Pope Benedict XVI issued a formal apology to victims of child sex abuse by members of the clergy in Ireland; he also ordered an official inquiry to address the scandal.
The apology is a solid step forward, at least in acknowledging the extent of the problem, since these new cases started to surface. Nevertheless, the letter has become quite controversial. Victims in Ireland have criticised the apology as an insufficient response, saying “it does not go far enough”. Irish victims also accused the Pope of evading the question of Vatican responsibility. Other grievances with the letter were that it failed to address large-scale calls in Ireland for a radical overhaul of the Church structure following its failure to rule that Bishops implicated in the scandal should resign.
The letter, which addressed bishops, priests and victims of child sex abuse stated: “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry”. It also said “I can only share in the dismay and sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way the Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them”.
The actual abuse of minors is only part of the controversy; a large part of it also lies with how some members of the Catholic hierarchy have behaved when confronted with the issue: some members have refrained from alerting secular authorities, instead relocating the accused individual to another area in which the child abuse could continue. On some occasions the offending individual was made to undergo psychological counselling for their actions and/or engage in penance for their sins before being relocated. Some psychiatrists and members of the clergy have argued that the prevailing psychology of the time suggested that people could be cured of this type of affliction through counselling.
Benedict singled out Irish bishops and sharply criticised them over their handling of abuse and paedophilia cases in the past, telling them “It must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness … Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and goodwill of the Irish people toward the Church.”
Some members of the Church hierarchy and other commentators have argued that the media coverage of this issue has been excessive given that abuse occurs much more frequently in other institutions. Coverage and attention in the mass media has led to the popular image of the paedophile Catholic priest; yet only 4% of Catholic priests have had a sexual experience with a minor- half the rate for the adult male population.
Criticism from commentators unhappy with the apology have said that the scandal highlights deep-seated problems with mandatory celibacy in the Catholic Church priesthood.
Pope Benedict himeslf has also become a target for much of the criticism of the Catholic Church, and the absence of a mention of the current scandal in his Easter address upset some victims. With famous athiests Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens now mounting a campaign to have him arrested when he visits England later this year, it is clear that the Pope’s problems will not be going away anytime soon.
[Originally published by News Hit http://newshit.com.au/content/home ]