Saturday, March 12, 2011

Pedophile Priests: Scandal Without End

It is obvious that the American Roman Catholic Church is unwilling to deal once and for all with the epidemic of pedophile priests, left alone reform itself. Two recent developments, one of them sadly close to home, confirm this sordid reality.

First, the bankrupting of St. Elizabeth's Parish in Wilmington, Delaware, which has a fine high school and is the home church of the Roman Catholics in my late father's family and the scene of too many happy weddings and too many sad funerals for me to count.

St. Elizabeth's is on its knees for the simple reason that it not only did not take seriously allegations regarding the sexual misconduct of one of its priests, it did not even bother to rein him in. As a result, a court last month awarded $77 million to more than 140 abuse victims.

Second, the belated suspension this month of 21 priests at Philadelphia Archdiocese churches who had long been accused of misconduct and finally were identified by name in a February grand jury report.

The report struck a by-now familiar note -- the 1.5 million member archdiocese engaged in a widespread cover-up of predatory priests, most of whom remained active despite the allegations against them.

As the seemingly bottomless pit of scandals keeps coughing up new revelations, it is obvious that apologies aside, Pope Benedict XVI and the church's hierarchy are incapable of punishing their own, and to date only two cardinals -- one in Boston and the other in Ireland -- have been forced out, although two or three others have resigned.

My father was raised a Catholic, was an altar boy and attended 12 years of parochial school with the mandatory assaults on his knuckles by nuns with rulers.

His big takeaway was that the church thrived on and controlled its congregants through the very guilt that the church has used as a cudgel to shame some abuse victims. Back in the day, it also was openly anti-Semitic.

Don't get me wrong. Benedict is a vast improvement over John Paul II, whose orthodoxy did not allow him to appreciate the vileness of the pedophilia epidemic, let alone act on it.

If progress is measured in terms of the number and sincerity of apologies, then Benedict would get a pass. If reform is measured in terms of developing stringent after-the-fact policies, then he also would get a pass.

But I -- and apparently a lot of Catholics, as well -- believe that not just abuser
priests but enabling bishops must also be punished, and Benedict has been unwilling or unable to say that what they did was not merely sinful but criminal, while he has refused to accept the resignations of some offending bishops.

He needs to finish the job, which includes personally acknowledging deep shame at his secret 2001 edict to bishops instructing them to put the church's interests ahead of the safety of children.

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