And what faith can anyone have in a Church that says it stands on the teachings of Jesus yet violates his biblical mandate stated in Mark 10:14: “Let the children come to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”
But when you have a pope more invested in doctrinal debates than personal suffering, and more invested in exerting his ecclesiastical power in defrocking dissident theologians than his priestly flock of sex predators, then it’s easy to comprehend why the decades-long pleas and petitions from Catholic parishioners – worldwide – to Pope Benedict XVI to do something never made anything happen.
When Pope Benedict XVI was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (1977-2005), he sent out a letter on May 18, 2001 ordering all his bishops, under the threat of ecclesiastical punishment, to observe “papal secrecy,” keeping sex abuse allegations concealed from both the public and the police.
I know from personal experience that disclosing sexual misconduct by members of the clergy not only shakes one’s faith, but it also shakes the very foundation where one’s faith is housed — the church. But make no mistake, here, pedophilic priests — and the bevy of other priests that archdioceses have conspired to keep silent about for decades — are criminals whose victims are innocent children.
As an institution that vows to protect the old, the sick, the downtrodden, and all of God’s children, the Catholic Church has not only failed at its earthly mission, it has also failed at recognizing one of the places where it needs healing – sexual violence.
One of the reasons Catholic officials avoid implementing a zero-tolerance policy for its pedophilic priests is because the church neither sees nor understands pedophilia as a form of sexual violence. Its pervasiveness within the church, from its seminarians to its bishops, has anesthetized church officials to the severity of the crime and its effects, both on the victims and their families. Therefore, the Catholic Church closes its eyes in taking full responsibility and accountability for the abuse.
Some in the Catholic Church deflect attention from this issue by raising fallacious questions about a causality between pedophilia and homosexuality. However, in the face of overwhelming evidence by behavioral scientists to refute such a harmful and homophobic claim, the Catholic Church, nonetheless, believes that a homosocial and celibate atmosphere of gay men produces a preponderance of pedophilic priests.
Clearly the issue facing the Catholic Church is not about whether gay men or celibacy cause pedophilia. It is, however, about the church’s egregious neglect to address the issue of sexual violence by priests against children.
Pedophilia is a form of sexual violence. And as such, pedophilia is the expression of anger through sexual exploitation. It is the abuse of power and the use of force, such as manipulation, physical violence, and emotional coercion and extortion, which is expressed through sexual acts. Pedophilia is a violation to one’s sense of bodily integrity, and it maintains itself within ecclesiastical institutions when an ongoing cycle of abuse goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.
While the commonly held belief these days, given the media frenzy, is that Catholic priests have a patent on this form of sexual violence, pedophilia is not specific to one’s gender, race, class, sexual orientation, vocation, or religion. Viewed as a sin and not a crime by most clerics, pedophilia maintains itself in ecclesiastical institutions like the Catholic Church through a culture of silence, deception, and shame. And pedophilia is also believed to be overcome by daily offerings of prayers and penance — but not prosecution.
While pedophilia is a sin within a theological view because it is an ongoing act that exercises control in the life of the pedophile to the point that it enslaves the person and relegates him to a fallen state, pedophilia is also a crime within a legal view. After all, these men are sex offenders like any other sex offenders. If found guilty, they should be placed on sex offender registries as the law requires.
But the law will never prevail to prosecute these priests as long as the pope protects them.