A letter written by Bishop Mark Coleridge, of Canberra, Australia, given on Pentecost, attempts to give the clergy sexual abuse some perspective. Bishop Coleridge draws some conclusions as to the root causes of clergy abuse. He reflects that it is not really one thing, but a series of factors. These include the Church teachings on sexuality, human formation in the seminary, institutional immaturity, clericalism, and a culture of secrecy.
Bishop Coleridge, like many in and out of the Church, found it incredulous that pedophilia could exist at all in the Church. Many believed, that as the cases began to surface in the 80s and 90s, that these were isolated situations. Sexual abuse became the elephant in the living room. It would take almost a decade for Church leaders to comprehend the power and depth of this pathology. The wounds from this crisis are deep, and the division it has caused is immense.
In speaking with some older priests, they comment that some thirty plus years ago, when abuse cases were brought forth, many of the bishops went to psychologists for help. Back then the understanding of pedophilia was very different. The bishops were told to treat the situation like a priest having a relation with a woman. If he is removed from the temptation, the action would cease. Remember that bishops back then, and few today, had any sort of psychology or social science background. Not to offer excuses but were not always able to make the best judgements. Perhaps they relied to heavily on psychology of the day.
The Protecting God's Children charter did much to initiate a climate for the safety and well being of children. This charter insisted that all of our interaction with young people be done openly and in public view. In all of the training, one of the aspect that was emphasized again and again, was there should not be secrets between adults and children. Children, and those who work with them, are safer with the various mechanisms which are in place today.
Today many of the detracters of the Church use the sexual abuse to call for demolishing celibacy, the heirarchy, and many of the teachings of the Church. The Church has been bruised and battered. To be sure we as Church have an obligation to work for forgiveness and reconciliation, but there is also a matter of justice. We serve our Chuch best when we take responsibility for the hurt and pain inflicted on others, especially the vulnerable.
Where do we go from here? The Church will have o continue to be open the the voices of leadreship, and will have to work at bringing peace and reconciliation to victims and their families. Our Church leaders can be a catelyst for nurturung forgiveness and healing. We also have to continue to be Church, The Church should not be afraid to do the mission entrusted to it. The Church must contunue to preah, teach, and to sanctify,
As church we sould strive to be the very bes we can be. With God's help we can be instruments of peace and love.