April 9, 2010


We will all be held accountable for the protection and care of our children

What can we say that hasn’t already been said many, many times before, especially in recent years?

The sexual abuse of children is an unspeakable moral evil. Anyone who commits such a heinous crime—especially family members, priests, teachers, coaches, youth workers or others who are entrusted with the care of children—deserves to be punished to the full extent of both civil and Church law.

By now, it is common knowledge that many bishops, law enforcement officers, medical professionals and social scientists seriously misunderstood—or grossly underestimated—the nature of this moral evil.

Now we know that the abuser cannot be “cured”—or at least that the risks involved in recovery and rehabilitation are too great. Now we know that those who have previously abused children cannot ever be placed in situations that would put children in danger. We know this now—clearly and beyond any doubt.

Now we have “zero tolerance” for any behavior that violates the innocence of our children. Now we immediately remove predators from any assignment that would place our children at risk.

We know these things now. Sadly, that was not the case in the past. Not so very long ago, abusers were sent away for treatment. When they returned, if they had repented, and if the appropriate health care professionals recommended it, they were often reassigned—to a parish, a school or even youth work.

Sometimes they were transferred to a different city or diocese, to a place where no one knew them or their histories. Now we know what a grave mistake that was. That would never happen now.

Tragically, it happened too often in the past—with the approval of Church officials, and with the support and encouragement of health care and social service professionals.

We are all paying the price for these serious misjudgments. Especially the victim-survivors and their families. Especially the parishes, religious communities and dioceses all over the world where these crimes were committed.

What can we say? It was—and still is—horrible, painful, embarrassing and a complete contradiction of everything we stand for—as families, as communities, as parishes, schools and youth organizations, and above all as the Church.

This should never happen. It was and still is a moral evil that calls every one of us—regardless of our religious tradition or philosophical perspective—to cry out against the original sin that has so wounded our human nature that such vicious crimes can happen, especially to the most vulnerable members of our human family, our children.

Sexual abuse of children is an unspeakable crime that must be spoken about—no matter how painful it is—in order to make sure that it never happens again.

But how we speak about it makes a difference. Do we rehash stories from the past and reopen old wounds for those who are desperately trying to heal? Do we blame the bishops—or the law enforcement officers or health care professionals or social workers—for not knowing what we know now?

New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan used his homily during the Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to speak about this horrible evil. His words are clear and unequivocal.

“No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI,” Archbishop Dolan said. “The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made—documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors—could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

“Does the Church and her pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

“Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing,” Archbishop Dolan said.

“All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency and family in the world.”

Children are a gift from God. Those of us who have been given the sacred duty to care for these most precious gifts are stewards who will be held accountable for our guardianship of what does not belong to us. In the end, we will all be judged by the One who said, “Let the little children come to me” (Mk 10:14, Mt 19:14).

This Just Judge has a representative here on Earth—the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. He is a good and holy man who cares deeply about our children, and who is doing everything humanly possible, with the help of God’s grace, to protect our children and to ensure that these horrible evils do not happen again.

Let us pray for Pope Benedict and collaborate with him to care for all God’s children, and to put an end to the evil of sexual abuse now and forever.

—Daniel Conway

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