These are days of darkness and light for many in the Catholic Church. The horrific denunciations of child sexual abuse by clerics around the world – in the United States, Ireland, Australia, Poland, Germany, Austria and lastly, France – are staggering and shocking, and there are more to come. It’s just a matter of time.
The cover-up of clerical sexual abuse of children by certain ecclesiastical authorities in cahoots with certain civil authorities never seems to stop. It has caused shame, embarrassment and loss of respect to devoted and innocent priests, clerics and laity.
Institutional church leaders in some places still strive to avoid shame and embarrassment by hiding the abusers and the records of their crimes against children. The days are fast approaching when the abuse of children by the clergy can no longer be covered up and hidden. The authors, where there is credible evidence, will have to be tried by civil courts, according to Pope Francis in his various instructions and in his apostolic letter “Vos Estis Lux Mundi”, meaning You are the Light of the world.
This papal instruction combats the sexual abuse of children in the church by clerics and holds bishops and religious superiors accountable for their actions and inactions in holding child molesters to account and to justice. In the Philippines, this has been done very rarely, if ever. Suspected priests are reassigned or released on permanent bail.
Covering up clerical abuse crimes against children is criminal behavior on the part of unsuspecting and silent church officials and priests and their lawyers. They ignore the suffering and pain of the victims, paying parents or guardians and prosecutors not to pursue a criminal case. They must understand that protecting the aggressor is a criminal offense. He must be brought to justice to end other abuses, protect children and bring justice to his victims. Yet the cover-up continues in the Philippines.
No true Christian, priest or bishop should curl up in shame and embarrassment at the heinous crimes of a few. The priesthood has been and continues to be tarnished only to the extent that bishops, priests and laity remain silent, inactive and indifferent to the reporting of child sexual abuse by clerics. The greatest sin is failing to help victims gain protection, healing, empowerment, justice, closure, and compensation.
Today there are 1.329 billion Catholics in the world and 414,582 priests. The majority of bishops and priests are good, caring people and dedicated pastors. Most are truly faithful to their celibacy vows, but not all. In the Philippines there are 86 dioceses and 5,037 priests. There is a culture of saving face and covering up child sexual abuse.
As Cardinal Antonio Tagle said in television interviews, “We are dealing with it internally.” Pope Francis said the child rapist must be brought to civil court to be brought to justice.
Most bishops, priests, and deacons around the world are committed Christians, and they serve the poor, comfort the sick, guide the lost, support the lonely, and educate the ignorant. They are led by the most committed of all, Pope Francis, who has advocated for justice, compassion and solidarity with child victims and enacted new laws to protect them.
Hundreds of thousands of priests and clerics over the years have sacrificed their lives for their people; hundreds are true martyrs. Thousands more have left their homes and families to serve as missionaries in foreign countries, including the Philippines, to join Christians in solidarity to bring truth, enlightenment, and social justice to many communities.
They have built schools, churches and hospitals and run projects that help the poor. They have brought the love of God and social justice to the hearts of communities and the lives of people who have been abandoned and exploited by corrupt businesses and government officials. These priests work for social justice. They will all say they hate the sexual abuse of children by anyone, especially priests.
So why then is the reputation of the hundreds of thousands of good bishops, priests, clergymen and faithful Catholics tainted and tainted by the underhanded, despicable and hideous crimes of only a few of their deviant clergy when challenged by indignant secularists in the global media?
The answer is because they were allowed to! Concealment, cruel indifference and inaction, fear and shame of exposing a priest by bishops, priests, clergy and lay Catholics who could not, would not and cannot accept or believe that their exalted priestly idol could have committed such a heinous crime as child sexual abuse.
Abused children who, through extraordinary bravery and courage, dared to risk everything in their fragile young life to whisper or tell the shocking truth to an adult about being sexually assaulted by a priest is generally not believed. It’s another deep wound. We reject them, we scold them, we say they are lying and we tell them to shut up and never talk about it again. This is why there are few or no lawsuits against Filipino clerics.
Child victims generally do not have a protector; their parents are against them, especially if their attacker is a priest. Courageous are the parents who would challenge the powerful institutional church. Victims have no support and some government social workers are also lacking. The church and government have failed to provide safe and secure treatment centers run by professional therapists and counselors with paralegal experience for child victims of sexual abuse. There are only a few non-governmental organizations that dare to rescue, protect, heal and seek justice against child rapists.
In the Philippines, one in three girls is sexually abused by parents, neighborhood pedophiles and the clergy. Few are reported. Children bury pain and suffer in silence. Everyone must stand up and fight this terrible crime in society and in the Church in particular.
Any Christian who believes in the words of Jesus of Nazareth that children are most important in the kingdom of God must act on the truth and protect child victims by speaking out and bringing suspects to a fair civil trial. In the Philippines, how many clergymen who abuse children have been held accountable in court? Very little or not at all.
We must be advocates for abused children, protectors of victims and champions of what is fair and just for children. To remain silent, inactive and indifferent is the silence of consent. Any information on child abuse can be reported confidentially to [email protected] or to this writer.