The Institutional Church Must Answer for Child Abuse

The Institutional Church Must Answer for Child Abuse
Fr. Shay Cullen
22 November 2018

The sexual abuse of children is everywhere- in institutions, in schools, gyms and in the institutional church. When children are abused, the people of God are abused too for we are one family of God. Hardly a day passes but we can read of yet another case of a child sex abuser being caught, sentenced and jailed. One revelation follows another. That is good news to know that pedophiles and child rapists are being exposed, caught and brought to justice at an ever increasing rate. It is one of the most potent means to prevent child abuse. There is more awareness and reporting of child abuse than ever before yet much has yet to be done. Few clergy are caught nowadays.

Giving justice to the victims and jailing the abusers prevent the perpetrators from abusing many more children. Yet many are hurting children with impunity daily in their own home, in the community and on the internet. The biological fathers, live-in partners, and pedophiles in the community are the most frequent offenders but there are offenders among the clergy, teachers, doctors and from all professions. 

Every one of us has a solemn duty and responsibility to stop it. It is challenging and difficult to report abuse although nowadays it is the mandated action. Not to report child abuse can make one an accessory to the crime or an accomplice.

For defenders of children, the victims and survivors of child sexual abuse are their first concern. The child victims have been hurt and damaged and traumatized. They are emotionally stunned into a life of fear and even guilt. The abusers threaten them with punishment or revenge on their families if they report the crime.

If the abuser is a relative or a priest, the child is not normally believed and even blamed of lying. In the Philippines, there is hardly any reported abuse by clergy. Archbishop Cardinal Tagle says it is dealt with internally. The storm of child abuse revelations by clergy and years of concealment, denial and payoffs of victims behind closed doors and forced non-disclosure agreements by the child victim has yet to be exposed. The sins of the fathers have to be revealed, confessed, justice done and penance served.

The victims are wrongly told by religious, clergy, or parents to forgive the abuser when in fact justice is what they deserve and need. If the abuser will confess his crime, go to trial, accept penance in jail then forgiveness may come. The children suffer most and need all the protection, care, therapy and support that is possible.

The silence and cover up by bishops and senior clergy to hide the scandal of clerical child sexual abuse and protect the reputation of the institutional church is leaving children untreated, unhealed and suffering. That is the biggest sin of the bishops who cover child abuse besides living luxurious sinful lives. There has to be an independent group of laity who will investigate the bishops and expose the cover-ups. Allowing the church authorities to investigate themselves is to put the fox to guard the chickens.

Laity and clergy who are hurt and shamed by the crimes of the few child abusers will welcome justice, transparency and openness. When priests are accused of child abuse, they are moved to other assignments by some bishops and their child abuse continues. Victims are ignored, intimidated and paid to stay silent. The institution’s reputation comes first for them before the rights of the child victim.   Pope Francis has roundly condemned this practice and demanded a zero tolerance for any clerical child abuser facing credible evidence.

What we must do is get help for the children, protect them and report abusers to the civil authorities when there is credible evidence. Matthew 8:1-8 inspires us where Jesus put children first as the most important of all and recommended that symbolic mill-stones be tied around the necks of abusers and they be thrown into the ocean. Seeking justice for victims is the top priority.

Some bishops are being called to account by Pope Francis for covering up child abuse. In Chile, several bishops have resigned. In Australia, Archbishop Philip Wilson, 67, has been sentenced to home detention. Judge Robert Stone said Archbishop Wilson sought to “protect the church and its image” by covering up the crime of Father Fletcher who was found guilty of abusing at least ten boys.

A Pennsylvania grand jury reported in 2018 that over 1,000 children had been allegedly abused by 300 accused clergymen over a 70-year period. In Germany in September 2018, it was revealed in a study made by the German church that as many as 1,670 priests in Germany had sexually assaulted 3,677 children between 1946 and 2014. Hardly a case has been reported in the Philippines.

These shocking and abhorrent and horrendous truths would make us greatly ashamed and deeply concerned that so many children suffered for so long without redress or help. We can be angry too that so few, if any, of the perpetrators were ever brought to justice. Yet justice can be done.

This year 2018, social workers at the Philippine Preda Foundation in Olongapo City protecting child victims won 15 court cases against rapists and pedophiles. They all received long jail sentences. The prestige and respect for priests and some members of the hierarchy has greatly diminished as a result. Pope Francis ordered zero tolerance for child abuse and called on bishops and cardinals to end their exalted princely status and be humble “washers of feet” and follow the words and example of Jesus. Pope Francis said during his visit to Ireland he is ashamed and he called abuse by priests “repugnant, repelling crimes.” We must continue protecting children, reporting the abuse and bringing the perpetrators to justice and heal the victims. 

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