Addressing the global Catholic sex abuse scandal

By Bridget Mary Meehan
26 Mar 2010

“Cry out as if you had a million voices, it is silence that kills the world,” said St Catherine of Siena (25 March 1347 – 29 April 1380), a courageous reformer who lived at a time of grave scandal when three men, each claiming to be the pope, shook the church to its foundation.

Today Catholics live in a time when the institutional church has lost credibility because of the cover-up of a global sex abuse scandal which, like a rapidly spreading cancer, is destroying the moral fibre of our church.

Like St Catherine, we, the people, need to speak truth to our church leaders including our bishops and our pope. Silence is compliance.

Roman Catholics can no longer be silent about the thousands of victims throughout Europe and around the world who were sexually assaulted by Catholic clergy.

The growing number of allegations of sexual abuse in Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands indicate that the cover-up of crimes against children and youth in the Catholic Church goes all the way to the Pope and the Vatican.

In the United States the sex abuse scandal has destroyed the lives of victims and their families, bankrupted some dioceses and cost the Church over two billion dollars. Approximately two-thirds of sitting US bishops were alleged in 2002 to have kept accused priests in ministry or moved them to new assignments. Nineteen bishops in the United States have been accused of sexual abuse (http://www.bishop-accountability.org/).

The Vatican's record on child abuse was criticised at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on 16 March 16 2010.

Pope Benedict, the former Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich, has been linked to the case of a German priest convicted of molesting children but allowed to continue to minister in Ratzinger’s archdiocese for more than 30 years until his recent suspension.

Later, as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of reviewing sexual abuse cases for the Vatican. The cases were handled under a strict code of pontifical secrecy.

The Vatican has handled more than 3,000 cases, according to its own report. Since Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, is implicated in the handling of the cases, it is surely right that the civil authorities should investigate the alleged cover-up to assure that transparency and justice is achieved.

Catholics should call on the all-male leadership of the Roman Catholic Church, especially those in the Vatican, to admit their failures, including the abuse of power at the center of this crisis. Catholics should call for the resignation of bishops who covered-up sex abuse. Standards of accountability must be the norm for all, including the pope and the hierarchy.

What is needed now is an independent truth commission made up of a broad representation of people of integrity, including victims of abuse and the non-ordained, to examine this global sexual abuse crisis and to chart a path forward to structural change - a change which would include women priests and married priests, with an end to mandatory celibacy.

Now more than ever our Church needs the wisdom and experience of women to re-birth a renewed community of equals empowered by the Spirit. Roman Catholic Womenpriests offer a collaborative model of an inclusive Church rooted in partnership with the people we serve, with no one excluded.

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(c) Bridget Mary Meehan is a spokesperson for Roman Catholic Womenpriests (http://www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org/), and ministers herself in the southern region of the USA. She is a widely published author and has produced television programmes on prayer, spirituality, and women's issues. This feature is adapted from a syndicated article.

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