Reacting to scandal in good faith

By Simon Barrow
March 26, 2010

The monumental child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is providing endless fuel for its detractors. But the pain and outrage of millions of loyal Catholics is just as real - and can be a harbinger of deep change.

One holding such a view is Fr Shay Cullen from the PREDA Foundation in the Philippines, who has been working with victims of abuse for many years.

In a recent article on Pope Benedict's recent pastoral letter, he wrote of the bishops who are at the centre of the current criticism:

"[S]ome acted to preserve the institutional image of the church instead of .. doing what Jesus would have done, acting at once to help and protect the victim, pursuing justice for them and bringing the criminal priest paedophiles to justice. ...

"Some clerics in high office fell to the idea that they were above the law, and had privileges of impunity so that no one would dare challenge or confront them. That era has passed. Jesus said that he had not come to be served like the rulers of the world, but to serve others (Matthew 20.20ff) He washed the feet of his disciples as a symbol of the humility and simple life of service that church leaders are committed to imitate but seldom do.

"Here in the Philippines, where 80 per cent of the people are Catholic, similar complaints of clerical child sexual abuse have been made over the years and NGO social workers say that the response of church authorities has been inadequate. Abusers still go free without any accountability while the victims are ignored.

"Church authorities have moved accused clerics to other parishes, or even abroad, usually to the United States. This is wrong. Children are again put at risk and the superior or bishop who allowed it must answer for it to the civil and church authorities as seen in the Pope's Pastoral Letter. Let us hope that this important lesson is learned."


The response of those within the Church is vital at a time such as this - when only systemic change will do, as Professor Hans Kung ( and others both closer to the heart of the institution ( and removed from it ( have been arguing.

The demonstration in London on Saturday (noted here: ) will attract some for whom the Catholic Church's agony and disgrace is a source of (self) satisfaction. But real change comes from those who mourn and grieve - what they desire is not to knock down only, but to build up something good and wholesome in place of denial and injustice.

As biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann says: "Real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right. Only in the empire are we pressed and urged and invited to pretend that things are all right." (


More on the child abuse crisis here:

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