Rotterdam Bishop Ad van Luyn has called for an independent investigation into the sexual exploitation of children by priests, after 200 alleged victims contacted help services. His call follows the publication of the Dublin Inquiry into the Irish Church scandals, and the revelation of allegations of misconduct in Germany and even within the ranks of the Vatican itself.
Catholics in North America are all too familiar with these scandals. Repeated media reports that clerics have violated their religious obligation to celibacy and chastity have sorely tested the belief of many. Even the Bishops have not withstood the scrutiny of inquiry for they have been found culpable in the victimization of the Church’s most precious gifts - the trust of its members and the welfare of its members; actions which have brought untold suffering and confusion into the hearts and minds of many.
The United States Bishops have taken one crucial step that, to date, has not been implemented by their northern brothers in Canada: an independent audit or investigation of their handling of these scandals. Their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a comprehensive set of procedures established by the USCCB in June 2002 in Dallas, Tx. for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The Charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse.
The Charter directs action in all the following matters:
-creating a safe environment for children and young people
-healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors
-making prompt and effective response to allegations
-cooperating with civil authorities
-providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through a national Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and a National Review Board.
It is this last point, the creation of a National Review Board, staffed and led by independent professionals and investigators, that has become the mechanism by which American Catholics can access the truth of these scandals and seek the assurance that such matters are now dealt with in a manner that respects the principles of justice and compassion.
Canada needs such an instrument to provide the same for its Catholic faithful.
There are many recent examples where truth commissions or investigations have dealt with larger and more contentious issues in other societies. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped South Africa to begin to move past the horrors of its apartheid era.3 Rwanda has walked a similar path in the wake of its ethnic genocide begin the process of societal healing4. If the probing light of truth can help to sterilize those societies of the evil they endured, then surely it is possible for the same to happen for the Church and its alienated members... and society at large.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have identified these scandals as the manifestation of evil within the entire faith community. Benedict has gone even further in openly criticizing the Irish Bishops for their mishandling of these scandals. Clearly it is of the papal mind that such acts need to be cauterized with the application of transparent justice in which the Church, in all humility, must face the consequences of its misdeeds and do more than simply publicly apologizing and promising to do better.
Too often in the wake of these revelations, the church has responded with a strategy that is guided by the counsel of its legal advisors in a vain attempt to protect the goods of the Church. This has resulted in the squandering of its true capital, the faith of its members and the morale of its priests. Perhaps it is time for all Bishops to be reminded that what is ‘legal’ is not always the 'moral' or 'proper' course to follow, especially for a body which claims moral authority in today’s societal debates.
It is easy, from the perspective of these ecclesial fathers, to face such an examination with a measure of trepidation and fear. Nevertheless it is past time for them to overcome their hesitation and accept that they have been rendered impotent in the eyes of most, in claiming the moral authority to deal with these matters internally. Only the sanitizing effect of an outside investigation can now bring the healing that Canadian Catholics need and desire. In short, the benefits will now far outweigh the costs to both the institution of the Church and to the faith of Canadians of all persuasions and faith.
It is time for the Church in Canada to ask for, and cooperate with, an independent investigation into its actions by an appropriate outside body. The faithful, both lay and clergy require no less if they are to overcome the injuries sustained over the past 20+ years of scandal and shame. It is time to do what is necessary to reclaim its moral authority.
Today’s Catholics are demanding nothing less.
About Fr. Tim
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