As a member of the Catholic Church that I love and as a victim of clerical physical and sexual abuse, I am appalled, embarrassed, but mostly profoundly saddened by the ways priests, bishops, cardinals and even popes deliberately and knowingly have mishandled clerical sexual abuse issues. Instead of being transparent, honest and law-abiding, they consistently have chosen to cover up these crimes, usually only releasing somewhat accurate information and evidence and only when they are dragged into court or forced to do so by laws that bound the rest of us.
Pope Francis gets it. He has many times publicly talked about the enormity of and prevalence of clerical abuse and the fallout for victims and the reputation of the Catholic Church. But he needs real, visible and active support from all priests, bishops and cardinals worldwide. Where is this leadership and support? If one needs a prime example of groupthink, look no further than today’s Catholic Church. The Church has circled the wagons and done very little else.
Enough. Over 1 billion Catholics can deal with the truth better than the hierarchy apparently can. Tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth regarding the whole sordid story of sexual abuse by priests and the equally sordid story of the Church’s organized cover-up of these crimes. We all need to clearly hear the what, the who, the where, and the when of incidents and complaints made against priests and how the bishops dealt with these complaints.
Isn’t this the Church that always preached that “confession is good for the soul”?
The Catholic Church needs an additional commandment, the 11th commandment: There shall be zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse by clergy.
When a complaint or information is received, it must be immediately turned over to the police and investigated as would happen with any other sex-crime allegation. No exceptions. No more internal investigations by the Church. The Catholic Church is not a privileged group and must follow all laws just like everybody else.
In the 1990s, when South Africa was dealing with the violent aftermath of apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu founded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It brought together all the warring factions. All the atrocities, killings and cruelties were aired openly and honestly. It hurt greatly to speak these truths and to hear these truths. But doing so brought reconciliation and healing to a troubled country. Archbishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his courageous efforts.
The Catholic Church needs its own Truth and Reconciliation Commissions made up of at least 50 percent lay people, at least half of whom would be victims of clerical sexual abuse and their families. I think they would add great credibility if Pope Francis were to ask Archbishop Tutu to be chairman.
When the Catholic Church has its own Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, we will need to brace ourselves for some heartbreaking, ugly testimony of abuse of minors, cover-ups, lies, deception, moving sexual predators from place to place and the awful consequences all this has had on victims and the worldwide Catholic Church. We all need to hear, own, and even embrace these awful stories and accept they are truly part of our history.
We need to have many, many open discussions, experience the gamut of emotions and support one another in this awful journey, knowing this has to happen before healing can begin.
Truth can often initially bring great hurt and pain but eventually also great healing and forgiveness.
I believe the Church needs to finally come clean and go through this with honesty, integrity and courage, embracing the truth about clerical abuse.
These commissions could bring the Catholic Church closer to its early roots and and to its founder. It could bring back some of the disaffected millions of Catholics who lost their faith, respect and trust in their Catholic Church. The Church must take a much-needed, honest look at how it lost its way.
Will it be a quick-and-easy fix? No. Will it eventually help heal and make us whole again? Yes. Coming out of the shadows, the creation of these commissions would be the most Christ-like, courageous and healing action ever undertaken by the modern Catholic Church.