On Tuesday of last week, the Catholic Church found itself back in the spotlight. Unfortunately, this was not the sort of spotlight that Jesus meant when he said that a lamp should be placed on a stand so that all may see its light. No, once again, the Catholic Church was the center of the world’s attention for the sins it has committed in the abuse of minors by priests and its subsequent coverup. According to a Grand Jury report from the Office of Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as many as 1000 minors had been abused by priests over a 70 year period.
For many, the gist of the story is old news. In fact, the Church had reported similar numbers itself back in 2004 when it had done a full survey of the entire country. The fact that there were so many is horrifying, but not all that new. What is new, though, is the list of perpetrators and the details of their cases. As opposed to 2004, what the world is seeing now is more than just a statistical breakdown, more than just overall generalities, but an actual list of names, details of their abuse, and the ways that the Church systematically covered it up. By no means for the weak of stomach, the report reveals unconscionable tactics that these priests used to lure in minors, abuse them, and even create a network of abusers within dioceses, able to continue their actions from place to place under the shelter of the Church.
And so, once again, the Church finds itself in the spotlight with attackers from every angle. We experience the same hatred and distrust as a decade ago, the same wound being reopened and made worse. And we are left shocked because we put our Band-Aid on and thought that it would have healed by now. There are some in the Church that wonder why there is so much animosity towards the Church again, becoming very defensive, claiming that there is nothing new in this report and that this is all old news. But this wound is too deep to think that it could have healed in short time, to think that it could have healed on its own without tending to the depths of the damage inflicted. No, to its credit, the Church changed some of its protocols and made Churches the safest place for minors in our world today, but it never addressed the structures that led to such a problem, and it never really healed the wounds all around.
And so they fester.
And so we find ourselves bombarded with the same horrible arguments as a decade ago. Some want to use this an opportunity to remove the requirement of celibacy for priests, arguing that this is the cause. But do we really want to say that remaining single and not acting out sexually causes one to be a rapist? Should we be worried about the millions out there not currently in relationships? This is ludicrous. Others want to use this as an opportunity to denounce homosexuality and to purge our seminaries of anyone with a same-sex attraction. But do we really want to say that having an attraction to someone of the same sex causes one to rape minors? That there is a natural propensity in gay men to want to be sexually active with children? This is absurd.
Pedophilia and ephebophilia are not normal expressions of sexual desire. In fact, they are not primarily sexual in nature: rape is more an act of violence than anything else. These things comes from a place of brokenness and distortion, the result of a real disorder. To use this situation as a means to promote an agenda, claiming that celibacy or homosexuality causes one to develop such a disorder and act out in heinous ways, is cheap, scientifically inaccurate, and against what the Church has said about itself.
But most of all, it is a deflection. It is a way of scapegoating an issue so that the blame is placed onto someone else, that we who are not of that category are left feeling innocent, and all the while, the victims themselves are left as an afterthought.
That cannot be our path forward. That cannot be the way we ultimately heal this wound and move on as the light of Christ in the world. More than anything else, the Church needs to recognize and accept the sins that it has committed, willing to accept the consequences for the sake of bringing justice for the victims, rather than focusing on self-preservation. Rather than focusing all our attention on who is to blame so that we can be sure that we’re not to blame, our focus needs to be on having a real sense of remorse, an honest reflection on what went wrong, and a steadfast commitment, above all else, to those who need the most healing. As much as this situation hurts us and we can say that the Church needs to be healed, we are not the victims here. I’ll say it again:
We are not the victims here.
It is only when we are able to fully accept this that the healing can begin. A Band-Aid will not heal this wound. Nor will treating the wrong patient.