Opinion: The pope and other Catholic leaders must aid and help victims of abuse

In the past seven decades, more than 3,600 children, most under the age of 13, were sexually abused by Catholic clergy members, according to a study commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church Bishop’s conference.

In June of 2017, Cardinal George Pell was convicted of abusing two choir boys in 1996. Pell was the highest-ranking Catholic in Australia and was previously Vatican treasurer. He was seen by many as the church’s third most powerful official. 

Ten days prior to the conviction, Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal in the U.S., was defrocked after abuse claims. Cardinal McCarrick was the most modern senior Catholic figure to be dismissed from priesthood. 

There have been multiple claims of cover-ups inside the Catholic Church in the past few years, and many say the Vatican has not done nearly enough to fix this tragic situation. The pope has stuck behind a policy of divine justice and hopes for changes of hearts — a policy that does not seem to be very effective in clearing the scandal and abuse coming from inside the Catholic Church.  

The problem of abuse inside the church has become so notorious, Pope Francis addressed the church during his traditional Christmas address. In this address, Pope Francis called on the clerics who had been involved in abuse to turn themselves in to the respective authorities.

“To those who abuse minors, I would say this: Convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice,” Francis said. He denounced the clerics and later added: “They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing had happened. They have no fear of God or his judgment, but only of being found out and unmasked.” 

Even though the pope did address the issues within the Catholic Church, there seems to be little evidence of any concrete action being taken to solve the problem. If the moral compasses of these priests have already become so perverted that they commit acts of abuse, there is no reason to believe they will simply turn from their sin and step down from their positions after a few stern words from the pope. 

Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a website that tracks clergy sex abuse cases, said she fears the pope is indulging in make-believe and misdirection, when what is really needed is visionary leadership and radical change. 

“In commanding child molesters to turn themselves in, Francis is pretending,” Doyle said. “He’s pretending that sick men can suddenly see the light. He’s pretending we don’t remember it was the Vatican that has blocked the few efforts by bishops’ conferences to mandate reporting to law enforcement. He’s pretending the problem lies with perpetrator priests and some ignorant bishops of the past rather than with ongoing secrecy modeled by the Vatican itself.”

When it comes to moral judgements involving the inherent Christian principles, some may cite passages calling for Christians to love their neighbors and forgive their transgressors. However, in situations like these, there should not be any leniency. People who commit acts of abuse are breaking the law, plain and simple. And not only the law of the land, but God’s ultimate law.

The people responsible for the rampant abuse typically occupy leadership positions in the church, which is unacceptable and repulsive. Leaders in the church should be morally and ethically upstanding teachers of God’s word
and principles.

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JOHN PAUL II — Pope John Paul II served as pope from 1978-2005, when the church was plagued with priests violating young boys and girls. The pope never publicly acknowledged the abuse.

The pope himself said the source of these abusive acts came from the clerics’ notions that they were superior to their parishioners, when in reality they are called to be nothing but servants. These abusers damage the credibility of the Catholic Church and put a stain on Christianity’s reputation as a whole. No one who commits these types of acts should be allowed any position in God’s house. 

Instead of waiting for changes of hearts, the Catholic Church should dedicate more of its resources to investigating claims of abuse and weeding out the corruption inside the church. This is not the time for passive stances. It is time for concrete action. 

Note from the Editor: In 2002, the Boston Globe first began reporting on the sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church, resulting in thousands of victims coming forward to accuse hundreds of priests nationwide. But this plague is not restricted to Catholicism alone. 

As the Houston Chronicle began reporting in February 2019, 380 leaders and volunteers in Southern Baptist churches have been accused of sexual misconduct. More than 700 victims, many of whom were minors at the time, have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse and assault. 

While Christianity cannot claim perfection or immunity from sin, this systemic, horrific violation of church members deserves a zero-tolerance policy from denominational and pastoral leaders. Some victims in the Chronicle report were 3-years-old when they were molested, and some registered sex offenders actually returned to the pulpit after allegations were brought against them. Time and time again, churches, leaders and even former presidents of the SBC failed to report these abuses to law enforcement and completely mishandled the complaints. 

Only when awareness is given to the systemic culture of abuse within both Catholic and Protestant churches, and when Christians have the strength and courage to stand up to these abusers, will the church begin to see the change it so desperately needs. 

-Chad Wylie, Opinion Editor.

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