The first and most important point that must be kept in mind here is that pedophilia is a horrible crime that cripples its victims for decades, and sadly sometimes for life. When most people think of pedophilia, they think of a physical violation of a child by an adult. Sadly, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Pedophilia radically changes how the victim views him/herself, sex, intimacy, and their family. It can seriously damage the victim’s ability to enter into and sustain a healthy and happy intimate relationship later in life.
Most cases of pedophilia are incestuous. They happen within the family and most often the pedophile is a parent, sibling, or close relative of their victim. Pedophiles are drawn to careers that afford them access to children/minors. Positions of trust (e.g. teachers, coaches, clergy, child care providers, etc.) provide pedophiles ongoing access to children/minors.
Most instances of pedophilia are heterosexual (cf page 11-12, "Adult sexual orientation of men who molest boys); however, it is important to remember here that sexual orientation, as it is commonly understood (i.e. heterosexual, homosexual) is irrelevant when discussing pedophilia. The pedophile is an adult who seeks out sexual relations with a child because his/her own psychosexual development has been arrested at his/her victim’s current stage of development. Secrecy, guilt and shame are the tools upon which a pedophile relies in order to cover up past crimes and be able to act out new crimes.
It is CRITICAL to keep all of these truths CLEARLY in mind when discussing pedophilia in general and when specifically discussing pedophilia within the Catholic Church. The latest “bombshell” in the sex abuse/cover-up scandal in the Catholic Church directly involves the Pope. The Associated Press reports that while he was Archbishop of Munich, Germany, Pope Benedict XVI transferred a known pedophile priest from one assignment to another, thereby exposing innocent children to pedophilia.
The Associated Press reported the Munich archdiocese admitted that it had allowed a priest suspected of having abused a child to return to pastoral work in the 1980s, while Benedict was archbishop. It stressed that the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger didn't know about the transfer and that it had been decided by a lower-ranking official.
When I read this, I instantly recalled a class I took at Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Captain Shaw who was our instructor was speaking about “Authority.” As an officer you have authority over your subordinates, he went on to explain that “authority” is composed of two elements. First the “Power” to act and secondly, “Responsibility.” Captain Shaw told our class of young officers: “You may always delegate your power to a subordinate; however, you can never delegate your responsibility to anyone.” You are responsible for how your subordinate uses/abuse the power that you delegate to him/her.
With that in mind, read this quote from the Associate Press article. “The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement late Friday noting that the Munich vicar-general who approved the priest's transfer had taken "full responsibility" for the decision, seeking to remove any question about the pontiff's potential responsibility as archbishop at the time.” No, the buck stops at the desk of the person who delegates the power to make such decisions, not at the desk of a subordinate, or of the secretary who types up the transfer letter, or the postal official who delivers the letter.
In any diocese, the bishop is responsible for the actions of those to whom he has delegate pastoral power and this is as old as the First Letter of Paul to Timothy 5:22 That Archbishop Ratzinger delegated his Episcopal power to a vicar does not lift from his shoulders the responsibility for how that power was very poorly exercised by his subordinate.
At this point, I recall one of our annual priest retreats. Our bishop, John Steinbock, stood before the clergy of our diocese and said: “We didn’t know better at the time, we did the best we could.” At the time he said this to us, I was actually moved and believed him. After all, in the 1960’s and 70’s the recidivist nature of pedophilia was unknown and psychologist believed that a pedophile could be treated and “cured.” By the 1980’s this was no longer the case. There was something else that I discovered later, it was this news story that was sent to me in the aftermath my being suspended as a priest for speaking out against “yes on Prop 8.”
The real problem of the hierarchy is that they have a divided loyalty. On the one hand, they have a pastoral responsibility for their flock imposed by Jesus and the Gospel. On the other hand, they are the stewards of vast temporal (material) wealth and social/political influence/power. These are not intrinsically evil and can be tools for great good; however, if these are seen as “essential” or “primary” they can corrupt and undermine the life of the Church.
Part of a just restitution to the victims of the Church sex abuse/cover-up scandal, will be to make systemic changes which will safe guard against future abuse. Bishops need to be held responsible for the actions of their subordinates. Canon (Church) Law already provides for an annual convocation in every diocese on earth. The purpose of these convocations is for the diocesan bishop and his pastors to collaborate in the governance of the diocese. To discuss issues theological and temporal which have impact on the lives of the people in their care. Perhaps it would be healthy and helpful to include lay delegates to the annual convocation in every diocese. Convocations should produce a published diocesan pastoral plan. A term of office of no more than 10 years for a bishop, after which a bishop may be made an Archbishop (also with a 10 year term limit), or retire should be universally mandated.
My personal experience, having attended twenty-two such annual meetings, is that these events tend to be pre-scripted by the bishop and that there is very little, if any, substantive dialogue or collaboration which takes place. The tragic result is a hierarchy that is highly disconnected from the lives of their pastors and laity. The result is the current sex abuse scandal/cover-up with its huge financial pay- outs (of monies donated by the faithful for charitable endeavors). The result is a hierarchy that seems to be far more interested in its PR image and temporal goods than in the pastoral responsibility and mission given to the Church by Jesus of Nazareth.
A concern here is that these much needed and long delayed systemic changes will not be made. For example, the elimination of mandatory celibacy for priests, a serious reconsideration of the role of women in the life of the Church, the role of the papacy vis a vis bishops, the radical restructuring/downsizing of the Roman Curia (Church bureaucracy) all need to be openly discussed. A transparent, inclusive and participatory Church will not only minimize future scandals, it will be a more effective and compassionate instrument of authentic evangelization.
Instead of doing this “hard” and much needed work the Vatican and hierarchy seems to be trying to place responsibility for the sex abuse/cover-up scandal on scapegoats. Those scapegoats seem to be subordinates and LGBT people, more on that in my next post.