The calmness brought by the sound of the nearby river flowing near the mill was shattered the moment I read the headline. A well-known Catholic priest of the diocese belonging to my metropolitan archdiocese confessed of taking advantage of under-aged girls. That was the second news of Catholic priest of my metropolitan archdiocese abusing teenagers in under a month. As I was reading the article, my mind went into overworking mode. Questions were swarming through my mind. I was fetching for information I collected while reading researches on the matter. Somehow I needed to make sense of it. Maybe because it was too much to cope with. Somewhere in the midst of that chaos in my head, a vivid image of abuse scene from “Our Fathers” appeared.
“Anything interesting in the newspaper?”, he asked, putting an end to the horrendous image. I think he sensed something was wrong.
“It would have been better if I never opened it.”, I said, throwing the newspaper on the table and looking up to the man in front of me.
Then I realised. There was I, casually chatting with my parish priest over coffee and newspaper, and there were these girls (and in the other case boys) who went to catechesis and ended up being sexually abused by their parish priest. The difference between the priest in front of me and the priest I was reading about in the newspaper struck me. And brought more questions. Even anger.
My pastor and I have a relationship of mutual trust and appreciation born out of working together. His exemplary life is bringing me closer to God (and God closer to me). Like almost all priests that I’ve encountered, he respects, and I can even say guards, my dignity. I think that is why I cannot wrap my head around priests who used men and women, boys and girls for their vile and intrinsically evil urges. They steal their innocence and rip them of their human dignity. What a slap to everything what priesthood stands for.
The sexual abuse of children has widely spread in the Catholic Church. (Or is it just no longer covered up?) It is a problem we have difficulty coping with. We have even helped to create it. Why?
I think it is, among other things, because of clericalisation. We have created such a supernatural image of priests based on the divine mission they carry out that we have forgotten of their humanity. Priests aren’t some sinless spirits from another world but ordinary men trying to do their best while carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. We have put them on a pedestal but as soon as we see what doesn’t please us, we point our fingers at them.
The other problem we have is the formation. Do we teach our seminarians to live with their sexuality or to deny it? (A major problem here is homosexuality. Often do seminaries turn a blind eye to candidates with homosexual tendencies.) Do we teach them to honour or to hate their bodies? And what about the relationship with women (and their bodies)? “I preached to my seminarians on the mystery and beauty of the breast, the dignity of women, and the necessity for priests and seminarians to have deep, loving, chaste friendships with women” a tweet I’ve recently read said. Unfortunately this is an exception. Let’s make it a rule!
The veil of secrecy following the abuse and the cases of cover up are yet another problem we have in the Church. Some, at important places in the hierarchy, think it is better to swipe everything under the rug. If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen. Or if someone assures them the accused could not do that, they do not investigate. The Holy Father himself fell into this trap. Transparency and a thorough investigation are key. And when there is evidence of abuse, why not hand them to the authorities? Sexual abuse is not just a dreadful sin, but an atrocious crime.
Oh, how much and in how many ways (the sexual abuse of the children being the worst) is our Church being wounded from the inside. “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!” On the night of the Great Friday of 2005, these words of the greatest theologian of our time sounded over the Eternal City. With just one sentence, then Cardinal Ratzinger, summed up the lethal blow Our Lord receives: the betrayal of the disciple. But let us be hopeful because, “When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Way of the Cross, 2005).