Saturday, 13 March 2010

Sex abuse and the Catholic Church

Child sex abuse within the Catholic Church has been in the news this week with fresh allegations of widespread abuse and cover up in the Netherlands, following on from very similar situations bringing confidence in the Church to breaking point in Ireland and Germany. I did say I would be focusing on the trivial at the moment, but two very different approaches to this painful issue have caught my attention this week.
On Wednesday, Rev Federico Lombardi issued a statement on behalf of the Vatican in which he said that, although abuse in the church is “especially deplorable”, child abuse is wider than the church and focusing on the church alone would not truly depict the problem.
I don’t know if I am the only person who thought this statement looked far too much like an attempt to minimise the seriousness of such a consistent pattern of abuse and cover up that it is apparent that it is a deeply ingrained aspect of the sub culture of Catholicism.
Frederico Lombardi also said that the church’s response had been “prompt and transparent” – really – since when exactly? The extent of the deception and cover up that has been seen so far has been described by commentator Lucetta Scaraffia as similar to “omerta” – the Mafia code of silence used to hide serious offences.
Yesterday, the Archbishop of Vienna (brave man) suggested that priestly celibacy could be one of the causes of the sex abuse scandals to hit the Catholic Church. In an article for Thema Kirche, his diocesan magazine, Christoph Schoborn called for an “unflinching examination” of the possible reasons for paedophilia within the church.
Schoborn’s position does seem to have more integrity than the “it happens everywhere, you know” response. All churches, whether Catholic or not, should recognise that abuse is as common, if not more, so in “Christian” contexts and resolve not turn a blind eye or to shirk responsibility.

(I know I said blogging would be light or trivial but I woke up early, this was on my mind and blogging is a great distraction from ploughing through a heap of interminable marking!)


  1. Child sex abuse should be condemned wherever it happens. But the Catholic church scandals get amplified and exaggerated for the most part because of its centralized nature,such that each scandal is incremental to the previous(I don't mean to lessen the magnitude of the problem by the way).
    It's notewothy that in the US a study found that sexual abuse is more likely to occur with protestant clergy than catholic clergy (approximately between .2 and 1.7 percent for catholic priests. The figure among the Protestant clergy ranges between 2 and 3 percent). But due to the congregational or decentralized nature of protestant clergy, each case stands on its own or is segregated/compartmentalized to the particular locale(ref: Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests (New York: Oxford University Press),pp. 50 and 81).
    As the Rt. Rev. William Persell, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, said "We would be naïve and dishonest were we to say this is a Roman Catholic problem and has nothing to do with us because we have married and female priests in our church. Sin and abusive behavior know no ecclesial or other boundaries."
    The apparent fixation on catholics is letting many off the hook, vigilance is required across the ecclesial spectrum, as well as society. The catholic church scandals are unique in one respect, most are due to hebephile priests, which needs further investigation..............

  2. I have to say that I haven't read much "research" into the relative amount of sexual abuse in different churches or denominations. I think it is hard to accurately assess anyhow because the problem is, by its very nature, a hidden one and the often the more severe or the more institutionalised it is, the more likely it is to be concealed and the true extent to be camouflaged.

    If you look at my post, I do say that "All Churches, whether Catholic or not, should recognise that abuse is common."

    Childhood abuse is very common and widespread in society, in institutions, above all in families - but that is not the point the RC Church has to address! Its duty is to address the abuse that has been perpetrated within its own institution. We are responsible for putting our own house in order and there has, in many parts of the Church, been systematic cover up and a moving on of priests by those who did not want trouble. That is why I think the statement is at best misguided and at worst
    My main experience is of the Church of England. I have met with the attitude that child abuse is unlikely to be an issue because " we are all Christians" - it certainly is misguided!