ON June 15, the American bishops announced their policy of ‘zero tolerance’ regarding paedophilia.
In their own words ‘from today, no one convicted of sexually abusing another will be allowed to work in the Catholic Church’.
This may seem like the end of the matter, but it may also fall short of what is required. Why?
Experienced commentators have for some time been telling us that zero tolerance, whilst useful, is not sufficient – it does not address the causes of the problem.
Two commentators experienced in the area of human sexuality and in Church, Sr Fran Ferder and Fr John Heagle, offer the following analysis (my summary) of the deeper causes. They argue that if these causes are not urgently and systematically addressed, then further incidents of priestly paedophilia will occur, for which zero tolerance is only the ‘after the incident’ punishment. They list the main causes as:
1. Men with seriously arrested psycho-sexual development are still in priestly ministry. The Church is trying to screen out such men among seminary applicants, but we need to do more.
2. The Church’s way of governing is too secret and more concerned with guarding its image than with protecting the needs of its most vulnerable.
3. Bishops and cardinals seem to be rewarded more for their conforming and being quiet, than for being open and honest.
4. The present forms of Church governance do not honour the true diversity of God’s people. Consultation is important, but is a poor substitute for full inclusivity
5. Central to a more open and inclusive system is the welcome to sacramental ministers from both genders and all lifestyles.
6. The hierarchy of the Church is still ambivalent towards sexuality and women, and still promotes celibacy as the highest form of holiness.
The above summary should make all thinking Catholics question whether Ferder and Heagle’s analysis is correct. It certainly explores beyond the usual superficial explanations of ‘a few rotten eggs; it’s the homosexuality thing; and just lax morals’.
The best doctors in the world, when faced with a serious illness, pay greatest attention to identifying the causes before prescribing any remedies.
Finally, Ferder and Heagle wonder whether the hierarchy of the Church realise how seriously they need to address the causes of paedophilia among priests.
They also wonder, given ‘zero tolerance’, whether the hierarchy has the will to do so, and if not, will the hierarchy co-operate with others who can and will? These are questions that should concern us all.
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