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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Holy trouble

Roman Catholic Church caught in sex scandal crosshairs

New allegations of sexual misconduct by clergymen have blown up the week before Easter. Two separate scandals – one in Ireland and one in the United States – further taint the Roman Catholic Church's image.
In Ireland, it was revealed that Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Irish Catholic Church, was present at meetings where victims of a pedophilic priest were asked to sign vows of silence over allegations of misconduct.
Children signed vows of silence. If that isn't an attempted cover-up, what is?
But the fun doesn't stop there.
The allegations in the United States are not only shameful, they reach high into the Catholic Church hierarchy. Documents released suggest that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, failed to respond to letters by other members of the clergy about cases of sexual abuse.
More specifically, the archbishops were complaining about allegations against Father Lawrence Murphy in 1996. The letters were sent to the Vatican office headed by the current pope. The office sent out no responses.
Murphy, who died in 1998, is assumed to have abused about 200 boys at the Saint John's School for the Deaf in Saint Francis, Wis. between 1950 and 1974.
The Roman Catholic Church believed that these incidents were isolated in nature. How wrong they were. Isolated incidents happen once in a blue moon, not every other day of the week.
The Church knew the numbers and how widespread the problem had become. A report done by the Church in 2004 found that more than 4,000 Catholic priests in the United States had faced sexual abuse charges in the last 50 years. Over 10,000 victims – mainly boys – were involved with such cases.
See the problem?
Clearly the Catholic Church has been playing the cover-up game for a while, which is undoubtedly a mistake. But the bigger question that needs to be answered is, what was the intent behind these actions?
The Church had engaged in the practice of covering up cases of sexual allegations against priests. This decision to proceed with such practices has had extremely harmful effects, like facilitating the spread of sexual misconduct.
It has only been a decade since Catholic bishops believed that it was their own duty to protect the church from scandal and, in a terrible judgment call, thought secrecy agreements were in the best interest of the Church.
The biggest problem the public has had with all of this mess is the lack of justice for the victims and their families. Father Murphy was never tried for his crimes. Vatican officials have asserted that Murphy was dying and initiating a trial would have meant the main defendant was no longer living.
Fine in that particular case, but the Church has usually shielded its priests from criminal trials, instead opting to let the Holy Father determine punishments. It simply isn't enough.
The public's trust in one of the most sacred institutions may be unfixable. Years of payoffs to families to keep quiet and relocating alleged pedophiles to other dioceses is inexcusable.
It really doesn't matter if the number of abused children is one or one thousand. The crime is reprehensible, and clearly the Church has made poor choices in judgment.
But the pope needs to change the way business is conducted on such matters. Allegations of abuse must be turned over to the proper authorities and investigated. The road to salvation for the Catholic Church as a whole is to no longer give payouts to families and have them sign secrecy agreements.
No man is above the rule of law, even if he wears a collar.


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