The story was already being told as I tuned into the local IPR station. He shared his story of abuse as an acolyte when he was a child and expressed sorrow, but not surprise at the latest round up of victims. What I am thinking about is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church, but is about the horror of people in positions of trust failing to live with integrity. And, in some respects, I am thinking too about how the priesthood might just be a draw for those identified as pedophiles. The situations on my mind, are those involving teachers, therapists, youth group leaders, camp counselors, coaches, and other positions that allow for close relationships with children. They are all violating a moral code that breaks my heart and tears apart the life of their victims.
While some pedophiles and those guilty of sexual assault are never caught or convicted of their crimes, the legal system tends to come down hard on them and they are forced to deal with the harsh consequences of their actions. Okay, now this is where it starts getting sticky for me and why it is that I am thinking about this current event. From where I sit (as a Lutheran pastor), it seems to me that pastors and priests, anyone who serves in a position of leadership in the church, has an even greater responsibility to act with integrity. I am heartsick at the thought of anyone hiding under the shield of Christ’s church to further their lifestyle of child sexual abuse.
What is keeping Pope Francis, someone for whom I have so much admiration, from clearing the decks and wiping the roster clean? What is keeping him from turning over the tables and refusing to sanction any reassignment or health leave of absence for both abusers and those responsible for covering it up? I’m not sitting on some self-righteous throne here. I’m asking what I believe to be a legitimate question.
I have only my experience with Roman Catholic friends and my armchair knowledge of how that church works, but I know that among its members, faith runs deep and challenges to the church are painful. I think anything that leads us to question our faith in any system is agonizing, but I ask, “At what terrible cost to those about whom Jesus said, “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
I understand why the victims may not want to pursue this. I can only imagine the shame that is felt by this twisted abuse of a position of trust. “He’s the priest. I must have done something to cause this. It’s my fault, because a minister would never do anything bad.” So, the suffering is compounded because of the position the spiritual leader holds. And rather than making the abuser pay, other men of God cover for him and people get paid off to remain silent.
Is there something wrong with my thinking on this? What have I overlooked?