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“The Catholic church preaches sexual morality to the world, so to say that the rate of sexual abuse by priests is no worse than other institutions is a bit like saying the number of arsonists in the Fire Department is no greater than in the general public. Most people will not find that terribly reassuring.”
National Catholic Reporter (ncronline.org), Sep. 19, 2010, 
John L. Allen Jr.

John Allen’s comparison is brilliant! Asking why Belgium didn’t see their recent sex abuse scandal coming and defuse the crisis before it exploded, Allen provides two answers:  firstly, bishops often believe the Catholic church is being unfairly smeared by the media because other institutions and religions have similar statistics of abusive leaders and so are disinclined to mount their own investigation unless specific scandals emerge; and secondly the Catholic church is not prepared to handle a global crisis and has to rely on the local bishops to handle their own dioceses, and some dioceses are internally dysfunctional and incapable of an effective response that will contain the damage.

These may both be very valid reasons for the lack of pro-action in Catholic dioceses even after so many national scandals, and his response to the first is spot on. Arsonist fire-department officers indeed! The second reason is not very reassuring but also, it seems, accurate:  there is no system of oversight among the bishops themselves, and only the pope can censure individual bishops.

It is time for a specific Vatican policy of handing over to independent authorities all personnel information on any member of the Catholic clergy – not just priests – against whom accusations have been made. And I mean any accusations, not just those whom church officials have deemed “credible.”  Is there any other institution that is allowed to decide what criminal accusations are to be handed over to the legal authorities? Maybe the military. But they have their own system of punishment and they don’t give convicted officers a new assignment and hide their criminal offenses from the public, or retire guilty officers to a villa in Spain and hand them a pension.

In order for this policy of handing over all accusations to be enforced, national conferences of bishops need to be given more authority over and more responsibility for their own bishops, and for the implementation of policy in individual dioceses.  The Catholic Church needs a sort of Internal Affairs organization in each national conference, made up of clergy, but we also need non-catholic legal professionals to keep the clergy honest and to avoid any appearance of moral or spiritual blackmail. Bishops need to be fired if they are not doing a good job of implementing policy, or of “policing” their own personnel. And they need to be punished — sent to inner city schools as a chaplain, or sent to a rural diocese with little to no income. I also believe that any false accusations should be processed in criminal court using established criminal precedent.

For those found guilty, I think there should be excommunication as well as prison terms, because these are men (and women) who have used their position of authority in the church, and the trust of their community, to gain access to the most vulnerable — our children – in order to manipulate, abuse and intimidate, molest, rape and sodomize.  Excommunication is reversible but it should be a hard earned grace.  And there should be real prison time not some special mental institution/retreat center for the spiritually corrupt.

But wait! All of this presumes that we have the legal power to proceed against these criminals and in most cases that are coming to light – typically decades after the childhood abuse, when the child now adult has found the courage and support to come forward – we don’t. That is why all of this discussion is moot, it has no metal, unless we remove the statute of limitations from sex crimes against children. There is no statute of limitation for murder; there should be no statute of limitations for the murder of a child’s innocence, hope, joy, religious faith, and trust in an all-loving God.

Will innocent people get accused? Probably so, but the onus in a court of law is on proving guilt not innocence, so the passage of time will work in favor of the accused not the accuser. And if we have penalties for false accusations, which courts of law do have, then justice can be served.

Bottom line, then: No policy will be sufficient, no apology will be heartfelt enough, without the legal ability to prosecute the offenders.  Challenge your legislators now. Get a Representative with the metal appendages necessary to sponsor legislation to remove or at least extend the statute of limitation in your state.  Press for a window of opportunity for the presentation of accusations that are currently outside the legal statute.  

The removal of statutes of limitation was successful in Florida. Check out http://www.sol-reform.com/index.html  for all current legislative efforts.

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