The Sex Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church: Thoughts, Analyses, Responses

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In the past, clergy sex abuse cases were frequently reported mainly in the United States. This was never given particular attention by church officials in Rome because it was often blamed on the US anti-Catholic culture and media hostility towards the church. However, this month, the church is witnessing a clergy sex abuse crisis in Europe; reports came from different countries and, more importantly, from Germany, home of Pope Benedict XVI. And it doesn’t stop here. The scandal reports cases that happened while Pope Benedict headed the Munich Archdiocese and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Ever since these cases made headlines, priests, bishops and Catholics have been talking and writing about the papal response, cover-ups, and reasons behind this ever-surfacing problem in the Roman Catholic Church.

Besides the sensationalism portrayed in mainstream media and propagandist messages by many who only care about ruining the reputation of the Catholic Church, it is crucial that measures be taken to shed light on cases of abuse and prevent them from happening in the future. Many church officials are standing up against sexual abuse by clergy and working towards solutions to this problem. For a long time, cases were covered up and the only measures taken were relocating the abuser under a veil of secrecy. So we ask ourselves: what is the root of the problem? And what is the right way to deal with it?

Many seem to believe that the root of the problem lies in clergy celibacy, the fact that clergy must restrain from all desires, expressions, and acts of sexuality. But to make this single rule the root of all evil is not entirely true. It also sometimes comes across as making excuses for the abusers. What is noticeable (and rather sarcastic) about the current crisis of sex scandals, is that it coincides with the Vatican-declared “Year of the Priest,” a year of honoring the priesthood. This makes us question once again, what kind of priesthood is the Vatican celebrating this year? And let’s be clear. The only priesthood that the Vatican acknowledges is the one of the celibate heterosexual male ordained in a specific way. And this, I believe, is the root of the problem. Instead of criticizing Holy celibacy, why not reform the whole “priesthood” and the whole church system that encourages the cover-up of child abuse? When calling for a less uptight attitude towards sexuality and for the coexistence of celibate and married priests in the church, why not include women as priests too? Why not include gays, lesbians, and people of other sexualities? The church’s system of governance needs a fundamental reform. In the past, protection of Catholic priests and the reputation of the church was more important to bishops than the protection of minors. This will change once the patriarchal system in Church is abolished. Last week, the Women’s Ordination Conference, an organization working since 1975 for the reform of the Catholic Church and the ordination of women, celebrated the 16th Annual World Day of Prayer for women’s ordination. They demonstrated in front of the Vatican embassy in Washington with a statement that read: “We are called to put forth a renewed image of the priesthood – one that is inclusive and welcoming of women’s leadership. When women are full and equal partners in every aspect of the Catholic Church, only then, will the Roman Catholic Church be associated with accountability, transparency and justice rather than hierarchy, exclusion, and scandal. Until then, we will continue to raise our collective voices and organize actions that will bring our church closer to the gospel values of Jesus.”


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