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Moving beyond denial, sex abuse examination begins.

It appears we have gotten through phase one in the clergy child abuse saga. With a few minor exceptions we have moved through episcopal denial. Experts say, in matters such as these, this is no small accomplishment. Unfortunately, it has taken us eight years to get here. In June 1985 this paper first began to report the problem, culling from information coming from various parts of the nation, the now well-known pattern of denial and cover-up involving the shirking of victims and reshuffling of perpetrators. Jason Berry, writer, Catholic father of two, author of Lead Us Not Into Temptation, spearheaded the reporting; he has provided the church an important service.

During phase one, lay Catholics pressured the bishops to reverse patterns and to comfort victims while they disciplined the wayward.

The papal decision to reform church law to make it easier to remove aberrant priests indicates the lay-led groundswell of outrage over this tragedy created waves that have now washed through to the highest reaches of the institution. And if policy can be changed in Rome, so, too, can it be changed here in the United States, where the bishops' conference still needs to spell out national guidelines to force the reluctant to face the pedophilia nightmare squarely and in the spirit of the gospels. Beyond the requirements of civil justice, the laity wants its bishops to act compassionately and without favor, to be truly inclusive church leaders.

If phase one involved forcing the bishops beyond denial and getting them to set up the structures to handle complaints, phase two involves forcing those same men to examine the root causes of the widespread pedophilia phenomenon. It is woefully inadequate to hear some among them almost dismiss it by saying child sex abuse exists in all corners of society.

No, whether our bishops like it or not, the laity are asking if Catholic church structures and its clerical state, its isolation of priests and its sexuality teachings are major contributory factors. Phase two will require a thorough examination and answers to these questions.

While the bishops in their summer meeting (pages 2,3) looked on priest sex abuse as a juridical problem concerning individual priests who damage the church financially and ruin its image, another group -- the Catholic public -- sees something else.

In the words of moral theologian Susan Secker of Seattle University in a draft paper to the Catholic Theological Society of America June 12: "Our church's policy of a male celibate priesthood requires reexamination from the point of view of fostering a psychologically healthy and morally virtuous priesthood." She went on to say: "A second problematical dimension of our ecclesial context has to do with notions of sacral power and secretive internal communications' processes. In one sense, it points to an issue of ecclesiology."

Phase two and the second wave of Catholic public protest are coalescing around the issue of institutional responsibility. The wider Catholic community is gathering forces to tell the bishops' sex abuse committees that an examination of church canons which avoids obvious wider clergy structural questions will simply not do.

Moral theologian Secker, in deploring the Catholic bishops' "moral bankruptcy" on the clergy sex abuse issue, also had pointed words for the "muted, if not silent, voices of our national Catholic organizations, cannon lawyers, clergy and religious, lay ministers and religious educators, women's groups and lay groups. Scholarly reflection emanating from Catholic universities and study centers in the U.S. is remarkable in its absence."

None of this is easy or is likely to happen quickly. But everything needs to be out on the table. No exceptions. Studies of the clergy will be required to gather the information needed for a diagnosis. Short of total effort we cannot expect to restore health to our Catholic structures.

Much is possible now that we are beyond denial. Yes, we have agreed, we have serious problems. But if we are honest and serious about finding answers, plenty of goodwill exists in the ranks to see the process through. It's another step in the journey, one well worth taking.
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Title Annotation:Catholic priest pedophilia
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 2, 1993
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