Saturday, October 27, 2012

One Way to Atone for Our Sins

The coffin of Jimmy Saville, papal knight
and sexual predator, awaits being brought
to Leeds Cathedral for funeral Mass last
I never knew who Sir Jimmy Saville was until the news broke about his history of alleged sexual abuse of minors—with over three hundred accusations against him he is reported to be one of the worst sexual predators in the history of Great Britain.  When you consider the history of the British monarchy that is quite a distinction.  Saville was a radio and television personality over the last fifty years or so who parlayed his fame from a media personality to being a major fundraiser for British charities.  For his charitable work he was knighted first by Queen Elizabeth and later by Pope John Paul.  Archbishop Nichols of Westminster has petitioned the Vatican to posthumously remove the papal honors and the Royal Household is considering rescinding the Imperial honors.  It is, of course, an embarrassment that a man who was such a prominent Catholic have this sort of disgrace pinned to his name.  But there is another side of this that we as a Church should look at.
In the last few weeks Americans have been made painfully aware of the rampant sex-abuse scandals in the organization of the Boy Scouts of America.  Their recent release of files has shown over 500 cases that were swept under the rug but some sources, including Wikipedia, claim that there were two thousand cases of sex abuse in the Boy Scouts of America since since the mid 20th century.  All the time that the Catholic Church was being excoriated for its handling of abuse cases, the BSA kept smugly silent about the secrets in its own closet.  But then that is human nature, I would suppose. 
And of course the problems of Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky matter show that this same desire to protect the institution at all costs and regardless of the safety and suffering of others is not a Catholic matter or a Scouting strategy but that it is endemic in our society.  
The Catholic Church has undergone—finally and not without great pain—a revision of protocols to insure that the welfare of the vulnerable will not be subordinated to the good of the Institution again.  Of course such individuals as Bishop Bruskewitz, former Bishop of Lincoln, rejected such protocols for their jurisdictioncs, but the acceptance of the “Dallas Accords” has been all but universal and seems to be securely in place.  This is perhaps due more to the strictures of the companies the insure the various dioceses than a genuine desire for reform and protection but whatever the reason the Church is to be commended on its clean-up of a horrible mess.  But I think that we, as Church, can do more and that is my point in this posting. 
The Catholic Church has learned some valuable lessons in dealing with its sex abuse crisis.  I personally do not believe that sex abuse is a topic for Sunday morning sermons any more than I believe abortion, birth-control, homosexuality, or other sexual issues belong in Sunday sermons.  I do think they need to be addressed in other fora however.  Without resorting to the pulpit, I do think the Church could play a very important role in bringing this problem—a widespread problem in our society—out into the light.   In particular I think the Church could do a great service in educating parents of children enrolled in Catholic schools and in religious education programs of danger signs for which to watch in protecting their children.  I think the Church could sponsor programs in which people who have been victims have an opportunity to heal together and I think many of these same people could be encouraged to speak in consciousness-raising fora in parishes and Catholic institutions.  The topic of sexual abuse and how to recognize its danger should be incorporated at age-appropriate levels in curriculum of Catholic education.  (And we must remember that while this is a difficult balance, this particular issue needs to be addressed while children are still quite young because that is when they are particularly vulnerable.)    Finally since most abuse is in the context of the family—not the Church and not the Scouts and not Little League—we need to provide support for parents who fear that a spouse or close relative is in danger of harming a child. 
As a Church we have failed and failed miserably but now we have an opportunity to redeem that failure and make it work for good.  Let’s not pass it up. 

1 comment:

  1. Your reference to Bishop Bruskewitz (now retired) implies untruth. He has indeed established acceptable and respectable norms for dealing with potential cases of the sexual abuse of minors among his clergy. He has not eschewed this kind of policy, rather he has chosen to construct his own policy, which varies somewhat from the Dallas Charter. Nothing more.