Finally, the Vatican is starting to acknowledge that the problem of clerical sexual abuse needs wider attention than they have given it before. Just this past week, a Cardinal (Walter Kasper) has stated clearly that the church needs “serious house cleaning”, that the current German scandal must be investigated fully, and that Pope Benedict wants to see every single case come into the open. This is a stunning (and most welcome) turnaround from the decades – old policy, endorsed and enforced by Cardinal Ratzinger when still at the CDF, that required absolute secrecy and central reporting.
What I find encouraging in this, is that after years during which the Church first ignored all suggestions of a problem, then tried to shunt the blame on to gay priests and local problems of governance, over the past year there have been an increasing number of increasingly senior and reputable churchmen getting closer to the real issues: deal with the fundamental problems.
These extracts are from Catholic News Service:
Vatican supports German bishops’ probe into priestly sex abuse
The Vatican fully supports the efforts of German bishops to investigate claims of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions, even if the cases are decades old, L’Osservatore Romano reported.
“Full disclosure regarding abuse in Germany,” said the front-page headline of the March 7 edition of the official Vatican newspaper. “The church is working rigorously to shed light on what happened in religious institutions,” it said.
As has happened in the United States, Ireland, Australia and other countries, dozens of Germans have made claims recently that they suffered sexual abuse as children while attending Catholic schools. And as in those situations, the church leadership has been accused of protecting priests rather than children.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, a senior German prelate and the Vatican’s chief ecumenical official, said in an interview in La Repubblica that priestly sexual abuse must be punished and the church must take responsibility.
“Enough! We need serious housecleaning in our church,” he said, adding that “the pope is certainly not standing idly by.”
The leadership of the German bishops’ conference will be meeting with Pope Benedict March 12 at the Vatican. The visit was scheduled previously, but the rapidly developing sex abuse scandal was sure to be discussed.
The pope met in February with Irish bishops to discuss the problem of widespread sexual abuse of minors in Catholic schools after a scathing independent report accused the Irish church of maintaining a culture of secrecy for many years.
The pope was to write a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics regarding what he called the “heinous crime” of priestly sexual abuse.
Cardinal Kasper said that while the question of the pastoral letter was up to the pope, he felt that because “such a difficult problem has emerged not only in Ireland, but in Holland, Germany and the United States, perhaps it deserves a more general analysis that applies to the universal church and not just a single nation.
Cardinal Kasper said that while the question of the pastoral letter was up to the pope, he felt that because “such a difficult problem has emerged not only in Ireland, but in Holland, Germany and the United States, perhaps it deserves a more general analysis that applies to the universal church and not just a single nation.”
So, the Vatican is (finally) making good progress, but they still have a way to go to grasp the real crux of the issue.
Fr Hans Kung, the renowned theologian (and one-time close associate of Cardinal Ratzinger), who was stripped of his authority to teach for daring to question the doctrine of papal infallibility (shock! horror! scandal!) has a clear diagnosis for the problem of clerical sexual abuse currently destroying the credibility of the Catholic Church on sexual ethics: the dogmatic insistence on an exclusive, all male and (supposedly) celibate priesthood. He is only partly right. Writing in the Tablet last year, the one time world head of the Dominicans, Fr Timothy Radcliffe, described another- the obsession with central power and control. There is also still no admission that the problems are not only of child abuse, but also affect many adults – seminarians, women religious, and the voluntary partners of sexually active priests, who are forced into an involuntary and unhealthy secrecy because of the rule on compulsory celibacy. Still, I am grateful for the progress thus far.
This is what Hans Kung had to say:
From Times Online:
A leading Roman Catholic theologian has linked clerical sex abuse with priestly celibacy, blaming the Church’s “uptight” views on sex for child abuse scandals in Germany, Ireland and the US.
Father Hans Kung, President of the Global Ethic Foundation and professor emeritus at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said that the Church’s attitude was also revealed in its opposition to birth control.
He said that it was the case that abuse was found also in families, schools and other churches. But he asked: “Why is it so prevalent in the Catholic Church under celibate leadership?” He said that celibacy was not the only cause of the misconduct but described it as “the most important and structurally the most decisive” expression of the Church’s uptight attitude to sex.
Citing the New Testament, he says that Jesus and St Paul practised celibacy but “allowed full freedom in this matter to each individual”. St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians wrote: “Because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Peter and the apostles were married and their ministries did not suffer, he said, pointing out that thousands of priests protested when the new law was introduced as late as the 11th century.
Father Kung said: “Compulsory celibacy is the principal reason for today’s catastrophic shortage of priests, for the fatal neglect of eucharistic celebration, and for the tragic breakdown of personal pastoral ministry in many places.”
He argues that there are two simple solutions to the shortage of priests: “Abolition of the celibacy rule, the root of all these evils, and the admission of women to ordination. The bishops know this, but they do not have the courage to say it in public.”
(Also see NCR, on “Pope to meet top German bishop to address abuse“)