How do you respond when you learn that a brother, a sister, a son, or a daughter has been sexually abused?
What anger, what murderous thoughts, what self-condemnation, what sense of failure for not having asked, not having known? What self torture if your half-conscious instincts or nagging concerns had not been followed? What immense frustration that the person who you wanted to protect more than anything was harmed on your watch, and nothing that you or a judge or a policeman can do will erase that despicable act or restore your loved one to wholeness.
The pain and betrayal of victimhood is unimaginable. It is something that they will have to live with, a burden they will have to carry forever. But for the rest of us, it is all too easy to imagine how we would feel if our child was a victim.
The story of the sexual abuse crisis in the Church has been for so many Catholics a story of betrayal, of failure, of insensitivity to profound suffering, of wanton cruelty to the most defenseless among us, our children. We have read about the abuser priests, the failed efforts to treat them, the movement from parish to parish by bishops who seemed not to understand the damage that was done.
Most recently, there has been an enormous amount of discussion about whether Pope Benedict XVI was part of the problem.
The question was first asked in the wake of a story about the treatment of an abuser priest during the future pope’s tenure as archbishop of Munich. That was followed by a New York Times story alleging that “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys.” The story launched a torrent of claims by other news agencies and papers, and was soon amplified by television news media and endless blogs and web sites.
The heavily repeated theme was two-fold: That no progress has been made with regard to the Church’s handling of the sex abuse crisis. If anything, it is getting worse. And second, Joseph Ratzinger, as an archbishop in Germany, as a Cardinal and head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and now as pope, has committed acts of neglect, cover-up, and disregard for the plight of the victims of sexual abuse by the clergy.
Both assertions are false, but most readers, including most Catholics, might find it hard to find a contrary point of view and therefore have had little reason to doubt them as fact.
The result has been the defamation of the one Church official over the last decade who has understood clearly the scale of the crisis of sexual abuse and who has labored to end it and to reform the Church in such a way that institutionally it never happens again—Pope Benedict XVI.
Likewise, the genuine record of progress has been completely neglected. For the last eight years, the Catholic Church in the United States has undergone a transformation through the application of the so-called Dallas Charter and the imposition of the Essential Norms, by which dioceses created safe environments for children, launched a “zero tolerance” policy regarding abuse, and worked to improve the formation of priests and seminary system. The results have been nothing short of dramatic.
However, with the latest accusations, it seems as though the last eight years and the progress made in them simply never happened.
Benedict XVI and the Sex Abuse Crisis has been written to help return the focus to the genuine role the Holy Father has and continues to play in combating the scourge of sexual abuse in the Church, the way that he is working for reform and renewal, and the progress that has been achieved in curbing this blight on the priesthood and the Church.
The main themes of this book are simple:
These themes are based on our study of the relevant Vatican documents and speeches of Pope Benedict, and we have included those texts near the end of this book for your study and review as well. In the appendix you will also find a commentary by a canon lawyer on Church law as it relates to the crisis.
Reform and renewal have gone hand in hand across the 2,000 years of Catholic history. While it is true that not all renewal comes from the top of the Church, authentic reform of and by the papacy has been crucial in providing the process of renewal. Pope Benedict XVI, an expert in the writings of Augustine and the great Franciscan theologian Bonaventure, understands very well the power of reforming movements and the immense good that can come from renewal. As the pope wrote to the Irish people recently:
I wish to exhort all of you . . . to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal.
This book does not claim to be an exhaustive study of the history of sexual sins in the Church or even of the sex abuse scandal that has bedeviled the Church for the last decades. That is another book to be written in the years to come. But it is our hope that after reading this book, you will have a renewed appreciation of the work of the pope — and the leaders of reform in the Church — and what they have managed to achieve in the last years.
Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis, Copyright © 2010, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., all rights reserved.
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