Dear Pope Benedict…it’s not just a sin, it’s a crime!

“[D]espite my bad experiences with certain Catholic priests, and despite my anger over how the Church has dealt with the issue of abusive priests in general, I owe much to the Catholic community and have great respect for a number of individual priests and religious. In fact, my own youngest brother is a member of a religious order. It is because of the respect I have for many Catholic priests and religious and the debt I feel to those people, and to the lay Catholics who have nurtured and educated me since childhood, that I believe my story should be told. The Catholic Church is better than the headlines; it is more than the sum of its mistakes. Pedophilia is not just a sin; it is a psychological disorder. It is not just a mistake; it is a crime. And the victims deserve to see justice served. But not all priests are pedophiles and not all bishops are liars.” From Hurt to Healing, 2004

I wrote this some years ago. I still stand by it: not all priests are liars and pedophiles. However, I have also learned that the evil of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church involves bishops and cardinals as well as priests. And the knowing and intentional policy of cover-up and denial includes popes. Today it is difficult to call to mind the good in the Catholic Church, but then I remember my brother, a religious and teacher who just returned from a mission trip to Africa. There are still good and holy people in the Catholic Church, sadly it becomes harder and harder to see them through the anger and tears.

The pope may be trying to get the message right, but he doesn’t recognize the “sin” for the crime that it is. And he doesn’t recognize that the solution is not sacramental or spiritual. The Church organization needs to be deconstructed, criminals need to be brought to justice, regardless of their age or infirmity. The church should support the suspension or removal of the statutes of limitations for the crimes that have already been admitted but cannot be prosecuted. A case in point: there is in my community a “retired” priest who was found guilty of multiple counts of sexual abuse of minors in a church investigation, but because of his “advanced age” has not been laicized. Instead he is supported by the church and still carries out his priestly functions when invited. He lives within a block of a Catholic Grammar school. His neighbors do not know of his crimes; local Catholics did not know of his crimes. His crimes were committed in another diocese. A close friend of mine, and one of his victims, took his own life last year. Perhaps he was overwhelmed by his inability to protect other children from the man who had already been “credibly accused” of child rape. This is a broken system. No number of apologies, no amount of penance, no degree of sadness on the part of the pope will make any difference. The system needs to be broken open; it is already broken.

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