Press: Pope misses mark on sexual abuse

Press: Pope misses mark on sexual abuse
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By any account, it was an extraordinary occasion. After decades of sweeping it under the rug, the Catholic Church openly acknowledged the issue of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Organizers of the four-day Vatican conference, led by Pope Francis himself, set forth three goals: to hear from victims; to hold bishops accountable for cover up; and to win back the trust of Catholics.

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Unfortunately, they failed to achieve the one goal the whole world was waiting for. The pope’s closing call for “all-out war” against sexual abuse included no specific course of action. Missing was a declaration that any priest guilty of sexual abuse or any bishop guilty of covering them up would be immediately dismissed from the clergy and reported to law enforcement authorities.

Indeed, the most striking aspect of the priest sexual abuse scandal is how long it’s been dragging on and how little the Catholic Church has done about it.

News of Irish priests preying on underage boys first surfaced in the late 1980s.

Reports of clerical abuse in this country first came out of Boston in 2002.

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Only recently, from church records seized by state attorneys general, did we learn how widespread the problem is: in Pennsylvania, 301 priests were identified as sexual predators; in New Jersey, 188. The Illinois Catholic Church released the names of 185 priests charged with sexual abuse, but Attorney General Lisa Madigan stated there could be as many as 500 more cases uninvestigated.

The sad fact is that, even to this day, 20 or 30 years later, the church has still not recognized the seriousness of the problem, nor dealt with it accordingly. And the church never will adequately deal with widespread sexual abuse by members of the clergy until it does three things.

One, the church must recognize sexual abuse and assault as a law enforcement problem, not a church discipline problem, and immediately turn over all cases of alleged sexual and/or child abuse, on the part of perpetrators as well as those who covered up the crimes, to proper authorities. Priest or not, what happens to the guilty party should be up to the district attorney, not the bishop.

Two, the church must abandon the mandate of celibacy for the priesthood. Even the church admits this is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It has little, if any, biblical foundation. It was not required by Jesus. He may not have married, but his apostles did.

St. Paul “recommends” celibacy, but never said it should be required for the priesthood. In fact, the Catholic Church did not mandate celibacy until the 11th century. And today, only the Roman Catholic Church, not Eastern Catholics, continue the practice.

Getting rid of celibacy would not only help the church solve its serious problem of a shortage of priests worldwide, it would add the value of more sexually-balanced and experienced clergy to serve the faithful.

Three, it’s long past time for the church to end outright discrimination, to stop treating women like second-class citizens, and to welcome women to the priesthood.

As other religions have discovered, women can lead a church as well, if not better, than any man, and are far less likely to abuse their power by preying on others. Ordain women and the problem of sexual abuse among priests could largely disappear.

So, it was good for Pope Francis to meet with his bishops. But without these fundamental changes, the Catholic Church is just nibbling around the edges — and the problem of priestly sexual abuse will continue.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”