These are days of darkness and light for many in the Catholic Church. The horrific exposes of clerical sexual abuse against children around the world — in the United States, Ireland, Australia, Poland, Germany, Austria and the latest in France — are stunning and shocking and there are more to come. It is just a matter of time.
The cover up of clerical sexual abuse of children by some Church authorities in cahoots with some civil authorities never seems to end. It has brought shame, embarrassment and loss of respect to dedicated, innocent priests and clerics and laypeople.
The institutional Church leaders in some places are still striving to prevent shame and embarrassment by hiding away the abusers and the records of their crimes against children. The days are fast approaching when clerical abuse of children cannot be covered up and hidden. The perpetrators where there is credible evidence will have to face trial in civil courts, according to Pope Francis in his various instructions and in his Apostolic Letter “Vos Estis Lux Mundi,” meaning You are the Light of the World.
This papal instruction combats child sexual abuse in the church by clerics and holds bishops and religious superiors responsible for their actions and inaction in bringing clerical child abusers to accountability and justice. In the Philippines, this has very seldom been done, if ever. The priest suspects are reassigned or on permanent bail.
The hiding of crimes of clerical abuse against children is criminal behavior by church officials, priests who knew and said nothing and their lawyers. They are ignoring the suffering and pain of the victims, paying off the parents or guardians and prosecutors not to pursue a criminal case. They must realize protecting the abuser is a criminal offence. He has to be brought to justice to stop more abuse, protect children and give justice to his victims. Yet, cover-up still continues in the Philippines.
No true Christian, priest or bishop should cower in shame and embarrassment because of the heinous crimes of the few. The priesthood has been and continues to be tarnished only to the degree that bishops, priests and laypeople remain silent, inactive and indifferent to reporting child sexual abuse done by clerics. The biggest sin is not helping the victims to get protection, healing, empowerment, justice, closure and compensation.
There are 1.329 billion Catholics in the world today and 414,582 priests. The majority of bishops and priests are good, caring people and dedicated pastors. Most are truly faithful to their vows of celibacy, although not all. In the Philippines, there are 86 dioceses and 5,037 priests. There is a culture of face saving and cover up of child sexual abuse.
As Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said in television interviews, “We deal with it internally.” Pope Francis says the child rapist must be brought to a civil court to face justice.
Most bishops, priests and deacons everywhere are committed Christians and they serve the poor, comfort the sick, guide the lost, support the lonely, educate the unlearned. They are led by the most committed of all, Pope Francis, who has spoken for justice, compassion, and solidarity with child victims and enacted new laws to protect them.
Hundreds of thousands of priests and clerics over the years have given their lives in sacrifice for their people, hundreds are true martyrs. Thousands more have left home and family to serve as missionaries in foreign lands, including the Philippines, to join Christians in solidarity in bringing truth, enlightenment and social justice to many communities.
They have built schools, churches, hospitals and managed projects that help the poor. They brought the love of God and social justice into the hearts of communities and the lives of people who have been abandoned and exploited by corrupt corporations and government officials. These priests are working for social justice. They all will say they detest child sexual abuse by anybody above all by priests.
So, why then has the reputation of the hundreds of thousands of good bishops, priests, clerics and Catholic faithful being sullied and smeared by the devious, despicable and hideous crimes of just a few of their deviant clergy when being challenged by outraged laypeople in the worldwide media?
The answer is because they were allowed to! The cover up, callous indifference and inaction, fear, and shame to expose a priest by bishops, priests, clergy and the lay Catholics who could not, would not and cannot accept or believe that their exalted priestly idol could have committed such a heinous crime of child sexual abuse.
The abused children who by extraordinary bravery and courage dared to risk everything in their young fragile lives to whisper or tell the shocking truth to an adult of being sexually abused by a priest are generally not believed. That is another deep wound. They are rejected, scolded, said to be lying and told to shut up and never speak of it again. That is why there are few, if any, court cases against Filipino clerics.
The child victims usually have no protector, their parents are against them especially if their abuser is a priest. Brave are the parents that would challenge the mighty institutional church. The victims have no supporter and some government social workers fail them, too. Church and government have failed to provide safe and secure therapeutic centers operated by professional therapists and councilors with experienced paralegal for child victims of sexual abuse. It is only a few non-government organizations who dare to rescue, protect, heal and demand justice through the courts against the child rapists.
Throughout the Philippines, one in every three girls is a victim of sexual abuse by relatives, neighborhood pedophiles and clergy. Few are reported. The children bury the pain and suffer in silence. Everyone has to stand and fight this terrible crime in society and the Church in particular.
Every Christian believing in the words of Jesus of Nazareth that children are the most important in the kingdom of God must act on the truth and protect child victims by speaking out and get the suspects to a fair civil trial. In the Philippines, how many child-abusing clerics have been held to account in the courts? Very few or none at all.
We have to be defenders of abused children, protectors of the victims and champions of what is just and right for children. To remain silent, inactive and indifferent is silence of consent. Any information of child abuse can be reported in confidence to [email protected] or to this writer.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.