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When an apology means little

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The Book of Revelations, Chapter 12, verses 7-9, tells of a war that took place in Heaven amongst the angels. Saint Michael the Archangel, leading the loyalist faction, defeated Satan and his rebels before casting them out. Christian tradition teaches that Satan was once an angel named Lucifer, who became prideful and wished to make himself the “Most High”.

It’s ironic that the Devil, before becoming God’s adversary, was once His servant. It goes to show that evil comes in all forms, and can even be cloaked in a façade of goodness.

Over two weeks have passed since a US Grand Jury released a report detailing decades of sexual abuse that occurred in the Catholic Church. The nearly 900-page document asserts that some 300 “predator” priests throughout Pennsylvania had abused nearly 1,000 children. What’s even worse is the confirmation that the local diocese conducted a systematic cover-up to silence the accusers and protect the culprits.

Needless to say, the report stoked the ire of Catholics in the US and around the world. That ire caught up with the Holy Father during his recent visit to Ireland. In a country that was once considered a stronghold of support, the turnout by the faithful was surprisingly low. But protest groups, on the other hand, were out in force, condemning both the Pope and the Vatican leadership for their mishandling of the scandal.

As a practicing Roman Catholic, I am extremely disappointed with the Church for nurturing the environment that allowed these abhorrent crimes to occur and for failing to properly atone for them. Since first coming to light in 2002, Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have all made statements of apology, both in public and in private meetings with victims. But even then it is too little, too late. In all fairness, the Church has instituted new policies on how allegations are dealt with; the most important being the inclusion of law enforcement to investigate any allegations. Reforms such as this have resulted in a drastic reduction in incidences of clergy-child abuse.

That being said, the fact remains that too few of the past perpetrators have ever been brought to justice. As the before-mentioned report showed, some priests were allowed to quietly resign or retire and others were just moved around to avoid prosecutorial jurisdiction. But ultimately the statute of limitations had simply run out on most of these crimes.

This is why the worldwide congregation can’t easily forgive the Holy See. But let’s be fair. The Catholic Church is not a haven for sexual deviants. Nor does it contain a disproportionate number of paedophiles and hebephiles when compared to other vocations. The vast majority of its clergy are honest, decent people who have sacrificed and dedicated themselves to service.

Unfortunately, the organisation’s seemingly self-righteous piety has made itself an ideal target for criticism. Especially as it has a proclivity for inserting itself into the social and political discourse of sovereign countries.

Take our own Archbishop Jason Gordon, for example. Throughout the public debate on the decriminalisation of the buggery laws, His Grace ensured that the Church’s position (on homosexuality) was made loud and clear, going so far as to lobby the Government—along with members of the IRO—not to amend the Equal Opportunities Act. It makes his silence on the US report seem somewhat out of character.

Let me be clear…I don’t expect the Archbishop to prostrate himself on the cathedral floor and beg the Trinbagonian Catholic community for forgiveness on behalf of the Roman Curia. But, if memory serves, I don’t recall either him or his predecessor ever addressing the scandal. This is where the Church has and continues to falter. Florid speeches by the pontiff aren’t enough. The word needs to go forth from the Vatican to every priest who officiates mass to directly and definitively talk about this troubling issue. It should be done in front of all parishioners, children included, not only to help prevent these disgusting crimes from happening but in the hope that this open honesty can win back their trust.

As much as the Holy See would like to close the book on this dark chapter, it is a stain that will forever remain on its reputation.

Yes, the Roman Catholic religion does teach the importance of forgiveness, but its adherents need to be vigilant as well. That means demanding better from their spiritual leaders and, if need be, to hold them accountable. I invoke the prayer to blessed Michael the Archangel to, “…be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil…,” particularly the one that dwells within our own Church.


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