The conference recently held at the Vatican's Gregorian University brought together cardinals, bishops, priests from over 100 countries and the heads of thirty-three religious orders to tackle the sexual abuse of children by catholic priests. Marie Collins from Ireland, abused at 13, by a priest was the only victim of clerical abuse allowed to speak.
Revelations of widespread child sexual abuse and their cover-up by bishops in the United States and Europe in recent years have brought shame and disgrace on several dioceses and led to the resignation of bishops in Ireland and elsewhere. It is now recognized that the issue of clerical child sexual abuse was grossly mishandled for decades if not generations, with a policy of cover up, secrecy, denial, and private payoffs. The failure of church authorities to act on behalf of the victims and report the offenders to the civil authorities allowed them to abuse children repeatedly.
Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle told the Vatican conference that clerical child abuse was a problem in the Philippines and in Asia too. The Archbishop said that in Asia this is due to a "culture of shame that holds dearly one's humanity, honor and dignity," A children's rights defender told this column, "The Archbishop is correct, this is a false and warped sense of honor and has no dignity or humanity at all. There is no honor, dignity or humanitarian care in ignoring a child's cry for help having being raped".
A culture of fear and silence still reigns in the hearts of many Catholics. Some wrongly believe that reporting child sexual abuse committed by a member of the clergy is in someway a betrayal of the Church or their faith and would be the cause for greater scandal.
Catholics don't report child abuse for fear of being ostracized by the community and criticized for supposedly bringing shame to the Church. This is a attitude that has been cultivated by some church leaders to contain the scandals. It is utterly wrong and immoral. It's a false compassion, brotherhood or father-son relationship that protects a clerical child abuser. When the evidence is strong and clear so must be the action to save the child and bring the alleged abuser to justice.
The church leadership is now reluctantly and ashamedly admitting that it has failed to do so in many cases. For most victims it is too little too late. Nothing can compensate for the years of hurt and abuse. Many children are damaged for life others are filled with loathing and hatred towards men, the church and priests. Some have written to this column to say so.
The children at the Preda home for abused girls tell horrific stories of abuse by their own fathers and the live-in partners of their mother. They hate and are traumatized because of what was done to them. Helping them recover is a challenging task for the psychologists, therapists and counselors. But they do heal and make a new life.
Pope Benedict, has called for "profound renewal" and "a vigorous culture of effective safeguarding and victim support". That is not before it's time. In the Preda children's home there are 57 victims, the youngest 6 years old recovering from rape and abuse. There are 36 ongoing cases against child abusers.
Jesus had harsh words for child abusers. "...if anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose faith in me it would be better a millstone be tied about his neck and he be drowned in the deep sea". Matthew 18:6-7. However repentance, public confession, and doing penance behind bars would be acceptable. Bishops should pursue this option when the evidence of guilt is strong.
Nowadays, with the public outrage we don't need to be told that child abuse is a grave, wrong and criminal offense. It must be reported to the authorities at once and the victims brought to a child care center where they can be protected, healed and helped. The Preda hotline for reporting child abuse is 0063-917-532-4453.
US archbishop Stephen Rossetti told the Vatican conference; "It is time to pro-actively and aggressively root out this evil from our society. You and I must begin this task by exorcising it from our own midst, Child molesters must know they have no safe sanctuary in the Church," he said.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a founder of PREDA.org - a nonprofit dedicated to ending the exploitation of children.