To abuse a child is the ultimate betrayal of trust. A priest who commits a paedophile assault is guilty of a double betrayal; not only of the victim but also the institution in which he serves. It is an outrage against the vulnerable and an abuse of the influence that priests wield in society by virtue of the [religion] reposed in their vows. The child may be scarred for life; the Church itself is undermined. But there should never be any question that the Church’s first duty lies with the victim; Christians [Catholics too?] must love the sinner, but they must also be able to confront evil squarely.
With paedophilia, where there is a strong tendency to re-offend, the duty is not only clear but urgent; children may be harmed by silence or half-measures. The desire to protect the Church’s reputation can never excuse the treatment of this crime as a mere misdemeanour. That is what the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in Britain and elsewhere, has been culpably inclined to do - when, that is, it has not averted its gaze.
For years, it handled child abusers much as it did, ‘Punch and Judy’ priests, the euphemism for alcoholism and adult sexual relationships. The drill was to spirit them smartly out to a safe house, ‘cure’ them at a retreat, counselling centre or church ‘boot camp’ and then send them to a new parish to start afresh. For repeat offenders there was the monastery or just possibly, laicization. It was all very discreet and the result was that child abuse was almost never reported to the police. Colleagues closed ranks. In some countries secret church funds were set up to compensate victims who complained.
In 1994 new guidelines were introduced which obliged bishops to refer sex-abuse complaints to community officers or the police if they had a ‘semblance’ to truth; yet so little did this change the culture that a year later an official internal inquiry in Ireland recommended that paedophile priests be retained in the Church, confined to administrative duties. [Sempre-aedem]
The guidelines have largely been ignored and at the highest level. Very recently the Archbishop of Cardiff, the Most Rev John Ward, ignored clear warnings about two subsequently convicted paedophile priests; and earlier, no less a dignitary than the Most Rev Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, now the Archbishop of Westminster, sent Michael Hill, a known paedophile to work at Gatwick airport two years after he had revoked his licence as a parish priest. [He said he had acted ‘properly’ and that it was not irresponsible]. In the past five years one in every 300 of the 6000 Roman Catholic priests in England and Wales has been convicted of sex offences against children, a far higher incidence than in the population at large.
Million-dollar claims for damages in the USA may have made a mark. But the Church is so far from cleaning house that this week’s complaints of child abuse by Father David Martin, a chaplain to the London Oratory School, who had been known by his Order to have aids, will shock but not surprise. Each tragic criminal case besmirches the entire religious community and in so doing does incalculable damage to the nation’s spiritual health.
[The corruption does not end here. Although Murphy-O’Connor has now agreed that the boys abused by the priest should receive compensation, the Roman Catholic Church has imposed a gagging order on the victims to stop them telling their story, which amounts to paying them to keep silent about the real facts and the extent of the abuse.]