Like many people, I’ve been reading the reports of emerging charges of sexual abuse by pedophile priests in Europe, as well as reports of the mounting evidence of Pope Benedict‘s role, first as Archbishop in Munich, and later as Cardinal Ratzinger in the Vatican.
But there’s something I’m not yet seeing in the articles and analyses I’ve read so far, and it is a crucial point, so I offer it now as a retired psychologist who had the privilege of working with hundreds of sexual abuse survivors.
To date, every time a Vatican spokesman or other defender of the Pope opens his mouth, what comes out is a clear demonstration of how much they do not comprehend about the experience of sexual abuse; and, more to the point, how little they attend to what’s necessary for healing from sexual abuse.
Here’s a quote from Bishop Gerald Kicanas in Arizona, which concludes a Huffington Post story here, posted today.
“Cardinal Ratzinger, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was always receptive, ready to listen, to hear people’s concerns,” said Kicanas. “Pope Benedict is the same man.”
That pretty well sums up all the comments I’ve seen offered in defense of Benedict: that he’s been attentive, and often, much more so than others in the Catholic hierarchy. Indeed, the same article that ends with the above quote also mentions his having headed up important changes in how the Church responds to cases of pedophile priests. So from the perspective of those who are speaking out in defense of the Pope, he is a shining star, a role model, of responsible ecclesial attention to the problem of pedophile priests.
And that is why they may as well be from Mars: in their world, all they see is that they have a problem, and that they are doing things to address the problem responsibly. What they see is that they, and specifically Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger, took action to deal with their problem of pedophile priests.
To their credit, their recognition that they do indeed have a problem of pedophile priests is an improvement over pretending there was no problem, or at least not much of a problem, with pedophile priests. We can think of them, then, as having made the leap from, say, one of Jupiter’s moons to the nearer realm of Mars, but they’re still not seeing what’s true for the victims of pedophile priests here on the surface of planet Earth.
What absolutely floors me in this situation—and I’m referring to the whole sex abuse scandal that’s been hanging around for decades, not just the newer revelations from Europe—is that the Church appears to have not taken the step of learning from sexual abuse survivors and their advocates what is necessary for healing from that horrendous trauma.
Bishop Kicanas spoke of how receptive Benedict XVI is to listening to anyone’s concerns. Listening isn’t enough.
Here’s the disconnect in a nutshell: from the perspective of the Vatican, they have listened and taken action to rectify their problem with pedophile priests. But from the perspective of the victims, beyond a bit of listening they haven’t taken action toward effecting healing of the victims.
The Vatican does not show any awareness, in its public statements, that the problem crying for attention is, “What must we do to help these children of God to heal?” rather than, “What can we do to rid the Church of the scandal of pedophile priests?”
Jeff Israely‘s opinion piece posted on Time.com goes a step further than others I’ve read in calling for specific actions from the Vatican that would help the victims:
Rather than state another mea culpa for the sins of the abusers, the Pope must simply and publicly seek forgiveness for himself — and other bishops — for what we might call the sins of ignorance and denial and administrative malfeasance that some critics say border on the criminal.
I’ll note first that many critics say the malfeasance is criminal. But to the point of Israely’s piece, public penitence and would be another major step forward toward giving victims what they need to heal. But more is needed yet. Here are some specific actions victims and survivors need to see in order to believe the Vatican “gets it,” that it puts their healing ahead of its concern over their scandal.
- As new cases arise, act quickly. Immediately provide counseling for the victim and his or her family; immediately report the case to law enforcement authorities; and immediately provide for the alleged perpetrator to have a thorough psychological evaluation.
- For pending cases, arrange for quick dispensation. Draft canon lawyers from around the world, if necessary, to speed the church trials of priests known to be pedophiles. The case in Arizona, highlighted in the HuffPo piece here, screams to victims of clerical abuse that the Church doesn’t care about their healing. There’s no excuse for letting a case drag out for years on top of years.
- Establish absolute transparency in dealing with pedophile priests. Too often agencies dealing with any form of child abuse hide behind the confidentiality rightly accorded the victim to avoid their own actions being scrutinized. What’s necessary is to have an open process making the Church’s actions visible, while maintaining the victim’s confidentiality.
The Church aims to be Christ to the world’s suffering people. To do so it must do everything possible to emulate Jesus the Healer. Many good people in the Church do their utmost to do just that. It’s time for those in the Vatican to come down to Earth and do the same.