The Catholic Church seems unable to emerge cleanly from the pedophilia scandal that has rocked parishes around the world. The scandal has cost more than four billion dollars in settlements, and most importantly, has damaged a lot of young lives over many decades — some irreparably.
Now the diocese of Rochester in my former hometown is being called to account.
For all of his pastoral concern, Pope Francis has been only marginally more effective than his predecessors in moving boldly to end the scandal. The Church assiduously avoids acknowledging that anything about its all-male priestly culture might contribute to the problem, although the alternative explanations they’ve tried over the years have failed to persuade. We’re way beyond “a few bad apples” or “the damage done by liberalizing the Church” or “allowing gay men to minister”. Acts of pedophilia have stained the Church and damaged children in every country where the Church has a presence, are documented over decades and certainly have happened even longer, and involve men at all levels of priestly ministry.
The most significant change has been not on the Church side, but on the side of children and families who no longer allow themselves to be isolated and blamed. Children are taught to speak up. Families do not allow themselves to be silenced by the local bishop who rebukes parents in authoritarian terms about “not causing scandal to the Church.” Police and the legal system no longer collude — at least in most countries. Families sue. Prosecutors charge.
Most of the allegations in the Rochester diocese were about behavior that happened years or even decades ago, and many of the priests charged have either died or been removed from ministry. At least one is still active and currently working in a parish.
I get that sexual abuse of children happens wherever children gather: in schools, in sports, in camps. But the Church has a particular culture, in my view, that seems to attract and shelter men prone to sexually destructive behavior. The all-male priesthood needs to go. The Church needs more women in positions of authority to tell the guys point blank to knock it off and keep it in their pants.