Violence in the cathedral

Violence in the cathedral

Violence against children and child abuse cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

The Holy See in Rome has landed itself in an awkward situation.

As a signatory of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, it is committed to the welfare of children and bound to protect them in all ways. Now, the watchdog body has itself been accused of the worst form of child abuse in allowing and encouraging their sexual exploitation within the holy corridors of its churches across the world. Thousands of innocent children are said to have been victimised over decades in the cathedrals of many countries which are directly controlled by the Vatican. Instead of punishing those responsible for such crimes, it has merely transferred them to different parishes where they have continued with their illicit activities. The UN Committee has now ordered the Vatican to surrender not only the archives of such crimes, but also hand over their perpetrators (and others who shielded them) to civil courts to be tried and prosecuted according to the law.

It is estimated that nearly 10,000 children were molested since the 1930s in just one state in Australia, while it is common knowledge that priests serving in many Roman Catholic churches of America have regularly indulged in similar activities with the connivance of their bishops and cardinals who carefully covered such crimes and allowed their perpetrators to go scotfree. Again, pedophilia has been rampant in the churches of South Africa, while it is reported even in a country like Ireland where the prime minister was severely chastised for speaking up against the church authorities in Rome. In India, a spate of such scandals in churches across the country a few years ago led to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) to frame special laws and guidelines to tackle incidents of child abuse by the guardians of the church.

Meaningless participation

Now, the Vatican itself acknowledges that nearly 400 priests have left the priesthood between 2011 and 2012 because of accusations of child abuse. Unless it takes proactive measures to end such crimes in all its sacred houses of worship, its participation in the UN body becomes meaningless and hypocritical. The Vatican must redefine the role of the priests who man those churches, and reassure their flock, who seek their care and protection. This will also mean a defining moment for the new pope as the troubling question of priestly celibacy must also be resolved.

Many reasons are attributed to sexual crimes, one of them being the mandatory celibacy forced upon Catholic priests, who are bound by vows of chastity. Psychologists believe that the unnatural life imposed upon them by a harsh church could result in such unnatural behavior. In fact, a cardinal in South Africa describes pedophilia as an illness which should be medically treated and not punished: A simplistic explanation of a heinous crime, no doubt. All crimes, for that matter, should then be considered the result of an abnormal mind and their perpetrators treated medically rather than punished. Violence against children cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

Maybe, it is time for the Church to revise its edicts in this respect. Many good priests who would have been valuable assets to the church are driven away by the strict laws of celibacy. Perhaps, the Vatican should discard its age old customs to ensure that its priests lead more normal lives. If the second in command to Pope Francis has stated that “celibacy is not a church dogma and it can be discussed because it is a church tradition,”one may conclude that the Vatican will probably take up this issue especially in the light of the UN warning. It is a good sign that Pope Francis has set up a commission recently to investigate crimes of child abuse in the church.

His predecessor, unfortunately, refused to act even when a priest was found guilty of sexually molesting disabled children. So, the Vatican itself has not been very clean in this respect and cannot ignore the UN charter that binds it to protect its weakest members. It cannot afford to spoil its standing further by disregarding the report.
Pope Francis has already enhanced his world image by speaking out freely against many of the ills that have plagued the church. Homosexuality, gay marriage and abortion have all received his attention. He has emerged as the kind, forgiving and understanding head of the church, who disdains the pomp of papacy and shuns passing judgement on his fellow beings. He will surely take heed of the UN Convention’s warning and take appropriate steps to correct the malaise that has tarnished the church’s reputation. If, in the process, he will have to abolish age old practices like priestly celibacy, one should not be too surprised.