Predator priests

A crisis of confidence in the Catholic Church unparalleled in modern times has been triggered by a wave of allegations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the Church’s failure to act against the latter. Allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and the cover-up of these crimes by others higher up in the hierarchy are not new. The problem — long shrouded in silence — erupted in the open in the 1980s in the US when lawsuits were filed against priests for molesting altar boys.

In the years since there have been torrents of lawsuits; yet only one bishop was ‘disciplined’. Even this bishop was sent to a job in Rome. Such has been the Catholic Church’s shameful record of inaction on sexual abuse of children by its priests. It has emerged now that Pope Benedict XVI, as a cardinal in Germany and later as a top Vatican official, was part of the culture of secrecy that shielded, even abetted child rapists and molesters.

It is alleged that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the Pope was then known, knew that a priest under his authority was raping children. Not only did he not report the priest to criminal authorities, but he retained him as an active priest, enabling him to continue molesting. As a Vatican official, he was in charge of a department that was responsible for dealing with priests accused of sexual abuse. He cannot absolve himself of responsibility for failing to act upon the damning evidence that would have repeatedly landed on his desk.

The right thing for the Vatican to do is to come clean on the rot that has gripped the Church, even own moral responsibility for horrendous crimes that have been committed by its priests and its silence on the matter. Sadly, its officials have dismissed the allegations as ‘petty gossip.’ There is nothing petty about priests raping children. Even if the numbers of abuse cases is exaggerated as alleged by the Vatican, the latter should realise that even one case of sexual abuse is intolerable.

When confronted by allegations of child sexual abuse in the past, the Church faced the choice of protecting the child victims or its paedophile priests. More often than not, it chose the latter. It would be tragic if it repeated that blunder this time around.

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