Having a 3-and-a-half-year-old son has made the horrific revelations about the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests even more abhorrent. His innocence and vulnerability have been my daily context as I listen to one awful story after another. It makes a person very angry.
Concern for the victims of the widespread sexual abuse has to be our first and overriding concern. Where the Catholic Church and its leaders have begun to fully repent of these terrible sins and make those who have been irreparably damaged its principle priority, it becomes the beginning of healing. But where concerns for the perpetrators, or the priesthood, or the institution, or the financial consequences have dominated the response, the original sin has been seriously compounded. Clearly, the path that must be followed now is to put the welfare of the victims over the protection of the system. Indeed, that is the only way to save and heal the system in the long run.
But what must be done? Some wrongly blame celibacy. But as Richard Rohr explains in his incisive article in this issue, celibacy is not the problem (though some reforms in how it might be implemented may be in order). While I support both the ordination of women priests (my wife is an Episcopal cleric) and the welcoming of married priests, neither of these crucial church reforms would solve the problem either. Both pedophilia (the sexual abuse of children) and the abuse of power in sexual relations with post-pubescent young people are problems in many places, including other churches where women and married priests are accepted. Nor is the problem the prevalence of homosexual men in the Catholic priesthood. Pedophilia is as much a heterosexual illness as a homosexual one. The underlying issue in this terrible church sex scandal is not—as the Left and the Right have variously asserted—celibacy, the lack of women priests or married priests, or the number of homosexuals in the priesthood.