~ by Sr. Mary Theresa Rozga
I have a concern about the recent discussion surrounding childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I am worried that the issue will begin to focus more on celibacy and the priesthood than on ways to bring healing to victims and perpetrators. It seems that many people believe that by allowing priests to marry the Church will solve its problem with sexual abuse. I disagree. This is too simplistic an answer.
Celibacy is not the reason why there are clerical pedophiles. If this were the case, then there would be no married pedophiles. But, there are. Robert Grant, Ph.D., in his book Healing the Soul of the Church, states that "...it is well known that most pedophiles are married heterosexuals..." (pg. 124).
Celibacy is really an issue separate from childhood sexual abuse. Permitting priests to marry would just increase the number of applicants for the priesthood. There would still be a need for effective screening tools and for appropriate steps being taken when a problem becomes apparent. Too much time and energy are being used to discuss celibacy to the detriment of the real issue - addressing sexual abuse.
Another concern I have is really a fear. I am afraid that once attention wanes in regards to sexual abuse within the Church, the larger issue of children being victimized in other settings throughout society will be ignored.
As I stated in my previous article, the Church needs to focus on this evil that has been demoralizing and harming children. But, other churches, organizations, and societies must examine how their children are being treated. Childhood sexual abuse is not just a problem in the Catholic Church. It is rampant all over the world.
I am glad that the Catholic Church is responding to the human sinfulness within its own institution. Any institution composed of human beings will be sinful and will need to be forgiven and make atonement.
Pope John Paul II, in his Holy Thursday letter to priests exhorts them (and really all of us): "As the church shows her concern for the victims (of sexual abuse) and strives to respond in peace and justice to each of these painful situations, all of us – conscious of human weakness but trusting in the healing power of divine grace – are called to embrace the 'mysterium crucis' (mystery of the cross) and to commit ourselves more fully to the search for holiness" (#11). The Church and all its members must be especially grateful this Easter Season for the gift of our salvation through Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. We are in need of a Redeemer.
Discussion of childhood sexual abuse must now turn to action. We need to educate ourselves on this complex issue. We must work to stop the cycle of abuse. We need to intervene on the behalf of children who are without means to protect themselves. We must also provide services for adults who were untreated as children. Although their abuse may have taken place decades ago, they still bear the wounds. Many of these wounds have never been cleansed and healed. Will we be "Good Samaritans" who will use our time and money to bring healing and newness of life to these victims?
Untreated victims of childhood sexual abuse often are revictimized as adults. Their vulnerability becomes evident to other abusive adults who again take advantage of these children of God. Will we proclaim and live out the Good News of freedom, healing, and peace to them? Will we break the chains of guilt, shame, and fear that bind them to the cycle of abuse?
I definitely hope so. There is the saying "Talk is cheap." Will we be part of the discussion on sexual abuse and not part of the solution?
- Sr. Mary Theresa Rozga 4/02