The meeting of the representatives of the Episcopal Conferences from all over the world with Pope Francis in Rome, on the issue of sexual abuse of children and the vulnerable that has painted the Church in bad light, has just concluded. This unprecedented move by the Pontiff has been both bold and timely.
It is not the first time that the Church has come up to acknowledge the wrongdoing by some of its high officials. In 1633, Galileo Galilei was put under the dreaded inquisition and condemned for promoting the idea of heliocentricism. in 1992, 359 years later the Church through Pope John Paul II, apologized for having, through ignorance of the findings of the founder of the modern science that it is indeed the earth that moves round the sun and not the contrary.
The cases of child abuse, some of which date as long back as 1960s, have been some of the challenges that the Church has been grappling with.
Some of those on whom the burden of responsibility falls squarely, the bishops, have been accused of either directly accused of the crime or of covering the cases.
SVD Vocation Coordinator Fr. Geoffrey Ndung’u and Bro. Douglas SiImonetti, Brother’s Vocation Coordinator, at Burka, Arusha, comparing notes on recruitment of new candidates
The Church s the body of Christ whose parts are the baptized. When a person is baptized he receives the grace to become part of the Church of Christ but it does not make him or her immune to selfish desires. The grace of God need collaboration by the baptized in order to work in his life.
The abuse of children and the vulnerable members of the society whether sexually or others, either by the clergy of a lay person is to be condemned by all the strictness possible. However, Though the vice is not a monopoly of some clergymen, because this also is happening within the family set up, the responsibility assumed by the former makes these accusations more grievous that when committed by the later.
It will be unwise though to start the finger-pointing game on who is better or worse that the other when it comes to abuses. what the Church has done, through its highest leadership, is to call a spade a spade and make apologies if needed and work out amendments moving onward. The Church as the body of Christ remains Holy and authoritative in matters morality first towards its members and then to all who would listen objectively. This is because the errors and sins committed by some of its members does not mean that the Church in itself is in jeopardy.
A few days I was talking to a friend of mine who does not subscribe to any institutionalized religion and she argued that the Church is guilty of double standards and it has no authority whatsoever to dictate to everyone in the world on matters morality. I told him as far as I know, the Church does not dictate morality to anyone but rather plays its prophetic role of preaching the Word of God following the footsteps of the apostles who received this command from Jesus himself.
But there are many people in the world who thinks the same as my friend, that the Church wrongly thinks of itself as the standard measures of what is morally right or wrong.
Back to our meeting of reference, the Vatican has announced that from now on, their will be no cover-up of these crimes and there will be preventive strategies and measures in place. I think this is a much better move than engaging in endless debate of whether the issue of celibacy has anything to do with these crimes. Celibacy is a way of life just like any other way of life. In Moral terms we may call it a fundamental option that someone takes in his right mind and freedom. Celibacy was proposed for clerical and religious life as a means of complete self-giving to a cause. Jesus explains this in Mathew 19:10-12 “(His) disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept (this) word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
In my opinion, I do not think that being celibate is what makes someone a child sex predator. I explain. Whether a person has got behaviour issues when growing up because of many factors, or whether he or she has picked bad manners at a certain stage of his life , it does not matter what he or she chooses to become in life, this behaviour, unless it is worked on, it will always follow him or her. There is a Swahili, saying that one fly can spoil the who pot of soup. This is what is called collective responsibility.
Now, the Church has dared to catch the bull by its head. This in my opinion is the best move. There are many good things that the Church through it good members, whether lay of clergy is doing to make better the lives of the children, the vulnerable and the less privileged. Let us not get discouraged by the errors that are bound to come. This calls us all to humility and recognition that we all need the mercy and the grace of God.
The Church still needs more men and women who want to consecrate their lives to the service of humanity totally through religious and clerical life. We encourage the youth to focus on the good things and not to be discouraged by the evil that is always roaring like a hungry lion waiting to devour someone.
The formation programs for religious and clergy need also to be revised and more proactive measures be put. It all goes well or bad in the beginning. If the preparation if not good enough, the product will definitely be also not good enough.
Fr. Lawrence Muthee, SVD