Puttin' Out the Bone

When Priests Molest Kids

Feb 28, 2002 at 2:06 pm

Is celibacy the root cause of Roman Catholic priests molesting children in their own parishes?

Around the world, Catholic priests are being exposed for molesting children. In Ireland, the Catholic church has agreed to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to thousands of victims who were molested by Catholic priests.

The Boston Globe, through a recent series of stunning articles exposing pedophile priests, forced the Archdiocese of Boston to turn over names of nearly 100 priests to the police for crimes committed against children over a period of years. A number of pastors have been relieved of their duties in the past two weeks.

In its articles, The Globe revealed a multi-year strategy of quiet payoffs to victims and their families to keep the crisis of crime out of the news while offending priests were sent off to ineffective treatment programs before returning to duties, sometimes even as pastors.

The person in charge of the cover up, Cardinal Bernard Law, is being asked to resign his post by an increasingly shrill group of critics.

Then, as the crisis gathered forward motion, the bishop of the Diocese of Manchester, N.H. announced the names of 14 priests in that state who had been accused of molesting children in the past, and then turned them over to prosecutors.

Last week in both Worcester, Mass., and Portland, Maine, church authorities informed worshippers of priests in their midst who had molested teen-agers and were treated in a special center. Scandals have also occurred in Texas, California and Louisiana during recent years.

Pedophilia Catholic-style has also hit close to home here. A priest is under investigation for molestation in Hamilton, Ohio. Two other celebrated criminal convictions have occurred in Northern Kentucky and on Cincinnati's east side.

But do we know the full breadth of pedophilia by Catholic priests here in Cincinnati? Cash settlements with the promise that the priests will stay away from children in the future is what drove the truth underground in Boston and other cities. Additionally, victims have feared the stigma of public shame, and priests have probably counted on that.

So has that happened in our town? Or are the cases flooding newspaper pages unique to just certain cities? Logically, the answer has to be no. So could church leaders in our own community, fearing a public relations nightmare, have "handled" priest pedophiles and their victims just as Cardinal Law did in Boston?

I asked Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the local archdiocese, if there were hidden cases of molestation here like those exposed in Boston. He said he knew of none. When I asked if there could be situations that church leaders simply didn't tell him about, he paused and said he didn't know.

"They seem to tell me quite a bit," he said.

But why wouldn't the criminal pattern play out similarly around the world? If it's in many cities, why not in all cities, particularly since the Catholic church has had no mandated universal policy on what to do when a priest is accused of hurting a child?

Maybe only a disciplined bull-dog of a journalist will get the answer for Cincinnati, just as happened in Boston. By digging through records, interviewing lawyers who were involved in settlements and pleading with victims, frightened church leaders made admissions and the story of ecclesiastic corruption got told.

Imagine it. An institution that claims to lead its people to eternal peace participates in a reality of earthly horror and crime — then, at least in many cities around the world, hides it from its own flock and the larger world.

So what's the cause? Clearly the Catholic church must be forced to play by sectarian rules when it comes to crime. But what is at the root of this pattern of pedophilia? Is it that some men choose professions that put them in constant touch with children, knowing their own ugly hunger?

But if that's it, why aren't there similar statistics among rabbis, teachers and ministers of other faiths? Is it that other faiths hide even better than Catholics their crimes against children? When have you heard, say, Lutherans having to pay out millions to the victims of their ministers' pedophilia?

Some are finally questioning the obvious: celibacy. It's only in the Roman Catholic church — not even Eastern Rites of the Catholic church — that ministers are forbidden to marry, date or have any sexual pleasure.

It's not because of anything Jesus Christ ever said, or even his successor on earth, St. Peter. In fact, it wasn't until the 12th century that popes began denying priests their human nature.

On its face, celibacy doesn't stand up. Modern Roman Catholic popes say it allows their ministers to give their lives totally to their work and to God, that a wife and family would divide their commitment and attention. Sounds pretty silly when you look at the wonderful work ministers of other faiths do with families in tow.

C'mon. If a man spends a life fighting his nature, regardless of the power of his religion, some bad things, human things, could happen. Preying on children for sexual pleasure could be one of them.

The Roman Catholic Church must finally take action to shed the growing cloak of scandal. Across the world it must give up the priests it knows has terrorized children. Turn them all over to the police, no matter the country, city, state or time period of their crimes.

In the future, all allegations should be given up to the authorities the instant they're made.

And the policy of celibacy should be abandoned with a stroke of the Vatican pen. While it might not be the primary cause of priestly pedophilia, abolishing mandatory celibacy removes it from the list of possibilities during this dark time. More pragmatically, it could stop the dwindling numbers of priests that one day will paralyze the institution.