Monday, 4 March 2013

Guidance from Catholic priests

You might consider this post to be somewhat insensitive to victims of sexual abuse, or you might agree with the questions that I am asking.  In this particular case, the alleged victims are Roman Catholic priests.  Does this make a difference?  Personally I think it does.  (And since drafting this post I have also heard notable Christains, even Catholics, agreeing with most of my points.)

Presumably the training for the priesthood involves quite a lot of guidance about what is generally right and what is definitely wrong.There are some topics where there are no absolute answers, but there are others where things are much more obvious.  At the end of their many years of training, these men are sent out into the world to advise their parishioners on matters that they have not generally experienced for themselves.  But they can be matters of life and death.

I recognise that it must take a special sort of person to devote himself to this way of life, and although it would not be my choice, I do have some respect for their selflessness.  That respect is limited though.  After all, all rights are accompanied by responsibilities.  In general (and I can think of few exceptions) I have no respect at all for the teachings that emanate from the Vatican. Anyone who propagates those teachings is partially culpable, however good their intentions might be.

So what happens when a priest needs guidance himself, and he goes to his bishop for advice.  In the case of certain bishops - now ex-cardinals - that advice would appear to me to fall into a rather special and particular category.  It has a simple name . . .


This is not an anti-gay comment.  It is all about the way that powerful men in the Roman Catholic church have been able to make inappropriate sexual advances to 'vulnerable' people.  I have heard Christian theologians trying to make the point that this is not systematic sin associated with the church itself, but that it is associated with the individuals themselves.  But they would say that, wouldn't they!

Now in the case of children, or even innocent adult parishioners, most could very reasonably argue that they are the victims of a crime.  They are truly vulnerable and someone has taken advantage of that vulnerability.  They have been indoctrinated to follow the leadership of their priest for their whole lives, and his power can't be questioned.  Many of them have the intelligence to realise later that they have been abused, and with the proper support they have to go through the long and difficult healing process.

But men who are formally qualified to know the difference between right and wrong - ordained Catholic priests - might possibly be in a different category.  If they do not stand against sexual abuse and take refuge in the law then they are hardly men of the right calibre for the role are they?  Professional men have an absolute responsibility to make a stand for truth and justice - unless, of course, they are lawyers!

Or am I being too judgemental?  I'm not saying that there is actually anything wrong with being judgemental, because the only people telling me that this is immoral are the Christians who seem incapable of behaving correctly themselves.  But society tends to shy away from making judgements and I tend to think that is a special form of cowardice and insecurity.

I can only make a comparison with other professional bodies and particularly those which award a special type of qualification.  For example Chartered Engineers or (even) Chartered Accountants have a responsibility to society.  In most professional institutions the failure to 'do the right thing' in this sort of situation is one of the few things that can get your membership withdrawn.  It is all part of being a professionally qualified person.

So now, are priests 'professionals', or 'victims'. 

Make a choice!  It matters.

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