The New Victims of the Scandal

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(Host) Commentator Peg Devlyn sees a second layer of victims emerging in the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal.

(Devlyn) The scandal that’s rocking the Roman Catholic Church world-wide is causing people everywhere to ask, how could this have happened? It’s an almost unbelievable tale of priests molesting children and no one stepping in to help them.

This tragedy raises deep moral, spiritual and legal issues, but they all boil down to three basic failures and they all can be addressed. Instead of addressing them straight on, we’re getting sidetracked into a host of other issues and even creating more victims.

Here’s what happened to those children. First, they were sexually abused by trusted priests, many of them repeatedly over periods of years. Then they were betrayed by bishops and cardinals who knew about these crimes and covered them. This enabled the criminals to victimize more children. And finally, they were let down by law enforcement officials who chose to look the other way and call it all a church matter.

But now begins the blaming, the excuses and distractions. When Cardinal Anthony M. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia declared his rejection last week of all homosexually oriented priests, he created new victims of this scandal. Even chaste homosexual priests who are keeping their vows of celibacy, he said, are unsuitable for the priesthood.

We don’t need a witch hunt and we don’t need scapegoats. Some blame celibacy. But allowing priests to marry won’t fix this. Pedophilia is not about the lack of opportunity for normal sex. And the shortage of priests is far from an excuse for the cover-ups and reassignment of child abusers.

What’s needed is an honest recognition of what has gone wrong. Restitution must be made, and the church needs to change. By now it should be clear to everyone that when any adult sexually abuses a child, he has committed a crime, even if the criminal is a priest. Draw a clear line there.

Then, if an adult who knows of such crimes, acts to cover them up and enables the perpetrator to repeat them and endanger more children, this is wrong, even if the perpetrator is a bishop or a cardinal. If this is not a crime in every state, it should be.

People who do these things to children should face jail, no matter who they are. But the people who have not done them, the priests and church workers who have been faithful – surely the majority- have a hard road ahead. Second to those who were abused, they will pay the price.

Peg Devlyn is co-owner of Marketing Partners, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont.

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