Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 6, 2002
Catholics have right to priests of integrity
By ARCHBISHOP THOMAS COLLINS
Over the last several months we have heard of scandalous behaviour by some priests in the United States. In recent years in Canada we have encountered similar problems.
Catholics have a right to expect that they can rely on the integrity of their priests and bishops, so that those entrusted to their pastoral care may be confident that they will not be harmed, but rather will be helped to deal with the spiritual struggles of this world as they journey to fullness of life in God.
Even one priest who turns to evil can cause enormous harm, for he abuses a sacred trust. As a Church we are truly sorry that anyone has suffered because of the actions of a priest.
Jesus chose 12 frail humans to be his Apostles. All were weak, and one betrayed him. It is obvious that priests and bishops, who continue the work of the Apostles, are also far from perfect.
What is needed in a good priest is not flawlessness, but a humble awareness of his faults and limitations, so that he realizes deeply that it is Christ who acts through him in the priesthood. That is why one who hears the confessions of others needs frequently to go to confession himself as a repentant sinner.
But when a priest leads a double life, harming in any way those entrusted to his spiritual care, and especially if he abuses the vulnerable, he betrays both the Lord who sends him and the people he serves. This is unacceptable.
It is an admirable indication of the proper esteem in which Catholics and others hold the priesthood that they are outraged when a priest in any way uses his position of trust to prey upon his flock. The scandal is not that these abuses are in the media; the scandal is that they have happened at all.
It is unfortunate that while in the media concentration upon the relatively few priests who have grievously betrayed their trust, the quiet lives of devoted service by the overwhelming, vast majority of faithful priests can go unnoticed.
They, not the predatory few, represent what the priesthood is all about. I think the people of Boston demonstrate that when polls report that over 95 per cent continue to trust their local priest.
The present scandal is not occasioned by a sudden increase in priestly wrongdoing. Instead, the terrible case of a Boston priest who devastated the lives of numerous young people has triggered a sustained analysis of the way in which over the last 50 years Church authorities throughout the United States have dealt with offences committed by priests.
Did those authorities act rightly when faced with allegations of abuse? It seems clear that at times, especially in the earlier portion of the period being examined, they did not. People thought then that therapy could cure what cannot be cured. We now know that with pedophilia, although psychiatric treatment can, to some extent, help an offender to live rightly, it cannot in any way justify sending him back into ministry. Ever.
Catholics, and especially any who have been abused by clergy, have a right to expect that bishops have learned from past disastrous decisions, so that they are not made again. The book From Pain to Hope, prepared by the Canadian bishops in 1992, gives valuable guidance.
In our archdiocese, if a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is received, the alleged offender will be removed from ministry while the matter is investigated. All of the reporting requirements of the law will be followed. If the allegation is verified, the offender will be removed permanently.
Every effort will be made to help anyone who has suffered to overcome the effects of the abuse. Our first concern must be for those who have been harmed.
May this painful experience help the Church to be purified and to learn from past mistakes, assist the wider society to address the similar problems so common within it, give hope to those who have suffered, and draw many candidates to step forward to answer the call of Jesus for holy priests, imitating the saintly example of countless unknown priests, who live with integrity and faithfully serve those entrusted to their spiritual care.
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