Friday, November 15, 2002

Abusive Priests

Amy Welborn posted an interesting discussion of the bishop's revised policy on sexual abuse (scroll down to Nov. 14--the post links aren't working). I very much like her approach, and I think many of the issues she raises are applicable beyond the Catholic church. But I want to push us all to think more carefully about one issue.

Amy writes: "Try to help others understand the difference between forgiveness and allowing to continue in ministry. This is the story that keeps popping up, and will continue to. We have not seen the end of parishes crying over their lost Father Predator who only did it once twenty years ago. People really need to understand that the desire to be sexually involved with a child or youth is not normal and goes beyond the way we normally speak and think of sin. It betrays a wealth of problems that should alert anyone to the fact that such a person isn't fit for ministry to others. He may be fit to fix cars, but a person who harbors sexual desires for a child or a teen, even if he recognizes it and fights it, doesn't belong in ministry."

I agree absolutely that someone with just one offense doesn't belong in ministry, if only because the institution must do its best to live up to the trust we cannot help but hold it in. But I think it is dangerous to see these people as somehow fundamentally different from you and me. My abusers were and are upstanding citizens--it is very hard to see them as not normal. Such grevious harm (and it is grevious, it is beyond our everyday concept of sin) is something that many of us could fall into the trap of committing, if we both made a series of bad choices and got trapped by circumstances and couldn't imagine a way out. I fear that if we say these people are different we avoid facing the risk, we distance it by identifying it only with a small group of perverts.

My addition to Amy's call to action, particularly her point about being alert, is to stress the importance of avoiding minimizing. My mother told a story recently about a family where the grandfather lived with them and the daughters told their friends who came to visit overnight to make sure to lock the bedroom door because grandpa would come prowling. We too easily work around problems instead of confronting them, define less serious abuses as not harmful. My mother told the story in a casual tone, accepting this as ordinary. We should be shocked and horrified and take action against all offenses, not define some as less serious.

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