17 July 2008

Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church -- An Apology

I have been contemplating writing something on this for some time and have hesitated because the issue deserves more than just passing comment. I have not done the research on the statistics of the prevalence of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, although I am sure others may have numbers, names, locations, and the like. Yet, perhaps if there was more open and frank discussion on issues such as these then progress towards a workable resolution might be quicker in coming.

The Pope, Benedict XVI, was alleged to have said on his way to Australia for the World Youth Day festivities that he was going to apologize to all those who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of clergymen over the years. This blanket apology might not mean much but it would have meant that the Church acknowledges and has remorse for what has happened but is genuinely sorry for the tragedy that it has allowed to occur. This profound sorrow might not pay the bills of the victims or bring back loved ones who have committed suicide as a result of not being able to cope any longer with the pain, but it would say that even though we can never fully make amends for what has happened "we" accept responsibility.

Unfortunately, the Pope's point man on media communications has spent much of the day backtracking on whether an apology will be forthcoming and has even indicated that this might be one of those lost in translation moments, where what the Pope is alleged to have said might not actually be what he said.

Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office, has been saying that there is no papal commitment to making an apology and perhaps what Australian victims should be expecting is the Pope making brief mention of the "issue" in a statement. Stupid! This would seem to be the perfect moment to capitalize on the good will of Australians during WYD to make the apology.

It would seem that the Pope has not been pontificating on the issue and is on the record as saying that the Church needs to examine how it is going to, "prevent, heal and reconcile" the past crimes of the clergy. The Pope then went further in terms of putting this into context with, "this is the essential content of what we will say as we apologise."

Father Lombardi seems to think that any apology would be limited to a meeting with church officials and novices. This is the same means that was adopted by the Pope when apologizing during his visit to the US. This is a cop out! He does not need to apologize to the members of the clergy and the novices of the Church. He needs to apologize to the victims of the crimes perpetrated by the clergy on children for decades past.

Why is an apology necessary? The answer to this question is simple and is best done through an Australian example of the tragedy the sexual abuse of children has wreaked on one particular family. Their story is a sad and tragic one that has been played out in many thousands of families across the globe.

The Foster family was by all accounts a happy one. However, this changed tragically for the worst when Emma and Katherine Foster were raped by Father Kevin O'Donnell when they were in primary school. The Catholic Church does not seem to have a very good record in weeding out those applicants that have a penchant for young children.

Emma committed suicide at the age of 26. Katherine developed an alcohol abuse problem and this led to her being struck by a car driven by a drunk driver. Katherine now requires 24-hour care as a result of the physical and brain injuries that she sustained.

In reference to this sad tale the Bishop Anthony Fisher in his infinite wisdom expressed the following sentiment, "Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people and the hope - the hope for us doing these sorts of things better in the future - as we saw last night, rather than, than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds."

Bishop Fisher, you are a fool! These are not old wounds to those directly affected by them! These wounds are open and festering sores that are slowly but surely eating away at the very life essence of the victims of these abhorrent crimes. It is time the Catholic Church ante-ed up and faced the fact that it is responsible as the employer of predators like Father O'Donnell.

Priests like father O'Donnell when they are found guilty of the crimes they have committed they should be sent to prison. They should not be put into the protective wing of the prison. These brave souls that pray on children must be put into the general prison population where it should be known that they like to have their way with children. You should not be surprised that prisoners have families and they have children and that the mere thought of someone sexually violating their children is enough to ensure that the Father O'Donnells of this world get a firsthand understanding of what it is like to be violated. This would give a new meaning to "get what's coming to you"!

The Catholic Church has to start making amends in Australia. This can start with a full, open, and frank apology to victims. Then, I personally do not care if this means the Catholic Church has to sell off all its assets or mortgage its properties to the hilt, but it must pay compensation to victims for the harm these victims have suffered at the hands of the employees of the Church.

Thus endeth my rant (or is it a sermon?) on this subject.


Brett said...

I'm going to contradict myself here, because I think an apology - no more how heartfelt or genuine - isn't enough. As far as I can tell, the Catholic Church has done nothing to address the problem of sexual (and other) abuse within the Church, so any apology is just shallow and meaningless. Someone please tell me if I am wrong - I would really like to be proven wrong on this point.

Rob Baiton said...


Indeed a contradiction in light of SBY's expression of "deep remorse" being a good starting point :D

I don't think an apology is enough! However, I do end my little rant with the idea that once the apology is done then it is time for the victims to be compensated for the trauma they have endured at the hands of Catholic Church employees.

I would add that there needs also to be a simultaneous undertaking by the Church to address these abuse issues on a policy level.

Why would you want to be proven wrong on this point? The Church is also looking for a reason as to why it should not make a full and unreserved apology.

GJ said...

An eye for an eye, a nice twist!!!

Rob Baiton said...


I figured there would be many among us who would feel such a sentiment justified.

Having worked with plenty of people who have done or were doing jail time, I know such sentiments exist (although anecdotal and personal experience).

I am sure others who have been locked up and / or worked in prisons would have a much better knowledge of this than I.