April 1, 2010
Dear People of God,
These past few months have brought to light revelations of clergy sexual abuse of minors beyond our borders, especially in Ireland, Germany and Italy. Hearing the news accounts of such allegations brings intense sadness to many Catholics as well as outrage. The sexual abuse of minors is a hideous crime. Not only does it inflict incredible harm on an innocent child, it also causes the faithful to distrust the men ordained to serve you and lead you to Christ. I commend to your prayers our many priests who have served you so faithfully over the years for their continued wellbeing and holiness.
Distrust and outrage has also been directed toward bishops and Church officials, especially when there is news of secrecy or inaction related to clergy sexual abuse in order to prevent scandal. Some news reports claim that this is the case with Pope Benedict XVI. While there have been instances of hiding abuse by some bishops in the interest of maintaining a good reputation, it is also the case that much of the current reporting is erroneous. The recent accusations labeled against the Holy Father by some news agencies especially the New York Times, is an example.
The record shows that the Pope has been an active international Church leader in combating the scourge of clergy sexual abuse. It is not possible to enumerate the ways his record has been misconstrued but one example may be helpful. The media has generally stated that the then Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, presided over all cases dealing with the sexual abuse of minors by clerics. In actuality, any such case was sent to the Roman Rota (Vatican Court) until 2001. Prior to 2001, the Holy Father had nothing to do with the vast majority of such cases. I recommend looking up the current blog entitled Keeping the record straight on Benedict and the crisis by John Allen, a reporter from the National Catholic Reporter. His blog may be found at www.ncronline.org. There is an even more direct response from Cardinal Levada entitled, “The New York Times and Pope Benedict XVI,” which may be located at www.vatican.va/resources/resources_card-levada2010_en.html.
I also note that allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors, usually are about incidences that occurred 20 to 30 years ago. The Causes and Context study being accomplished by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has demonstrated conclusively that the level of such incidences (roughly 3% to 4% of priests from the 1970’s), is highly unlikely to happen again. My point is not to diminish the harm done, but to hold up the priests who serve you today. Unfortunately, a few bad priests of the past can cause much damage to the priesthood as a whole.
Remember to pray for victims of abuse that they may know healing. Remember too to pray for the great number of faithful priests who have suffered their own form of victimization as a result of a few. The stain of sexual abuse by a few bad priests has caused much harm to the image of the Church, yet the Church remains as the means by which Christ offers us salvation. This is, after all, what we celebrate on Easter Sunday.
I pray that you all may have a blessed Easter and that these next 50 days of Easter be a time to celebrate the new life we receive as a result of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.
In the risen Lord,
Michael W. Warfel