As Peter Said: `Repent, Be Baptized'. (Viewpoint)

Article excerpt

The following was an Easter homily delivered by Fr. Bob Oldershaw, pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, Ill.

I want to speak with you today day about clerical sexual misconduct conduct with minors. The constant flood of reports about the church, priests and bishops tells us of sin, failure, betrayal of trust, a reckless ineptitude and a disregard for truth and justice.

How can we not be affected? How can we not be absorbed in powerful anger, grief and sadness? How can we not be "cut to the heart" by this profoundly troubling scandal, like the people in Jerusalem blistered by Peter's preaching? Can our question be any different than theirs? What must we do?

First, we must look at the wounded body Of Christ of which we are all members, the Christ who "himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness." This body is wounded by sin and evil.

When we look at clerical sexual abuse we are looking into the jaws of sin and evil. There is the broken trust of priests and bishops with individual victims. There are the attempts of some bishops to cover up their crimes in order to protect their image instead of addressing the reality of evil in their midst. There is the sin of reassigning abusive priests to other parishes where they could again violate children. This sin, whether it happened 10 months ago or 30 years ago, whether it is the abuse itself or the attempt to deny, avoid or camouflage it, is fundamentally about the use and misuse of power.

This was understood in a letter I received this week from a parish member. She wrote: "Most, if not all the problems surrounding clerical misconduct both with children and women religious, stem from related systemic aspects of the church--an abuse of power and the complicity of the all-male priesthood in protecting and serving that power." These are harsh words but we need to hear them.

This abuse of power is not only a sin. It is a crime. The abuse itself that has physically, psychologically and spiritually damaged hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children and their families, and the failure on the part of church leadership to report credible allegations to public authorities is criminal. No one is above the law, especially when it comes to the protection of children. Being beyond the statute of limitations or where reporting is not mandated makes it no less criminal.

It is a psychological aberration in most instances. Most abusers are in the grip of a crippling, compulsive disorder that is marked by denial and self-delusion. Current research indicates that pedophilia, the sexual abuse of prepubescent children, is treatable but not curable. Ephebophilia, the attraction to adolescents, appears to be both treatable and curable. This was not clearly understood 20 years ago. It may not be fully understood even today. But in no case should a person who has been so-called "cured" be in a situation with either prepubescent or adolescent children. None of this exonerates either the abuser or the church. Over the years, young people have been hurt and scarred forever. The denial and self-delusion not only marked the abuser but branded the church's leadership.

The most common abusers

Clerical misconduct with minors is not restricted to Catholic priests. It is a subset of a much larger and pervasive problem of child victimization found in every religious community, in every profession and mostly in the family. The Christian Science Monitor reports that most congregations hit by sexual abuse are Protestant, and abusers are church volunteers. Psychologists tell us that the profile of a pedophile is a white, middle-aged, married male. This would challenge assumptions that sexual abuse of minors is necessarily related to either celibacy or homosexuality. None of this data mitigates the terrible evil and often irreparable damage done by priest abusers who, held to a high standard, violated a sacred trust bestowed on them through ordination. …