THE Church is once again in bad light because of the sex abuse scandals in the US and elsewhere. We should be prudent and fair though by not jumping into conclusions. A rotten egg in the basket may not mean that the rest of the eggs are rotten. Thus, when talking about sexual abuse and the Roman Catholic Church the preposition “in” should be used instead of “by.”
Cases must have been processed in courts of law by now. As responsible Christians and citizens respectful of the law, we should allow the justice system to move. Hopefully, the media would tell us not just a portion of the story but the bigger whole.
Theologizing is also not the best thing to do in the face of these scandals. We cannot tell courts of law not to imprison a priest because he is an “alter Christus.” In a secularized world, there is so much suspicion on metaphysical assertions. Church authorities should therefore handle the matter in a manner that is procedurally credible. Denials don’t help. Equally unhelpful are conspiracy theories. I hope no one would say that these scandals have long been prophesied as the Illuminati’s plan to destroy the Church.
If there is anything that should concern all Catholics in this issue, it is none other than looking for ways to help our clergy. We can charge all offenders with criminal and civil cases. But granting that all of them would go to jail, so?
It is therefore important that we look into the human side of the matter. A responsible Catholic understands priesthood not just as a profession. As ministers of faith, the clergy are not exempted from guidance and discipline. Sadly, many Catholics would prefer to be silent on a lot of issues. Concerns or complaints are discussed in the kitchen or behind the grotto. Chismis about “the sins of padre” is always preferable over fraternal correction in the open.
We are reminded of an important truth: priests are humans. They have physical and emotional needs. Ordination does not alter anything in their biological make-up. Grace builds on nature; it is not an alteration of nature. Ordination does not transform. Simply, it is a symbolic summation of readiness after years of intellectual, spiritual, and above all human formation. We can only hope that bishops and formators review the entire formation blueprint. Above all, it must be implemented seriously and without favoritism.
Formation is an ongoing process. Christian anthropology tells us that although our nature is not “evil” it is nonetheless “fallen.” Psychologists may not find this premise quite modern or scientific. What this basically means though is: no one is born perfect such that he or she does not need constant guidance. Everyone is capable of committing mistakes but there must be a way to help the person.
So what happens if a seminarian falls in love? What if a priest’s sexual needs become stronger? This is where pastoral care, mercy, and compassion are most needed. Unfortunately, we talk about mercy and compassion only after the damage has been done. Superiors are fond of rehabilitation not prevention. From the onset, the rules of the game must be made clear: the bishop or superior should open his doors and windows ready enough for revelations. No priest or seminarian should be judged based on who he is or simply because he has urges. Candidates to the priesthood or religious life must admit and embrace their deepest wishes and desires. Without openness within a system, people get suffocated.
Does not philosophy after all teach us that the unexamined life is not worth living? Isn’t this the subject studied by all those in priestly formation?