Our View- Catholic Church needs administrative reform
March 24, 2010
This past Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI, in an overdue letter to Ireland, addressed the Catholic world. The Pope, speaking for the first time on the issue, gave a rather unsatisfactory apology for the child abuse scandals that have recently surfaced in Ireland, and have gone on in the church over the last few decades.
The letter was highly anticipated. Victims, activist groups and Catholics around the world have been waiting for the new pope to address child molestation in the church. This anticipation was fueled by a desire to hear the Pope admit that there are major structural problems within the church’s hierarchy.
However, in a letter that was supposed to show that the church is beginning to tackle the critical problems of child molestation, the pope fell short of sufficiently addressing the problem.
Critics of the church had hoped the Pope would also address problems regarding the hierarchy of the church, implementing reform regarding the way the church operates. This would be especially important in places like Ireland, which has suffered a plague of child abuse cases within the church. Ireland, a country of merely 4 million, has had to settle 13,000 child abuse cases, awarding nearly $1 billion in losses to the Catholic Church.
Yet, just like many other countries, Ireland has one major problem: a cycle of cover-ups. For example, a bishop can cover up child molestation by sending the accused priest away for “treatment” and therapeutic help.
However, in some cases like that of Rev. Peter Hullermann, this “treatment” is almost pointless. Hullermann, who served in Munich when the Pope was then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, was sent away for “treatment” when his molestation practices surfaced. During his “treatment,” the Reverend molested another child. Instances like these show that the church doesn’t understand the magnitude of the problem.
Bishops have been good at keeping the police out of child molestation cases, sometimes even by having the victims sign a contract of secrecy. Bishops have also transferred priests to different parishes rather than dealing with the problem. It is because of these administration problems that victims and activists have asked for structural reforms and not just the trite apologies.
The church needs to seriously investigate this problem. Guilty priests need to be barred and bishops need to be held accountable for hidden scandals.
The Pope also has a history of complicating the issue. Before he became pope, Benedict was Archbishop of Munich, where child molestation also took place. He was partially responsible for a Vatican proclamation in 2001 that ordered bishops to report all child abuse cases directly to the Vatican authorities with severe secrecy. The proclamation did not mention reporting these cases to police. In his recent letter, Pope Benedict also failed to discuss the hundreds of child abuse cases being uncovered in his home country of Germany. Apparently in the eyes of the pope, Ireland is the only transgressor.
This problem is not limited to Germany and Ireland. These cases are increasing around many countries in Europe. Child molestation cases are not only putting the church under heavy criticism; they have also hurt it financially. Archdioceses in the United States have suffered from bankruptcy because of lawsuits brought against priests.
Other bishops praised the Pope for standing up and condemning the horrific actions church officials have committed. Pope Benedict also has authorized an investigation within Ireland’s many archdioceses, as a way to help hold church officials responsible for their actions. However, activists complain this is not enough. It seems like the Pope has altogether forgotten Germany.
Christian Weisner of the German lay movement We Are Church commented on the letter, saying, “They still don’t see this isn’t just about individual cases, but about an overall structural problem [in the Church].”