Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Philip Jenkins, in USA Today on June 7, asks, “How serious is the abuse problem among Catholic priests as compared to other professionals dealing with children?”
He implies that society is not being fair in its coverage of priest abuse. After all, he says, many of the cases are 30 years old and would not even be brought up at all if the Catholic Church did not keep such good records for decades.
I have two problems with Jenkins’s argument.
First, priests are rightfully held to a higher standard than other professions, especially in the area of sexuality. The Catholic Church teaches the witness of celibacy is a special charism of the Holy Spirit making the priest an “alter Christus” — another Christ. No other profession makes a claim to such a high ideal of virtue.
Second, while it is true that the church may be a victim of its own recordkeeping, this is more than balanced by the fact that abusive priests were provided a firewall of protection by their bishops. Most bishops refused to acknowledge the criminal dimension of child abuse among priests and did not report them to authorities in a timely manner.
The word “crime” still has not been uttered by Pope Benedict XVI as he confronts the crisis; thus, the justifiable charge of a cover-up.
Given the difficulty many people have in separating sexual love from lust and human love from genital expression, Catholics want their priests to succeed in their “calling” and look to them for guidance and example. Catholics rally to their parish priests who practice selfless love and virtue year after year for a lifetime. Philip Jenkins’ article, then, is a misplaced attempt at special pleading.