Thursday, 22 April 2010

Times: One step forward, one back

Monday, 19th April 2010 by Helena Dalli

The Catholic Church is seen as trying to repair the damage caused by the tidal wave of sex abuse scandals that have increasingly been coming to light. Last Monday, the Vatican posted on its website guidelines that have hitherto never been published - even though they were written in 2003, but, anyhow, better late than never - which stresses that credible reports of child abuse received by the Church must be reported to the civil authorities immediately.

This is a ray of hope that things may change from the 1961 instructions - updated in 2001 by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger - which said that "Cases of this kind (where priests are accused of sexual relationships with children) are subject to the Pontifical secret".

Last week, we also read about the Archbishop meeting 10 men who - when they were children in care - had been sexually abused by the priests in charge of them. True, it's a mere drop in the ocean, which has turned into a cesspool, but it is a step in the right direction and I have it from two victims that the meeting was a great help on the psychological and spiritual level.

Another encouraging occurrence was the Prime Minister's declaration last week that he will be ready to discuss changes to laws regulating investigations on child abuse.

Let's hope he will do this sooner rather than later. It will be even better if the Prime Minister also sees to a clear policy on children in care so that the major responsibility for their well-being is borne by the state and not by the Church. It also worries me no end that helpless children are left alone with adult men (and in some cases, women) in any context where the words "child abuse" are hovering in the air.

But just when things were seen to be taking a turn for the better for us here, the Catholic Church was dealt another blow, this time by the Vatican's second in command, Cardinal Tarcisio Betone. It was indeed a huge step back when the Pope's right-hand man blamed the paedophile crisis in the Church on homosexuals. Oh dear, never a dull moment: "Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and paedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."

Surely, the cardinal is responsible for his words but it is said that he is the cardinal closest to the Pope and what he says may be regarded as a reflection of how the child abuse issue is viewed in the topmost echelons of the Catholic Church. I know that many, perhaps most, priests are decent and honourable people but what do you do when you hear these things mouthed by people you are supposed to take lessons in morality from?

I had floated the question last time on the possible link between celibacy and sexual child abuse, quoting Cardinal Christopher Schonbor who holds that "causes of sex abuse by priests could be found in celibacy and priest training" and, at the other end, Cardinal Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga who says that he doesn't understand "that there can be a relationship between priestly celibacy and paedophile cases". Homosexuality is another kettle of fish altogether.

The revelation of a scandal per day is obviously a lot of grist to the media mill - stories of raped children threaten the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church - but it may also be taking the focus off what should concern us most: the welfare of the children involved.

Our duty is first of all towards ensuring the safety of children who are in "care" and can end up in the wrong hands. These children's well-being must be part and parcel of the welfare state we so boast about. What's more, we must raise awareness so that those who have evidence of cases of paedophilia would hand it over to the police, irrespective of who committed the abuse.

The Prime Minister has promised to go into this. For the sake of children who have suffered and are suffering, I hope this will not be just a pledge made to serve as an eye to the storm of media and popular criticism, to be forgotten when the seas are calmer.

We, especially the political class, need to change things. If in 20 years' time we hear of child abuse stories happening now, they would be those who slipped from the state's safety net and not because we had done nothing to reform the system of children in care when we could. We must not be in a position to say mea culpa. This is very serious business, as John Cornwell put it in The Newstatesman: "The scandal of the world's Catholic paedophile priests may become the greatest catastrophe to afflict the Church of Rome since the Reformation."

Dr Dalli is shadow minister for the public service and government investment.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

1 comment:

  1. A sex offenders registry is well overdue as well as law reform...