Media are talking about renewed discovery of documents from the Servants of the Paraclete. An article in National Catholic Reporter points out that the founder of the society, which was started to help priests with problems such as alcoholism, suggested in correspondence as early as 1952 that pedophile priests could not be cured. Father Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder, believed in spiritual treatment, such as prayer before the Eucharist, and was vehemently against psychological treatment. In dealing with alcoholism, for example, he opposed Alcoholics Anonymous. He sought to place pedophiles on an island in Barbados and even put a $5,000 deposit on the land. He also said many priest pedophiles should be laicized immediately. Father Fitzgerald also brought his concerns to Pope Paul VI.
Consider these facts:
The bishops in the fifties and sixties thought they were dealing with a spiritual problem, one requiring a spiritual solution, i.e. prayer. They later realized with the help of the medical community that they were also dealing with a disease.
Father Fitzgerald’s point of view seemed marginal, and did not prevail even with the community he founded. He wanted to ship pedophiles to an island in Barbados, for example. Mainstream understanding of the problem of sexual abuse of minors did not come forth until the mid-80s. The mid-80s were the tipping point in the understanding of the problem within the church and in society.
In later years, the bishops sought and followed the advice of medical personnel who recommended psychiatric and psychological treatment for those who sexually abused minors. Frequently these personnel said priests who had molested children could safely be placed back into ministry, sometimes with restrictions, such as not being with children. They presented pedophilia as an addiction, such as alcoholism which many feel cannot be cured but which can be treated and restrained.
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People shows how aggressively the U.S. bishops have addressed this issue.
Since 2002 the bishops have said:
- Any cleric credibly accused of molesting a minor should be REMOVED FROM MINISTRY even if it was just one time.
- SAFE ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMS should be established in dioceses in parishes. As a result, to date the Catholic Church in the United States has
A. Trained more than 1.8 million clergy, employees, and volunteers in parishes in how to create safe environments and prevent child sexual abuse.
B. Prepared more than 5.7 million children to recognize abuse and protect themselves.
C. Run background checks on more the 1,535,000 volunteers and employees, 164,000 educators, 51,000 clerics and 4,955 candidates for ordination.
- One case is one too many, but one cannot deny that there has been a dramatic decline in the number of clerics credibly accused of abuse of a minor in recent years. Most accusations that come forth now allege abuse decades before. Last year, dioceses received ten new credible allegations of abuse to a person still under 18 years of age. (There were more than 41,000 priests in that year, according to the Official Catholic Directory.) In the same year many old cases also came to light as 620 victims made 625 allegations against 423 offenders. Those cases go back decades; most occurred between 1965 and 1974.
Also worth noting:
The church has paid about 2.5 billion dollars in recent years for accusations that go back decades, even when the accusation were against priests long dead and/or out of ministry.
The clerical abuse scandal is a horrendous one for which the church will do penance for a long time. At the same time, it is a scandal from which the Church has learned as is evident in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. www.usccb.org/ocyp/charter.shtml