Catholic Leaders Have to be Defenders of Children

by Father Shay Cullen Profiles in Catholicism


Shame, anguish, anger at child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church should lead to a devoted commitment to eradicate abuse everywhere. This active stance has to be the primary focus of society and of the Church and every individual member. Jesus of Nazareth said the child is the most important of all. If we continue to fail children, we fail Christ. The established institutional Church and many members- laypeople and priests- have spectacularly failed to care, protect, help, support and compensate the innocent vulnerable children for heinous crimes against them. Many of the bishops, priests and laypeople have over the years denied, covered up, transferred abusive priests, lied and forced child victims to shut up.


The most recent, shocking exposes and revelations of clerical child abuse in France led to a pilgrimage to Lourdes no less, by clergy to confess their incompetence to protect children. What they and clergy everywhere need to do is to surrender their absolute power and invite independent prosecutors to investigate all the priests and lay suspects against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse have been made. The culture of silence in the Church is the shield of the abusers.


The chronic lying and cover-up by some clergy in authority about the extent of child abuse and turning a blind eye to it as if children had no rights resulted in as many as 216,000 children being abused by French pedophile priests alone from 1950 until 2020. The silence of bishops and other priests makes them accessories to the crimes. It is a conspiracy of sorts because charging a priest in court with such crimes is unthinkable, embarrassing, and scandalous for the institutional Church.


Bishops and priests and laypersons must first care for the child victims and should stop coddling and protecting pedophile-priests. The good honest clergy and laypeople defenders of children should be angry as Jesus was at abusers and give them the Mill Stone of Justice (Matthew 18:6) to help them repent, confess and accept it as penance. Then, mercy and forgiveness can follow. That is the elementary lesson of Jesus Christ. The number of French children sexually abused is 330,000 when we add in the abuse by Catholic laypeople. It is a worldwide problem.


Child abuse and cover-up is a shocking abuse of power that has to be removed. This is because the institution is male-dominated and there are no women with positions of authority and leadership to hold the diocesan leaders to account. The role that Jesus gave to the apostle and bishop were to be the washers of feet, servants of the poor and healers of the abused. He said that the tyrants of the heathens ruled with total authority but it must not be like that among you, He said. “Whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you, he must be your slave- just as the Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.”


How many clergy obey that command, we may ask. To stop child sexual abuse by clergy, the power structure must change. Pope Francis has denounced this abuse of power as clericalism.


The new Church protocols and rules to report every suspected act of child abuse must be strictly implemented. However, unless women are given greater positions of authority to serve and protect children, the abuse will never end. Pope Francis said, “I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered. It is also my shame, our shame, for the incapacity of the church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns.”


We should feel more just anger than shame. Jesus was angry at his disciples when they blocked the children from approaching him. (Matthew 19:14) "Let them come for the Kingdom belongs to them”. The abusive clergy think the Kingdom is for the clergy. How much angrier is Jesus today with child abuse in the Church and outside it?

There are hundreds of thousands of good, self-sacrificing lay people, priests and many bishops of true commitment and virtue working for justice in impoverished circumstances, sacrificing themselves daily for the poor and risking their lives fighting for human rights and dignity. Why should they be shamed and brought into disrespect because some bishops and priests abuse authority to support pedophile-priests and cover up their child abuse crimes. The sins of a few are vested upon the many. This is another aspect of injustice.


Many more good clergy and laity must speak out and support the child defenders and stand against the cover-up and shame brought upon their vocation and life’s work. They are being unjustly and wrongly smeared with the crimes of the few who are protected. That deference and protection for pedophile priests must end. Not to report abusive clergy is being part of the problem. The honest, innocent and hardworking priests and laypeople should act as Jesus of Nazareth did, denounce the evil and protect and support the victims. Their silence should not tarnished and should never tolerate the cover-up and secrecy protecting pedophiles-priests or any child abusers.


Anyone with knowledge of an abused child can give tip-offs anonymously to the child protective NGOs like Preda Foundation (www.preda.org) as to the whereabouts of the victims that need help and tell who the abuser is if they know him or her. The child victims are the center and most important of this mission for justice.


In the Philippines where child abuse among clergy is systematically covered up and denied, victims are allegedly intimidated from making complaints and parents are paid off not to pursue complaints. An independent investigation like that in France is long overdue.


It was in 2002 when some victims of clerical abuse complained and spoke out and the Church apologized. No one was charged or convicted. Ever since then, there has been a total silence and lockdown. The Church policy of dealing with clerical child sexual abuse as a secret internal matter as Cardinal Antonio Tagle has said on television, must change. Transparency and the needs and rights of the child victims must be the top priority, not protecting the pedophiles or the institutional Church's reputation. Many child abuse cases are referred to predainfo@preda.org and the victims are found, rescued and brought to protective sanctuary where they are protected, affirmed and the abuse is verified. The children are healed and empowered and the abusers, no matter their power and status, will be brought to justice.


It has been the true Christians, adult laypeople, the brave and courageous child victims that have come out in public to make complaints and demand justice in recent years in other countries. They found the courage to speak out and their numbers grew demanding justice. It led to independent investigations around the world. The children and supporting adults have to report abuse and demand justice and compensation.


All Christians have to act to heal the wounds of physical, emotional and psychological suffering inflicted upon the children. It is a terrible evil that continues today. As Jesus said to be great and good we have to be active dedicated servants and defenders of children, never condone defending their abusers.