The response by the Pontiff to the despicable behavior of members of the Catholic clergy toward its own Catholic children, as expressed in the newspapers, is that the church is planning to go "all out" in its efforts to deal with this crisis.

I have not read his entire response so I don't know if any specifics were provided, but judging by the reactions from many, his words had a familiar hollow sound often associated with political comments. In the absence of such specifics, I would like to offer some for the Vatican's consideration.

First, although I tend to agree that celibacy as a requirement among priests can be abolished, it is not enough of a solution. Predatory sexual abuse of children has been around a very long time, with male parents and grandparents as the chief offenders. Ending celibacy is a polite step in the right direction, but it is only that: a step.

Second, going "all out" is not only too vague of a phrase, it also seems to ignore the more central cause issues. I submit that the church needs first to look "all in" for its solutions.

By that I mean that there are central systemic flaws within the structural practices of the Catholic church that contribute more directly to the sexual abuse of its child victims than the lip service and "promise" of celibacy. There is within the "sacramental system" of the church a sacrament called Penance, i.e., the act of "going to confession" after committing a "sin" and receiving "absolution" (a kind of spiritual forgiveness).

Catholics are taught that if they are genuinely contrite during confession their misdeeds are forgiven and they are free to "go and sin no more." They also believe that if they do not confess their "mortal" sins they risk eternal damnation.

In the case of priests confessing their sexual attacks on children, the church is inadvertently enabling their behavior. It is letting them off the hook, encouraging a priest to console himself—and even to possibly feel good about himself—because he knows that he did something evil but he, after all, did the right thing by "owning up" to it in the confessional and saying he was "sorry." And he'll try to not do it again.

But if he does do it again, well, he'll just return to the confessional and say he's sorry again. We should give the guy a break, shouldn't we? Because he probably means well -- while inside the confessional. There is no chance, of course, that the church will ever get rid of the sacrament of Penance.

I suggest the following instead. Let the Pope issue an edict stating that every time a priest (or anyone else, for that matter) confesses to committing a sexual crime against children, absolution will be withheld unless the priest promises to turn himself in to the civil authorities. Failing that "vow," spiritual forgiveness will not be given. This allows the church to keep the sacrament of Penance, and forces priests to receive justice for their crimes.

Third, as a way for parents of Catholic children to engage in immediate meaningful protests for the abuse of their children at the hands of priests, they should right now refuse to have their children participate in any church services as "altar boys" or "altar girls." If the liturgy requires such assistance, the answer is simple: get adults to do it.

Richard Morgan


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