Pastor Column: Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 9, 2018

Pastor Column: Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 9, 2018

Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish 

Dear friends / Estimados amigos,

Many of us know friends or family members who seem to live on Facebook or some other social media site.  Not this guy, I am happy to say. While it seems to be a great way to get a “pulse” on a cultural phenomenon or movement, I rarely read any of my FB posts. That changed last week for me, though, since I was on vacation and anxious to hear about the ways that the sexual abuse crisis was affecting regular people who frequent social media. Believe me, it is not easy to miss!

I suppose that sites like Instagram, Twitter, Linked-In, Google Plus, You Tube, and Facebook (the giant of them all) provide a forum for people to vent, to opine, and to suggest ideas about various topics from the mundane to the sublime. So last week, I decided to spend some time on my FB account and do some reading. What I saw confirmed what I suspected – that this is a huge crisis that we are currently living through for our Church and its leaders. Coupled with the appearance two weeks ago of so-called “Christian” demonstrators from another Church at St. Stanislaus shouting insults and condemnations on bullhorns from across the street on Highland Road, my reading underscored with bold strokes the seriousness of the situation our Church is in. I have lived in ten different places over 26 years of ordained ministry and have never encountered the vileness of protestors of any sort at any of the places. As was mentioned in last week’s pastor column, I apologize to those who had to endure this spectacle of insult and arrogance by a group of alleged Christian church-goers who were not from this neighborhood. 

One of the more uplifting posts that I came across was a piece prepared a contributor to Psychology Today entitled Separating Facts About Clergy Abuse from Fiction which posted on August 23, 2018.  The issue of child sexual abuse by clergy is loaded with passion and emotion, and rightly so. It is a heinous act against another human person when a priest abuses a minor.  The author of the PT piece, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP, has been conducting research in the area of clergy sexual abuse for over 30+ years. His goal in writing the story was to take emotion out of his analysis as best he could, and separate fact from fiction concerning this highly emotional topic. Interestingly he found four important facts to keep in mind:

Fact #1: There is no empirical data that affirms that priests sexually abuse minors at higher levels than non-Catholic clerics from other religious traditions or from those men who have responsibility for children (like school-teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, etc.). In other words, all priests are not creeps. About 4% of Catholic clergy shamefully violated a child sexually since 1950, with the peak being in the 1970s and dropping off dramatically by the early 1980s. Only two cases in the PA Grand Jury Report were reported from the past dozen years, both of which had already been reported to police authorities where they occurred. Putting Catholic clergy into context, research from the US Department of Education estimated about 5-7% of public school teachers engaged in similar abusive behaviors during the same time frame.  Anglican priests had a 4% abuse history in a Western Canadian study of clerical violations of minors.

Fact #2: Celibacy does not cause pedophilia. People who want consensual sexual relations normally chose another consenting adult, not a child. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of sex offenders are “regular” men: married, partnered, often related to the victim in an older-brother/younger brother or sister or step-father/son or daughter relationship. Consider as well, the aforementioned estimate of public school teachers who I am certain are not celibates.

Fact #3: Homosexuality is not the cause of pedophilia in the Church. Many of the posts on social media hope that this crisis is caused by homosexual clergy. For some reason, they want a scapegoat. However, studies have shown that homosexuality is not a risk factor for pedophilia. Sexually acting-out clergy may be attracted to other men, but not to children. Those involved in actions labelled credible in regard to child abuse do not consider themselves homosexual in orientation but abused whomever they had control over, boys or girls.

Finally, and most hopefully:

Fact #4: The incidence of abusive of minors since 2002 has decreased sharply due to raising consciousness of the need to protect any child sexual abuse, tougher screening of candidates applying for admission to Seminaries, and self-policing within the Catholic Church. While Church reforms still need to be instituted at key levels, the implementation of the Dallas Charter has resulted in many policies and procedures to keep children safe. These include things like the VIRTUS safe environment training, lay review boards, zero-tolerance policies for credible allegations, and mandatory reporting of alleged incidents to police for investigation. 

It is very sad and painful that these measures had to be enacted, but hopefully they will ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated on a new generation. Given humanity’s sinful inclination, it may not be possible to ensure 100% air-tight procedures that will prevent abuse from taking place and make abusers accountable for their actions. Try hard and pray hard we must, however, as inconvenient or invasive that clearance paper work may be, or that extra rosary or 20 minutes of prayer time to find in your day. In my opinion, they have to be done if we truly want to keep children and families safe from abuse in churches or elsewhere. Know the research data, keep vigilant, ask for God’s protection for young people, and do all you can to keep kids safe when entrusting your child to a Church-sponsored program or any other non-religious institution.