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The Catholic Church on trial

Apr 21, 2010, 1:09 PM | Article By: Augustine Kanjia

In the last few weeks the Catholic Church has been under an excruciating media trial over the charge of pedophilia or the sexual abuse of childsren preferred against some Catholic priests in some countries. The trial reached its crescendo in the last two weeks or when the CNN devoted close to two hours to analyzing what it considered as the case against the Catholic Church, and its verdict against the Church.

Consequently, a concerned priest in Nigeria expressed his views on the subject, reproduced verbatim below by Panorama.

First, I think it is important to understand what this charge is about: the nature of the charge; time for bringing the charge (the Catholic Church has declared this year as the Year of the Priest); the evidence being adduced to sustain the charge, and the huge space created in the news media to prosecute the case. It is also important to juxtapose the charge with past historical judgments and even theological judgments. And, of course, no student of history will fail to read the charge against the background of the conflict between modernism (neo-modernism) or rationalism and faith. The charge should also be read along the relentless efforts to re-construct or demythologize Christianity to make it more appealing to the human flesh.

Granted, pedophilia stands condemned. The Catholic priests involved in it have done great damage to the Church, as well as committed injustice against the hapless victims and members of their families too. Any wonder, deeply grieved by this injustice, the Church has come out openly to condemn pedophilia by stating that it is both a crime and a mortal sin.

"During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II condemned the sex scandal involving some Catholic priests in the United States even when one or two Catholic bishops attempted to conceal the scandal."

Pope John Paul II went further, at the threshold of the Jubilee of the year 2000, to publish a document dated 7th March and entitled in English "Memory and Reconciliation: the Church and the faults of the Past", wherein he admitted the guilt for the past wrongs committed by certain members of the Church, although without failing to emphasize, at the same time, that the Church is holy, but her members that constitute the pilgrim Church are sinners.

"In saying this, the Pope affirmed what Pope Paul VI said, that while the Church is indefectibly holy her members may not be holy."

"Now, since the dramatization of the sexual abuse charge leveled against some Catholic priests started in the new media, Pope Benedict VI has come out openly to register the regrets and apology of the Church for the preferred charge. His regrets and apology capture the mind of the Church over the years in this serious matter."

"But, unfortunately, the on-going trial or attack of the Catholic Church in the media transcends the pedophilia charge. Simply, the attack is against priestly celibacy, the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexual morality, marriage, homosexuality, divorce, condom and the rest of them."

The attack is deeply-rooted in the clash between rationalism and faith; orthodoxy and non-orthodoxy; hedonism and morality.

Pedophilia, obviously, has provided a good cover to re-invigorate the old attack against the Church.

The old argument contained in the attack has not changed.

Perhaps what has changed is the manner of launching it in the new media. Read again the old charge or argument: 'Some Catholic priests in some European and American countries are involved in child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is a crime. Therefore, priestly celibacy should be abolished. All Catholic priests should get married. The Catholic Church should approve the use of condoms and ordination of women priests...'.

Even someone was suggesting that in the light of the latest charge against some Catholic priests, Pope Benedict VI should tender his letter of resignation as Pope immediately.

I argue that the above contention is completely flawed. First, there is no evidence anywhere that the largest number of pedophiles is found among Catholic priests. Child sexual abuse, like any other sin or crime, cuts across people of all classes, social and religious backgrounds and clergy of other religions.

In his book: Pedophiles and Priests, Philip Jenkins, a non-Catholic author, recounts that only 0.3% of the entire Catholic clergy are pedophiles, and that 1 out of every 2,252 Catholic priests, in the report considered over a 30-year period, was afflicted with pedophilia in the United States.

"So, why is the Catholic Church singled out to be attacked? Part of the reason is that the Catholic Church is the Church worth attacking. The media, as you know very well, thrives on sensationalism and ground-breaking news. What news will it make, for instance, to report the sexual riots taking place in some comparatively obscure or unknown churches? Who will be interested in reading, for example, that the owners of some small churches in my little village are divorcing their wives several times and, at the same time, confiscating other peoples' wives?"

"Second, and more importantly, priestly celibacy is not the cause of child sexual abuse among some Catholic priests. Therefore, it is highly illogical to call for the abolition of ecclesiastical celibacy, simply because some Catholic priests in some countries have misbehaved."

"What these critics forget is that marriage does not cure sexual abuse, let alone reduce it. Writing on this often-misunderstood matter in 1 Corinthians 7, St. Paul clearly stated that marriage and celibacy are two vocational ways of living the same mystery of God’s covenant with man. Both celibacy and marriage involve self-giving and sacrifice."

"He who cannot understand celibacy cannot understand marriage. Critics advocating that erring Catholics priests should be allowed to marry forget that marriage doesn't cure infidelity, let alone reduce it."

"For example, a Catholic priest who cannot be faithful to his priestly celibacy cannot be faithful to his wife, if he were married. In other words, marriage is no less demanding than celibacy. Life is all about struggling to subject one's passions to reason. The high rate of divorce today results from lack of discipline of the sexual appetites. Walking the streets of Bronx in New York three weeks ago I was shocked to see the increasing number of Divorce/Dissolution of marriage offices lining up the streets."

"In Nigeria, the rate of divorce among young married couples is increasing day after day. Not to mention the high level of marital infidelities recorded all over the place. A friend once said that sex is the new weapon the devil is now using to control the world."

"Somehow he is right. Sex is selling like hot cake today. In commercial adverts, in fashion, in music, on TV sex is selling everywhere today. The biggest sex and prostitution market today is the Internet."

"I guess that users of the Internet without filters to filter away the useless sexual things are exposing themselves to all sorts of temptations. And, mind you, Catholic priests are exposed to the same temptations because, grace apart, they are human beings too with human weaknesses."

So, as I said earlier, life is about struggling to control the disordered passions. St. Augustine remains the best teacher in this matter. You just have to read his epic work: The Confession of St. Augustine to appreciate how a sinner of today can become a saint tomorrow and vice-versa.

"And, of course, the life of Pope John Paul II is an open book. His life teaches that the faithfulness of one man can bring about tremendous positive changes in the world. Like Pope John Paul II, there are many Catholic priests who are heroically living up to their priestly vocations."

"But, unfortunately, the liberal press is not interested in reporting the good things happening in the Church: it is always lurking around to point out what it considers as the scandal rocking the Church."

"Good journalism, I suppose, is marked by balanced and objective reporting not jaundiced reporting coloured by prejudices and biases."

"The CNN and the BBC, for instance, have become experts in focusing only on the bad things happening among Catholic clergy. They hardly report about the uncountable number of Catholics priests who are faithful to their priestly calling."

"But the moment any allegation of sexual abuse is leveled against any Catholic priest, anywhere in the world, they are quick to pick it up and give it prominent news headline. This, for me, is jaundiced reporting. It is also an act of injustice against the Catholic Church.

"In his reaction to the press criticism of the Church at the height of the American sex scandal, Pope John Paul II said: “A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains".

"The Catholic Church is not run in the media. Moral truth is not established through democratic vote in the media. Moral truth which is predicated on the eternal truth is discovered not invented".

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