Questions of law and faith

Steve Nordin

President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights Bill Donahue published an open letter in The New York Times April 11 concerning sexual abuse of children by the Catholic clergy.

While the letter, titled “Straight Talk About the Catholic Church,” certainly negated any uplifting effect of my morning omelet, as a Catholic and mild enthusiast of religious and civil rights, I was very interested to hear what Donahue’s group had to say.

Mr. Donahue stated that Catholics were “furious” about cases of child molestation, but that “some are exploiting this issue for ideological and financial profit.”

This seemed relatively reasonable. Given the emotional nature and broad scale of such accusations, some malicious conspirators could unjustly demand settlements or engage in political point-scoring against the Church.

In the interest of minimizing the effect of my personal biases, I feel as if the words of Mr. Donahue himself will suffice:

“…of the 4,392 accused priests, almost 56 percent faced only one misconduct allegation, and at least some of these would certainly vanish under detailed scrutiny.

“The issue is homosexuality, not pedophilia…

“Let’s face it: if [the Church’s] teachings were pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and pro-women clergy, the dogs would have been called off years ago.”

“The refrain that child rape is a reality in the Church is twice wrong: Let’s get it straight — they weren’t children and they weren’t raped.”

I will say that Mr. Donahue seems to be taking the wrong approach to the issue. How is any attempt to trivialize or excuse the molestation of children tied to the defense of the Catholic faith?

If Mr. Donahue is concerned with the image of the Church being unfairly tarnished by a distinct and criminal minority of its clergy, perhaps he ought to use the weight of his position to encourage openness and accountability.

What of the bishops who concealed the actions of abusive priests? They — not the victims — are responsible for the damage to the Church’s reputation.

The reason the Church is the subject of investigations is that members of its clergy not only sexually abused children, but that its hierarchy attempted to shield said offenders from the full process and penalties of the law, which Mr. Donahue fails to account for.

Is this somehow acceptable to Mr. Donahue because “only” a small number of priests are responsible or that many were “only” accused once?

Are we as a society and religious community supposed to tolerate such behavior because the majority of their victims were “only” young boys? That people other than Catholic priests have molested children and gotten away with it?

While I don’t support unsolicited public discussions of faith, either for religion or against, the gravity of this issue forces me to say the following:

As a Catholic, I am personally offended when Mr. Donahue presumes to represent my religion to the world and I am disgusted by those in the hierarchy of my faith who have not denounced Mr. Donahue’s extremism or cooperated fully with civil authorities in cases of child molestation.

This is a legal issue, not one of faith. Mr. Donahue, the Catholic League and current Church hierarchy ought to treat it as one, lest they lose a generation of young and moderate Catholics such as myself.

Can there be no decency in questions such as these? 

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