Sputnik has discussed why the clergy’s crimes have been covered up for so long with Thomas Groome, professor of theology and religious education at Boston College, where he is the director of the school's Church in the 21st Century Center. He's also the author of "What Makes Us Catholic" and a former priest.
Sputnik: The Pope strongly condemned sex abuse in the Church saying that the issue was long ignored. But how has the clergy managed to cover up these crimes?
Thomas Groome: I think when he speaks about the clericalism in that letter, that’s very significant because in a sense he’s asking the church to go to the disease, rather than to the symptom. And in many ways, we’ve been treating the symptoms, which is important to do. In other words, the cases of violence and crime against children the priests have committed that has to be addressed indeed, but then going to the source of that problem has to lead the church to ask why, why is it happening?
It’s a certain kind of elitism, a certain kind of preference, deference, pedestalizing and it’s also a diminishment of the baptized. In other words, there’s no lay participation or leadership in the Catholic Church of any significance.
There’s very little participation, in other words. Ordination is the first round of the ladder to participation in the governance of the church, whereas it should be baptism. And so the Pope is challenging the whole culture that surrounds Catholic priesthood. I think that this letter is significant because that's where we need to go. We need to treat the symptoms, but more important, we need to treat the disease.
Sputnik: Well it’s very interesting Thomas that you are using this analogy of disease and the Pope's primarily attacked clericalism tying it directly to abuses, but how justified is such a connection? Are reforms needed in the Church? And if yes what should they be?
Thomas Groome: We have made some progress. So there is hope, at least, and I'm speaking out here for the United States. The Catholic bishops in the United States in 2002 put in place a significant program called the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and that put in place, in many ways, procedures that would oversee and punish the crimes of priests when they would commit them against children and it was a step in that direction.
And indeed many priests were forced out of the ministry, forced to resign, reported to the police and so on. The shortcoming of the Dallas Agreement was that there were no procedures there for holding bishops accountable and many bishops were not accountable. They overlooked, covered up, or simply denied the situation, and didn’t pursue it.
So negligent bishops are really the cutting edge now; how does the church review the negligent bishops in this regard. Pope Francis‘s letter hints at that. It calls for certain tribunals as necessary or something like that. I think he has to go beyond that. The letter was welcomed and I think it is a step forward, a promising one, but now he has to put in place the juridical, judicial procedures that would review and hold accountable bishops in how they implement the protection of children. And that’s what’s lacking so far.
Sputnik: What implications could it have on the Catholic Church image, I think we know what the answer to that one is, but how likely is a real thorough investigation to follow? Is that likely to happen?
Thomas Groome: I think a thorough investigation will happen. I think we’re certainly moving, the church moves slowly. I think this report out of Pennsylvania will be a catalyst toward a much more aggressive program towards reform and renewal. And I suppose, I think this is a dreadful embarrassment to the Catholic Church, but I think most Catholics realize and are able to distinguish between their faith and the institution that represents their faith, namely the Church.
And it’s still a very rich live-giving tradition. So this is why it is so embarrassing, so tragic that it is so poorly represented now by this in the public forum. But I think most Catholics will be able to hang in and know that their faith is deeper than the failures of their Church.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of Thomas Groome and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.