Friday, July 27, 2007

Zimbabwe: Catholics Must Rethink Celibacy

THE Catholic Church has been rocked by sexual scandal after scandal over the years, which is why some say this particular church is "awash with sex fiends".

While much of the abuse has been traced to the refusal by the church to revoke its insistence on celibacy vows, some attribute it to individual failures.

But the frequency with which the Catholic Church finds itself under the spotlight for sexual impropriety has raised considerable debate over the necessity of celibacy when other denominations like the Anglican Church allow their bishops and priests to marry if they so wish.

While celibacy appears to have been predicated on human aspirations to emulate the life led by Jesus Christ, who never touched a woman let alone married during his mission in human form on earth, it is important to note that Jesus was here on assignment for a short period of time; what is more, he was not a mere mortal.

For man to follow his example requires real dedication to the Word and Work of the Lord.

Sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests is said to have started in the second half of the 20th century.

Though such charges had been levelled earlier, they first earned widespread attention in the mid- to late 1990s.

Early reports came mostly from the United States and Ireland.

The first cases to get widespread publicity involved abuse of prepubescent children, mainly altar boys.

The "overwhelming majority" of the abused children were boys.

There had long been charges that a significant minority of the clergy had been practising such behaviour for decades, alleging that a "homosexual collective" within the priesthood viewed child sex abuse as a "religious rite" and "rite of passage" for altar boys and young priests.

Participation in the Catholic faith involved a close association with and proximity to priests, thus Catholic clergyman always take advantage of their unrestricted contact with people through parish links with families, seminaries and other institutions run by the church to commit sexual offences.

On the other hand, priests are involved in every aspect of the lives of the families of their communities.

They conduct baptisms sessions, weekly Mass celebration, give children first communion, marry couples and officiate at funerals.

One of the worst examples of a clergyman using his links with families to facilitate sex abuse happened in Ireland, where one priest raped and sexually abused hundreds of boys between 1945 and 1990.

The scandal over the Father Brendan Smyth case caused immense damage to the credibility of the Catholic Church in Ireland, as did other cases, such as that of Fr Jim Grennan, a parish priest who abused children as they prepared for First Communion, and Father Sean Fortune, who committed suicide before his trial for the rape of children.

The abuse by Fr Grennan and others in the diocese of Ferns in south-east Ireland led to the resignation of the local bishop, Brendan Comisky, while similar scandals in the Archdiocese of Dublin severely damaged the reputation of its archbishop, Cardinal Connell.

Although there were other social factors at play, some have argued that the 10-year drop in the percentage of Irish people attending weekly Mass from 63 to 48 percent was related to these events.

Some of the most serious allegations of abuse were made against clergy who either worked in the Catholic institutions, or who were allowed unlimited visitation rights and access to young people.

As with the clergy in parishes, many allegations have resulted in the criminal conviction of the abusers.

Catholic bishops have been heavily criticised for moving offending priests from parish to parish rather than seeking to have them stripped of their faculties.

Priests accused of sex abuse have been sent for intensive psychotherapeutic treatment.

They would resume pastoral duties when the treating psychologists advised the bishop or psychiatrists that it was safe for them to be so assigned.

Although sex abuse is a criminal offence, many cases have been swept under the carpet.

Pope Benedict XVI last year sent a letter to all Catholic bishops declaring that the church's investigations into claims of child sex abuse were subject to the pontifical secret.


He declared that such cases should not be reported to law enforcement until investigations were completed.

Some church members have also paid victims of child abuse, either in settlement of compensation claims, or in order to prevent them reporting to police.

In the mid-90s, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Connell of Dublin used to lend money to a priest who had abused altar boy Andrew Madden.

The money would be used to pay compensation to Madden to prevent him from reporting the abuse to police. Vatican Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone conceded his shock over the number of priests involved in sex abuse scandals.

He, however, noted that while the absolute number of priests involved was alarming, the perpetrators represented only "a very small minority" of the Catholic clergy.

The Vatican spokesman observed that the church is "clearly pained by the suffering of the victims and their families."Father Lombardi said it was not only for the Catholic Church to discover sexual abuse among its members.

He pledged that the church would lead a worldwide campaign against the abuse of children.

It appears the only way the Catholic Church can deal with ever rising sexual scandals is to rethink its insistence on celibacy

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