itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/WebPage">

Clerical abuse: enough is enough

by Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

The Grand Jury Report on clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania was recently released. It details horrific abuse by 300 priests of at least 1000 victims. It exposes an entrenched culture of covering-up such abuse by Church authorities.

These revelations have rightly evoked angry responses globally. Clergy sexual abuse is one of the most psychologically and spiritually destructive things a person can ever experience.

Pope Francis wrote a strongly worded letter to the whole Catholic Church expressing shame and sorrow. He said that no effort should “be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening.”

However, he says little about what concrete things will be done to change the Church.

This is a Kairos moment for the Church. The time for band-aid approaches is over. Unless we swiftly address the systemic issues that have given rise to such atrocities, we cannot move forward with integrity. The blame-game and scapegoating of some groups must stop. We face a deeply rooted institutional crisis at the heart of Catholicism.

First and foremost, among the issues needing urgent attention, is clericalism and the abuse of power. Pope Francis says: “To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to clericalism.” Priests are part of the community of baptised believers, called by God to pastoral care and service. There are many dedicated priests who are men of integrity; they too are appalled and deeply distressed by the situation. It is when power, status and privilege distort God’s call that terrible things happen. Unfortunately, lay people were taught to put inordinate and uncritical trust in priests, further exacerbating the situation.

The conflation of ordination with decision-making power in the Church is a key problem. Priesthood needs a servant-leadership approach.

We need to rethink making celibacy a pre-requisite for priests. It is a particular call and gift of its own. By linking it with the priesthood, we place unnecessary pressures on those who may have a genuine call to the priesthood but not to celibacy.

The issue of women’s inclusion in decision-making and ministry also needs attention. In addition to the abuse of children, the abuse of women (especially women religious which too has been in the media recently) is, in part, the result of power exercised over them by priests. Women, therefore, are disempowered.

Seminary formation is a key concern. Priests are trained away from the realities of life; they are told they are “set apart” and even dress up to further entrench this. Many start their training immediately after school. They may never have had the experience of adult life in an ordinary context. The psycho-sexual development of students should be a critical part of their formation; currently it is inadequate.

Bishops need to be held accountable. Apart from following protocols, they must ensure that complaints against priests are properly dealt with by civil authorities. We need to expunge the medieval prince-bishop model we still emulate and reject the pomp and ceremony around bishops. They must be shepherds. Lay people must have significantly more say in the running of the Church on all levels.

We must confront this horrific evil head-on. Prayerfully. Discerningly. Courageously. We owe it to those who have been so grievously hurt and to the future generations. Enough is enough. SA.

Image: Unsplash | Rux Centea

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
MEd (Wits); MA Christian Spirituality (London); PhD (UKZN)

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell has worked in the area of Ignatian Spirituality for 19 years and heads up the work of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality. Her primary focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and the giving of retreats. She is also a registered Psychologist and her PhD focused on the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie is an editorial advisor to “The Way” journal of Spirituality and has authored a number of articles relating to the training of Spiritual Directors in an African context. She has contributed to several books, most recently co-authoring a book of Lenten Reflections: “Long Journey to the Resurrection”. She has contributed to international conferences and consultations in Spirituality in the United Kingdom; the United States; Rome; Spain, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe.

a.paulin-campbell@jesuitinstitute.org.za @annemariepc_c
See more from Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.