By Mark Miravalle
DUBLIN, Ireland, JULY 21 (Zenit.org).- Approximately a decade ago, the Catholic Church in the United States experienced its worst public scandal in its history. An appropriate cry for just punishment for those clergy who had abused the sacred innocence of children, and for members of the Catholic hierarchy for the grave mishandling of certain sex abuse cases, admirably came forth from the people and the press alike.
But this tragic U.S. Church event also became the occasion for longstanding ideological opponents of the Catholic Church to seize the moment, and through distortion and inflation of the actual facts, these opponents sought to attack the Church at its very core, hoping to permanently remove Catholic faith and life from American society.
As I happen to be visiting Ireland during the present release of the Cloyne Report, I see history repeating itself.
Truth and justice are the means by which we must examine all sides of the issue of the present Church scandal. Standards of fairness and decency must be applied equally to the victims, the accused, the guilty, the country and the Catholic Church. In this light, I would like to propose the following 10 points to ponder in seeking the type of just response to the present Church scandal that hopefully will build a foundation for future protection and respect for the children of Ireland, its society, its religious freedom and its profound national heritage.
1. The sexual abuse of children is an obscene and horrific offense against the child, against any just society, and against God himself. When a member of the clergy of the Catholic Church is involved in child molestation of any type, it must be punished with serious and longstanding penalties by civil authority and by Church authority.
2. Benedict XVI has clearly stated that any Catholic clergy accused of child sexual abuse must be reported to civil authorities and, if convicted, should receive the full civil punishment for his crime against the state, as any person would. This is the official position of the Catholic Church regarding clerical sex offenders.
3. When an individual bishop or priest chooses not to incorporate the directives of Benedict XVI in failing to report to civil authorities any case of clerical child abuse, that individual bishop or priest, wherever he may be or in whatever office, is violating the clear contemporary directives of the Pope, and hence the official directives of the Catholic Church.
4. A humble admission of guilt, expression of sincere apology, and appropriate compensation to the extent possible should be offered to all victims of clerical sexual abuse by the appropriate Church authorities and by the individual clerical offenders.
5. Applying the serious offenses of the relatively few priests and bishops to the entire Catholic Church in Ireland and to its innocent clergy is yet another offense against truth and justice. The statements voiced in several major editorials of national Irish newspapers would give the impression that it is the vast majority of clergy in this country that are guilty of child sexual abuse. It must be stated that the vast majority of the clergy in Ireland have never been accused nor convicted of child sexual abuse.
6. When leading figures in Irish government speak about enacting laws that would mandate the breaking of the confessional seal of the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation in order to report a child sex offender, they manifest both a misunderstanding of the sacrament of confession and an ignorance of history. The Catholic Church could never and would never sanction the breaking of the secrecy of the confessional, based on the biblical truth that this sacrament was directly instituted by Jesus Christ himself for the purpose of the forgiveness of sins and the attainment of eternal life, and that no temporal good, however worthy in itself, outweighs the immortal good of eternal salvation.
Countries in the past who have sought to violate the religious rights of Catholic Christians in ways such as these have found that such violation of religious freedom has only led to the ultimate strengthening of the Church and eventual identification of the unjust law as being a flagrant violation of religious liberty and thus consequently revoked as such under the shadow of historic shame, as evidenced, for example, in numerous countries of Eastern Europe under 20th-century communist rule.
7. When government officials entertain the idea of breaking diplomatic ties with the Vatican and the closing of embassies due to the alleged support of a Vatican dicastery for an Irish bishop to act contrary to Irish law and to the expressed directives of Benedict XVI in reporting clerical sex offenders to civil authorities, we have abandoned all proportion (See ZENIT: www.zenit.org/article-33113?l=english).
For example, if a particular diplomatic office, in contradiction to the expressed policy of the head of state of England, France, Germany or Italy, encouraged their own foreign presence in Ireland to disregard a civil law for a relatively few number of offenders in Ireland, would the Irish government likewise consider breaking diplomatic ties with these other European countries? We are talking about two recognized civil states, after all.
8. When editorials encourage the formation of a “new Catholic Church” founded upon the principles of absolute democracy and no Roman authority, they perhaps fail to realize that: a) Catholics believe that Jesus Christ established his Church on a human authority that is guided in truth by a divine authority (Matthew 16:15-20), which could never be replaced by the uncertainty of human majority rule; b) state-originated churches have had little historical success as their doctrines are oftentimes as passing as the current political views that established them; and c) the call for the removal of the authority of the Catholic Church in the name of total personal freedom and classless society has been used with slight variations by such infamous historical figures as Robespierre, Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini and Mao. Are you truly seeking similar societal effects for Ireland, which were in significant part produced by countries with similar ideologies?
9. Catholics in Ireland are direct followers of Jesus Christ, who are guided by his human representative on earth, Benedict XVI. They are not direct followers of any particular bishop, priest or theologian. This is why it is entirely illogical for any Irish Catholic to leave the Catholic Church because of the wrongdoing or scandalous behavior of an individual bishop or priest, or even groups of erroneous clergy.
10. An Irish citizen would never change his or her citizenship to that of another country simply because they were scandalized by the actions of their local public official, or national political representative. In baptism, an Irish Catholic receives his or her supernatural identity as a Catholic Christian, which in Catholic belief is far more important than even their national identity, as it immediately effects their eternal destiny. No local or national scandal by Church clergy should deprive an Irish Catholic of their faith in Jesus Christ, whom they truly faithfully seek to follow, or in the Church, which Catholics believe was founded by Jesus Christ in its fullness.
Ten years after the U.S. Church scandal, the Catholic Church in America shows indications of being a more humbled and purified Church, a Church that hopefully has learned from her mistakes and seeks an even greater fidelity to Jesus and the Gospel in truth, justice and charity. I believe the same fruits are soon in store for the Catholic Church in Ireland: a purified, humbled and renewed Church, which will serve Jesus like never before in bringing its members to the authentic love and the living of the Gospel, respect and adherence to all just civil law, and most particularly with a renewed reverence for the beauty and sublime innocence of God’s favorite people: our children.
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Mark Miravalle is a professor of theology and Mariology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Author of more than a dozen books on Mariology, and editor of “Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons,” he wrote “The Seven Sorrows of China” in 2007. He is married and has eight children.