Special Reports / Church and paedophilia

The last chance

Łukasz Jasina · 1 October 2013
We should condemn those who view the Church as a corporate institution which should fiercely defend itself from attacks from the outside and protect its employees. The Church is represented also by people harmed by priests. Priests who disgrace the Church. Pope Francis, while keeping the earthly deposit of the Church’s faith intact, shows us the way.

I find it difficult to write this article for one fundamental reason. Serious papers on extremely serious subjects should be written with a pinch of objectivism and hope for the future. In the context of the recent events, I am unable to fully comply with the first criterion and to believe in the sense of the second one. The debate which has swept through Poland in the recent weeks was sure to take place; the interested parties could have secured themselves against it by solving the problems now being analysed openly in advance. But they failed to do so, which only proves that nobody has learnt anything.

Firstly, a problem of the Church

Perhaps, some would say that I am attacking the Church. This is not true. All I want is to have the Church – the Church which in this land is based on a thousand year tradition and which gave me sacraments – exist, enjoy its authority and pass on the timeless values of Primate Wyszyński, Blessed Rev. Jerzy Popiełuszko and many other teachers of rebellion against totalitarism. But this mission will prove to be too difficult for a Church which is susceptible to attacks, being weak with the weakest and most difficult of human attributes: sexuality.

Times are changing and new generations of future priests are entering the walls of seminaries. Many of them are young and inexperienced. Their knowledge of their own sexuality and of intimate life is shaped in a closed environment of the seminary, in the dark and in hiding. If we couple this knowledge with the power inherent in the position of a priest in a Catholic society, we get an explosive mixture. After all, we ourselves are no angels, and neither are priests.

There was a time when we could change the situation. Do we not have Catholic psychologists? Are theology and homiletics the only noteworthy subjects in the seminary curriculum? Can a priest who is not prepared to manage his own internal life really be an authority? Have we only just learned recently about paedophilia-related offences? Have the media not publicised the incidents occurring in the US, Ireland, Austria and Germany for over 10 years? Similar scandals happened in Poland as well, but even the leaders of such enlightened archdioceses as the Archdiocese of Lublin and the Archdiocese of Przemyśl could not cope with them. Too often have the clergymen forgiven their subordinates, absolved them of their sins, swept problems under the rug and pretended that nothing had happened.

Dear false advocates of the Church! It is too often that you put yourself in a position of defenders of a besieged fortress. The Church is being attacked, we have to defend it – you say. This is a lie! Are you not aware that you are on the side of evil? After all, the Church is a community, not an organisation. The Church is represented also by people harmed by those who broke their ordination vows. It is in the interest of the Church to remove those who have been destroying its body. Each priest guilty of child abuse is a felon and an opponent of the Catholic faith. You may say: he is a Christian and should be forgiven. I would respond: forgiveness can be granted to those who have honestly repented of their sins, amended their lives and compensated their victims. And we know that in many cases even these conditions have not been fulfilled! Obstinacy in sin was the only reaction we got.

A victim of evil is a victim, full stop. We should condemn those who perceive the Church as a corporate institution which should fiercely defend itself from attacks from the outside and protect its employees. The Church is represented also by people harmed by priests. Priests who disgrace the Church. Pope Francis, while keeping the earthly deposit of the Church’s faith intact, shows us the way. His decisive intervention in the case of Archbishop Wesołowski establishes a proper line of conduct.

Secondly, it is not only in the Church

Paedophilia is one of the worst crimes known to humanity, partly because it is so hard to handle, similar to other offences having to do with human sexuality.

As an academic researcher of a Catholic university, I have gotten used to allegations of displaying an excessively favourable attitude towards the Church. But by declaring that the Church and its priests are not a demonic gang busy harming kids, I am not defending the evil. According to recent studies, priests are less likely to abuse children than members of many other professions. Paedophiles can be found everywhere: among right- and left-wing politicians, in artists’ guilds, in decent families, at school and at university.

Year by year, this issue has been getting more attention. Paedophilia but also rape should be subject to social condemnation. There are still too many places where people stigmatise the victims, rather than the executioners. Mature Western societies have to examine their consciences: too many of us turn a blind eye, too many of us commit similar sins by going to brothels in the Far East or ignoring the sexualisation of children we see in mass culture.

The last chance

The institutional Church is eager to teach and instil moral values in society. But to retain its position as a teacher, it must radically cleanse itself of those who reject its rules. Only thus can it maintain its authority. But the steps to cleanse the society of evil should be taken by all of us, and not only with each new tragedy, but daily, constantly. The faster, the better.