Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Two weeks ago, a Catholic bishop from Australia was fired by the pope for “suggesting that the Church consider ordaining Moral High Groundwomen and married men.” On the other hand, in the face of sex abuse scandals in Belgium and the Netherlands, the Vatican just issued a statement saying that the bishops should cooperate with police investigating sexual abuse but it does not require them to report such cases. Therefore, it’s still at the bishops’ discretion as to whether report sexual abuse cases or not.

“Without fear of punishment themselves, bishops frequently move pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than reporting them to police or punishing them under church law.” Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the main U.S. victims group Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests said, "There's nothing that will make a child safer today or tomorrow or next month or next year." David Clohessy also of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests responded, "Bishops ignore and conceal child sex crimes because they can. So any 'reform' that doesn't diminish bishops' power and discretion is virtually meaningless." Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi conceded that there was little new in Monday's letter.

At the same time, the Vienna Presbyterian Church has been sued over claims of sex abuse by a youth ministries director. The lawyer for the church’s insurance company sent a warning to the church: “Do not make any statements, orally, in writing or in any manner, to acknowledge, admit to or apologize for anything that may be evidence of or interpreted as (a suggestion that) the actions of Vienna Presbyterian Church ... caused or contributed to any damages arising from the intentional acts/abuse/misconduct by the youth director.” The church’s governing board took a different view. Since the youth director already admitted his actions to the board, the church said, “We won’t hide behind lawyers.” The church publicly admitted the crime and apologized.

Churches worldwide have struggled with outright sex abuse. In the United States, sex abuse cases have caused eight Catholic dioceses and one Jesuit order to file for bankruptcy protection. Billions of dollars in damages have been paid across the nation as a result of not only the abuse, but because bishops essentially hid and reassigned abusive priests. The latest scandal in the United States involves allegations that Philadelphia's archbishop left accused priests in ministry despite purportedly tough U.S. guidelines, but these guidelines are non-binding. In Ireland, Irish bishops aren't cooperating with an independent board overseeing compliance with the guidelines of the Church. The Church is in a tenuous position. The Church, through its lawyers, has vilified, maligned, and denigrated known victims in defense of the Church’s name and coffers. The “unscriptural” approach has backfired. It has made juries angry; thus they have awarded large judgments.

The Presbyterian Church in Vienna was admonished by its insurance company and threatened with loss of future coverage. All churches facing sex abuse cases find themselves in a legal and spiritual dilemma. On one hand, the Church wants to limit its financial exposure as much as possible. On the other hand, it is a church after all, and therefore has higher moral and ethical behaviors it supposedly ascribes to. At least to the Presbyterian Church in Vienna, we should extend our congratulations for taking the moral high ground thus sparing the victims, congregation, and the righteous conduct of the Lord’s church.

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