In light of (or in the darkness of) the latest priest scandal in Pennsylvania, it is imperative that we address and re-address this issue by recognizing, first and foremost, that this is not just a scandal within the church; this is a crime of the worst nature that warrants prosecution and imprisonment for every case of pedophilia or ephebophilia that has been substantiated.
Since 2002, there has been a “constant drum beat” begging for us to acknowledge the sinful and criminal behavior that has taken place within the Catholic Church because of the sexual abuse of children and minors and the cover up by some bishops of the Catholic Church. Although strides have been made to create a Safe Environment within the Church, it is obvious that the Catholic Church has not been as “transparent” as it could and should have been during the last few decades in order to protect the children and minors from these heinous or outrageous crimes.
For these reasons, we, as members of the clergy (priests, bishops, cardinals and popes) need to acknowledge this sexual abuse for what it is: nothing less than an attack on an innocent victim’s body, mind, heart and soul! Violations of this nature cannot be healed with just an apology or with any type of restitution or settlement, mainly because sexual abuse always leaves psychological, emotional and spiritual scars that will last a lifetime. Each victim will either have to learn how to develop healthy coping skills in order to survive the pain, or resort to unhealthy drugs of choice such as alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, cutting and/or suicide in order to “escape” reality or to check out of life altogether!
I want to be perfectly clear: Every sexual abuse victim does not resort to the unhealthy “drugs of choice” that I just listed, and not everyone who relies on these “drugs of choice” is a victim of sexual abuse. However, we need to know that each and every act of sexual abuse has the power to send each victim (through no fault of his or her own) down a spiral of self-destruction if that person does not receive intervention, healing and support every step of the way.
The irony or the tragedy in all of this is that churches should be the avenue through which this type of intervention, healing and support takes place. Yet, how many of these wounded souls will ever be able to see their Church as a safe-haven, their pastor as a true shepherd and their God as a Savior if the Catholic priest was not there to protect them from this abuse, but in fact, caused the abuse? We can talk about the sexual abuse and the cover-up of this abuse. But let’s not forget the long-lasting effects of this abuse that can drive a victim farther and farther away from family, friends, and ultimately from God, mainly because a priest took it upon himself to not serve as the shepherd of the flock, but to be a predator — a wolf in sheep’s clothing!
There will come a day when the Church will be asked to highlight again what Safe Environment programs it has put in place since 2002, but this is not the day nor the hour to defend our Safe Environment programs; this is the time for all Catholic priests, all those who are innocent and all those who are guilty, to acknowledge the great harm that has been done to the victims and to their families. Why should all priests be involved in this great confession? Because St. Paul tells us, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.” (2 Cor. 12:26)
Individually and collectively, we, as priests, bishops, cardinals and popes, need to acknowledge these crimes to the victims. To you, the people of God and to you, Almighty God, with the same spirit, humility and contrition of King David who in Psalm 51 gave the greatest confession of all time: “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness…”
Rev. Vialpando is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.