Letter: New approaches to dealing with the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal


Sex scandals among Catholic clergy are anything but new. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, Duke George of Saxony declared, "The officials invite women to their dwellings under various pretexts, and endeavor to seduce them, at one time by threats, at another by presents, or if they cannot succeed, they ruin their good fame. Alas! it is the scandal caused by the clergy that hurls so many poor souls into eternal condemnation!"

Even earlier, Pope Alexander VI fathered at least nine children, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia's article "Borgia," which even names each mother and who she was married to at the time. And in the 10th century, Bishop Liutprand of Cremona records that Pope John XI was the illegitimate son of Pope Sergius III.

Since these scandals have existed for over 500 years, new approaches are needed. Here are two possibilities:

• Many blame clericalism, and call for empowering the laity. But Jesus already empowered them in Matthew 18:15-17, and His instructions there ought now to be followed: a) Talk to the perceived offender one on one. b) If he doesn't listen, take one or two more and try again. c) If he still doesn't listen, "tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican."

When the church at Corinth failed to follow these instructions and discipline a member who had "his father's wife," a sin non-members found appalling, Paul told that church to "put away the evil one from among yourselves" (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). That it was the membership that excommunicated that member for a crime far less than child sexual abuse is clear: Paul said the "most despised" in the church should settle disputes (1 Corinthians 6:4), and to receive back the man who had sincerely repented after a rebuke that had been "given by many" (2 Corinthians 2:5-8).

I have not yet heard of any priest proven guilty of child abuse who has been excommunicated like Paul instructed, much less by a Catholic church. It is way past time to implement these instructions.

• In Australia, a royal commission inquiry recommended that "Catholic clerics should face criminal charges if they failed to report sexual abuse disclosed to them during confession." The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference responded that reporting such would be "contrary to our faith and inimical to religious liberty." But why not be creative?

Confession and repentance are required for forgiveness (1 John 1:9; Acts 2:38; 3:19). Repentance is sorrow for the sin itself, not sorrow for getting caught or for paying the consequences. That's why King David didn't spurn the eventual consequences of his own great sin (2 Samuel 16:5-13).

The one hearing confession could require as penance that the admitted abuser confess his crime to the authorities, even offering to go with him as moral support. If an abuser uses auricular confession to cover up his crimes, that doesn't sound like true repentance, without which there is no forgiveness.

Pickle lives in Harstad, Minn.