As a lifelong Catholic, I am repulsed by the continuing revelations of crimes against children committed by hundreds of priests upon thousands of victims. How should the Church deal with this going forward?
We must remember that, at this point, it is very difficult for a Catholic to trust any priest, until proven otherwise. Pedophiles are very clever and are often beloved by the adults in a child’s life.
The goal is to prevent recurrences and begin the healing process among the faithful and the victims.
I would suggest the following guidelines:
1. Don’t touch
No physical contact by a priest with anyone under 18 years old, except for hands to hands. Applying the Sign of the Cross to the forehead would be allowed during public celebration of the sacraments. No hugging, kissing, patting on the back, rubbing the back. Priests have harmed so many children that I cringe anytime I see any priest do those things. I think, “Is this really a ‘good’ priest, or another hidden pedophile?
2. Never be alone with a child under 18 years old
An adult, non-clergy person should be present.
3. Zero tolerance for any priest accused of any inappropriate physical contact with a child under 18 years old. The priest should immediately be removed from any ministry. He should not be allowed to physically stay in any parish, school or any Church facility. He should not be allowed to work in any capacity for the Church.
When in doubt, the priest should be removed from the ministry. It would be better to lose one innocent priest than to harm one child. One must remember that pedophilia is not reversible. Although the pedophile may try to control their impulses and actions, those desires will never go away. Children should not be put at risk by keeping pedophiles in contact with them.
4. The statute of limitations for crimes against children should be removed, and if possible, this should be retroactive. The priests who committed these crimes against children should be held legally responsible and accountable.
5. Any member of the Church who covered up these crimes should be removed from Church ministry. They should not be hidden or sheltered in Church residences or buildings. The idea of a pedophile priest or someone who aided and abetted them, being allowed to celebrate Mass, even privately, feels like an abomination to me. Their only participation in the Church should be as a parishioner and as a penitent.
Pedophile priests have been an evil permeating the Church for decades that we know of, and probably much longer. This evil must be stopped and we all must ask our leaders, and especially Pope Francis, to stop it. It is not enough to be sad, ashamed, sorry or embarrassed. We must do whatever it takes to stop it now.
Patricia Martin, an Oak Park resident, is a lifelong Catholic, an Oak Park resident, and a cardiologist.