Opinion, by Jack Woodall
RIO DE JANEIRO – NO, this is NOT a slam at a particular church – note that I wrote “churches”, plural. It’s just a plea for some common sense after all the hogwash that has filled the media recently about a sad situation that, if you think about it, cannot be a problem only in a church with a celibate clergy.
Start from the fact that there are some men in any society who like to molest children. Clergy are only human, so a small proportion of them will probably be like that. Add the fact that no family likes to admit they have a family member with that proclivity, and will try to keep it covered up from shame, for years if they think it necessary while they try to deal with it and get help, before going to the police.
Why should a church be any different from a family? Admittedly, we expect our clergy to stick to a higher standard of morals than ourselves — but again, they are only human. Consider the mother of the German man who recently alleged to the media that he had been molested by a priest when he was a child. He said, now he’s a grown-up, that his mother — on her deathbed – asked him never to speak about it. Her concern was more for her church than her own flesh and blood.
So of course churches – congregations as well as bishops — cover this sort of thing up. Don’t imagine that other churches are free of a similar problem.
What’s wrong is that nothing helpful was done about clergy who were denounced within the church. They were moved around, which just exposed a whole new lot of kids to perversion, but not advised or sent to be treated for their problem. If a church wants to deal with such matters privately, let it at least take proper disciplinary and restorative steps.
Those who think the whole business could easily be solved by allowing clergy to marry forget this: child molesters prefer children to adult women, so the problem would remain. But marriage would solve a quite different problem. Think of the dreadful dilemma of the priest in “The Thorn Birds”.
That would solve the problem of their illegitimate children and allow those children to have a normal family life with two parents – which would indeed be a great step forward. It would also put an end to the children’s cruel insult when playing in the street: “Race you to that wall. Whoever comes last is mulher de padre!”
The Roman Catholic church recently forced a notorious African bishop to divorce his wife whom he married after he was consecrated. But it permits married clergy converting from the Anglican church to keep their wives.
It will eventually be forced to allow marriage because it is short of priests and the number of their faithful in developing countries is multiplying by leaps and bounds. It’s just that in that church – as in some others — change moves at a glacial pace.
Jack Woodall PhD was a visiting biomedical research professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) before he retired, and is now Editor of the Rio English language monthly The Umbrella and Associate Editor of ProMED, the only free online source of professionally commentated news of outbreaks of infectious disease worldwide.