September 3, 2010

Review: Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis


For those interested in answering charges that the Catholic Church did little or nothing in response to child sex abuse scandals involving priests, Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis by Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Bunson, is essential reading. Erlandson and Bunson take an unbiased look at the problem and objectively portray the Church's efforts to reform and to heal during the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI. The book makes seven essential points:
  1. The Church has always been confronted by the problem of sexual sin and failings among its clergy, and while the number of abusers has never been large, the Church has labored over the centuries to curb such abuses.
  2. Although modern Church leaders have made grievous mistakes, and the criminal acts of certain clergy have been overlooked or unaddressed in the past in too many dioceses, the Church is dedicated to redressing these wrongs and making sure that every safeguard is in place to protect children and families.
  3. Cardinal Ratzinger became increasingly convinced of the need to rid the Church of what he called the “filth” of abuse, and emerged as one of the Vatican’s most dedicated leaders in confronting the growing crisis.
  4. Pope Benedict’s actions in the first years of his pontificate showed a forthright desire to address the sexual abuse crisis in word and deed. He has continued to address the topic repeatedly and directly, in a variety of situations.
  5. The United States Church, which was for several years at the epicenter of the scandals, is now leading the way in establishing norms and providing guidelines for dealing with priest abusers, assisting the victims, and preventing further crimes.
  6. As Church leaders around the world confront the sexual abuse crisis in their own countries, they are looking to Pope Benedict for leadership and to the U.S. Church for a road-map to reconciliation, reform and authentic justice.
  7. Pope Benedict is not only dedicated to ending abuse among the clergy but also sees that the Church must seek spiritual renewal if it is to be purified.
As the introduction states: "This book arose out of a desire to help Catholics who have been shocked, disappointed, angered, or simply depressed by the latest round of allegations of clergy sexual abuse that have been filling our newspapers and our newsrooms."

From the very beginning the Church has concerned itself with the sexual immorality of its members, particularly its ministers. This reflects not the failings of the Church or its ministers but the reality of original sin and man’s fallen nature. From the Council of Elvira in 307 AD until the present day, the Catholic Church has taken concrete steps to protect the young and vulnerable from sexual misconduct. Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis detail some of the steps the Church has taken over the centuries to deal with this problem, placing particular emphasis on recent efforts to reform and renew the priesthood in light of recent scandals.

Many have argued that the Catholic Church in general, and Pope Benedict in particular, remained aloof especially during the early days of the crisis. As head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, then Cardinal Ratzinger reviewed hundreds of cases of abuse from around the word. He like few others in the Church understood the depth and scope of the problem. Erlandson and Bunson illustrate how Joseph Ratzinger, as cardinal and as pope, was proactive in dealing with the problem as early as 2001.

Erlandson and Bunson do not gloss over the sexual abuse crisis but go to great length to place blame where it belongs. A small percentage of priests were not faithful to their vows and a few bishops compounded the issue by covering up abuse. 4% of priests were guilty of sexual misconduct between 1950-2003. Most of the abuse occurred during the 1970’s or earlier. Abuse cases have decreased in the decades since for a host of reasons.

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