Luke Coppen drew his readers' attention to an article by Fr William Grimm, a senior priest living in Japan, on Bl John Paul II's complicity in the sexual abuse of children, and Archbishop Nichols' reaction to it.
Responding to complaints that the beatification of Pope John Paul II was over-hasty and unseemly in light of the sex abuse scandal that will always be a blot on his papacy, the archbishop did not deny the problem. He simply said that beatification is not a “medal for good management service.”
Fr Grimm takes scandal from Archbishop Nichols' choice of words. But the fact is, Archbishop Nichols has a point: the Pope is not directly (even if he is ultimately) responsible for such abuses, and the way that the Pope, even more than a bishop, can deal with such issues is adminstrative. If the Vatican failed (as to an extent it clearly did) in its handling of the crisis for a long time, this failure is a failure of administration: policies were not enforced, procedures were not followed, indeed some policies and procedures were unfitted for the situation and had to be (and were, eventually) changed.
Fr Grimm makes it sound as though what was needed was not a closer attention to the laicisation process, the statute of limitation, the relationship between canonical and criminal procedures and other such boring things, but some effusion of emotion from the Holy Father himself. Really? Was that going to solve everything? As a matter of fact we read that the Holy Father was very angry with the American bishops at his famous meeting with them over sex abuse. Such anger was justified and necessary. It certainly wasn't sufficient - and it was supposed to be.
Where Fr Grimm really goes off the rails, however, is his suggestion that what the Church needs now is a married clergy.
It is hard to imagine Archbishop Nichols’ Anglican counterpart, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, saying the same thing. After all, Williams is a father not solely by virtue of ordination, but because he has two children.
Is Fr Grimm going to make a detailed comparison between the Church of England's handling of sex abuse cases and the Vatican's? (And yes, they have had plenty of cases to handle.) No: he's just going put in his little dig at the celibate clergy and move on. And, as the father of four children, I find his use of the sexual abuse of children as a way of making cheap ideological shots at the Church deeply offensive.
Fr Grimm may think that wearing a tie and talking about a married clergy make him frightfully up to the minute, but unless he has been asleep for the last thirty years he should know that the non-celibate teaching profession, as well as the non-celibate clergy of Protestant denomenations, have had their fair share of child sex-abuse cases, indeed in comparison with the Catholic clergy more than a fair share. There simply isn't any reason to imagine that a married clergy would protect our children any better than a celibate one.
But here's a deeper point. Fr Grimm thinks that the emotional protectiveness a parent feels towards his or her children is the ultimate guarantee of safety. Well, perhaps it should be. But the stories of clerical (and other) sex abuse shows that it is not. The failure to protect children from predatory teachers, scout-masters, and different kinds of clergy are frequently failures of parents. Parents who don't detect the distress of their children, who don't listen to them, who don't believe them. This is tragic, but it is true. The failures of bishops and even of the Holy Father has a parallel among the laity, and indeed it could not have happened in a vacuum: it was part of a culture which permeated the whole Church, and ideed the whole of society.
Fr Grimm might like to reflect on this little nugget of history, from 1946. The man who rang the alarm bells about the horrific conditions in Irish orphages was a celibate priest, Fr Edward Flanagan. The man who told him to get lost and kept the show on the road for another couple of decades was a lay, married, father of seven, Gerry Boland, the then Minster for Justice. Who, we might ask, was the true father? Maybe it was because he understood his spiritual paternity that Fr Fr Flanagan wasn't ashamed to wear a clerical collar.
Before we become too smug about the sins of past generations, here is another question. How many Catholic parents today, congratulating themselves that they would never turn a deaf ear to indications of the sexual abuse of their children, are ignoring the content of sex education classes in school which are systematically sexualising their children, and thereby opening them up to sexual exploitation?