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Catholic Church ignores lessons from Canada

Trailblazing work done by Canadian investigators into Church sex abuse goes all but unnoticed by Catholic Church worldwide.

Rev. John Allan Loftus, who participated in From Pain to Hope, says the Catholic Church worldwide is paying the price of barely noticing recommendations in the Canadian report.
“I don’t think they paid much attention to it, to their detriment,” says Loftus, former president of Regis College, the University of Toronto’s Jesuit faculty of theology.

But even Canada’s Catholic Church hasn’t been fully faithful to its reform advice. Kenny says Canadian churches have implemented protocols for the reporting and handling of sex abuse cases, and have improved the screening and education of student priests.

But Canada’s Catholic bishops, she adds, have failed to deal with the underlying issues in abuse scandals — the power of priests over parishioners, their lack of accountability to bishops or parishioners, and the Church’s attitude toward sexuality in general, and the celibacy of priests in particular.

“The approach that I see is not in the tradition of brave action for justice that I’ve come to respect the Canadian bishops for. I think it’s; ‘Head down, if it didn’t happen here, if it’s not happening now, if we took care of that, let’s move on.’ We’re not taking the opportunity for this larger conversation,” Kenny says.

Too many priests are isolated from parishioners, she adds, lacking in the kind of a support that can keep them out of trouble.

“If you’re on a pedestal, then nobody is your equal, nobody is your friend, nobody can give you the love and support you need when you start getting into trouble,” she says.

She also recalls a statement made by a group of Catholic nuns to the Winter Commission: “As long as we have the power structure totally dominated by celibate males, there’s something not right about the way in which we then identify issues about healthy sexuality and about the appropriate way to be affectionate and responsive with children or others.”

In a recent article, John Allen Jr., a leading Church analyst, gives Pope Benedict VXI high marks for clamping down on predatory priests, first as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later as pontiff.

The pope’s pastoral letter to Catholics in Ireland Friday stressed that the screening and education of student priests must be improved. He also denounced the Church’s tendency to place the avoidance of scandal before the rights and dignity of children.

But the pontiff was silent on the systemic issues, such as celibacy, identified by Kenny and the Winter Commission. Part of the problem is that Church leaders and bureaucrats at the Vatican can become terribly out of touch, says Loftus, now a clinical psychologist in Boston and priest at the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

“The church at that level lives in a different world than most of us do. It’s a world of propriety and of ancient texts and of liturgy and a different kind of faith — the rubber is just not hitting the road in lots of ways.

“So, I think it’s going to take a lot longer for them to really get it,” Loftus says.