Today 2nd April, 2010 is 'Good Friday' - the day on which Christians memorialise the incredible sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for his disciples. Instead of minds being totally on that astonishing act of surrender and compassion, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) will regretfully be top of mind for all the wrong reasons.
Any institution that fails to keep pace to some extent with shifting social norms and mores is headed for obscurity or extinction – if only in the hearts of adherents. The Pope, with respect to his elevated office, has made a mess of the reputation management around the paedophilia revelations from within the church. He has been defensive and indeed implied a 'conspiracy' against the church. All the very things we'd tell a chief executive or spokesperson for a large corporation never to do. The fact that he's the Pope and that it's a church with global reach does not mean it can march to a different drumbeat in the public perception. People are now accustomed to an acknowledgement of culpability, a meaningful apology and notice of immediate and future remedial action.
So what should the Pope be doing? In my opinion, with the interests of the RCC at heart (but not as a member of the faith), some or all of the following:
- Set up the equivalent of an 'inquisition' but with the correct intention.
- Root out the people behind the molestation of children and defrock or excommunicate them or at the very least ensure they never get to work with or near children.
- Root out the senior clergy responsible for covering up the appalling breaches of trust and do the same to them.
- Introduce at local level a whistle-blowing system for the multiple thousands of good and chaste priests and nuns in the church to be able to report suspicious behavior.
- Create the equivalent of a Roman Catholic 'Child Line' where children or their parents who are concerned about behaviour by a particular priest, nun, teacher or official can call – even anonymously – in order to have the matter looked into.
- Introduce as part of Sunday School, lessons and the pre-confirmation process, for children in every RCC parish around the world, a course on recognising inappropriate touch, 'sexual grooming' discussion or abuse and how to report it without guilt or fear.
- Introduce psychometric or other testing throughout the church to identify clergy at risk of potentially damaging behaviour and route those people into counselling, therapy - or invite them to change their role or career.
- Set out to educate people on the difference between homosexuality and paedophilia – which are proven to be totally unconnected.
- Clarify that a homosexual or lesbian priest or nun can serve God and the community as chastely and devotedly as any other. Sexual orientation is a mind issue – not one of the soul.
- Perhaps the most radical of all – consider following the Franciscan model of several orders. Have an order of priests and nuns for whom final vows are their deepest celebration of devotion and commitment to God. For those who cannot or choose not to live that austere, self-sacrificing life, (whether heterosexual or homosexual) let there be a second order of nuns and priests who are indeed (like the Anglican Church) able to marry or have partners. Better to serve God and the community with the mind fully on God and community duty, rather than on relieving sexual tension, or worse – in the case of paedophiles - abusing children.
Just run across this constructively transparent and appropriate response from the German Archbishop.