State

Church must protect abuse victims, not perpetrators

Once upon a time, my hair would be pulled taut each morning into pigtails, I'd don my plaid pleated skirt and happily trot off to my parochial school, where dedicated nuns impressed upon me and my peers the basics of right and wrong.

Things were simple. Mind your mother. Don't fight with your brothers. Say your prayers. And if you do find yourself in error, 'fess up quickly. Correct the situation. This was the path God wanted of his children.

Years later, this ex-Catholic school pupil is having a hard time reconciling these basic moral teachings with the behavior of a lot of high prelates of the church, including the pope himself.

Pope Benedict XVI has now been personally implicated in the broadening scandal of child molestation by priests. Specifically, Benedict is under scrutiny for failing as an archbishop of Munich to discipline and remove from the ministry a German priest later convicted of molesting boys. Later, Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger (as Benedict was known then) headed the Vatican office charged with adjudicating sexual abuse cases that also violated canon law, but failed to pursue such a case against the German priest -- and how many others, one has to wonder.

Only this month was the Munich priest suspended, more than two decades after being convicted. That came as the Pope issued a letter to Catholics in Ireland apologizing for cover-ups there.

And now Benedict is being criticized in relation to a pedophilia case in the United States. The New York Times has reported on a Wisconsin priest believed to have molested more than 200 deaf boys. Posted online, papers related to the case include testimonies in which victims detail how they were lured to the priest's quarters and fondled or assaulted while in confession.

The priest, Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, died in 1998, never having been convicted or defrocked.

Repeatedly it seems, canon law trials and internal discipline procedures were used to shield the church from lawsuits and public outcry, rather than coincide with criminal and civil prosecution.

I am no longer a member of the Catholic Church, yet I cringe at the thought that many will use these latest revelations to denounce the church as an entirely corrupt structure.

Much has been done in recent years to institute zero-tolerance for newfound abuse, to apologize, settle lawsuits and sift seminarians so that pedophiles will not find refuge in the church. Pope Benedict has been instrumental in changing the Vatican's attitude. Nonetheless, it's clear that bishops and others in the hierarchy have been reluctant to take responsibility. The sad and horrifying revelations keep coming.

We can only hope that these latest humiliations will spur Pope Benedict and other church authorities to seek above all to do what is right for the victims of abuse, even if it opens the door to lawsuits and more severe consequences for clerical abusers.

Sanchez's e-mail address is msanchez@kcstar.com.

McCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

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