This issue is really simple. Any organisation responsible for the care of children will attract its share of paedophiles. The Catholic Church is no exception. Therefore, the staff of the organisation have to be on their guard against this, and ensure as far as humanly possible that:
- abuse is prevented in the first place
- it is detected quickly when it happens,
- any abuser discovered is quickly and permanently removed from a position where he can continue to do harm.
The true scandal of the Catholic Church is that its institutional response could hardly have been better at maximising the harm to children and the number of victims had it been deliberately designed with that end in mind. The issue is one of incompetence and cover-up on a breathtaking scale by non-paedophiles in senior positions to whom these matters were reported.
What is required is equally simple.
- The church must openly, publicly and sincerely apologise for the harm it has done in failing to bring an end to the activities of paedophile priests then they were discovered. No weasel words, no euphemisms, no use of passive voice. No nitpicking distinctions between paedophilia and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to post-pubescent children of the same sex). No putting all the blame on the paedophile priests themselves. And absolutely no complaints about how the church is suffering in all this, as if the church was the victim. To make such a comparison is an insult to those who are the real victims in this - the children whom the church has abused.
- Insofar as it hasn't already been done, the church must put in place robust and effective child protection measures, and that assistance from secular child protection experts must be sought in order to ensure that the church's procedures are as good as those of any secular organisation. The procedures must involve the mandatory reporting of all allegations and suspicions of sexual abuse to the civil authorities. Failure to do so must result in severe disciplinary sanctions.
- Worldwide, every diocese shall conduct enquiries to ascertain the scope of past abuse. These enquiries shall be conducted by experts external to the diocese, and the diocese shall open all records not confidential under the seal of confession. The reports shall be published in full, except that the names and other identifying details of victims shall be omitted to preserve their privacy and anonymity.
- Measures must be put in place for the support and assistance of victims of sexual or other abuse by clergy and members of religious orders.
- Every bishop, archbishop or cardinal or other senior churchman who participated in a decision to return a paedophile priest to duties which gave the priest further opportunity to abuse children, must resign from his post. If not past retirement age he should embark on a ministry of reconciliation as a simple parish priest.
A pastoral letter that made this apology and promised these actions is what in my view should have happened. If the Pope had said all this, and said what was going to be done to fulfil the promises, then it would probably improve public opinion quite radically overnight.