Catholic Church and pedophilia: are these crimes committed by individual and isolated priests and religious officers, or is it a larger problem that calls into question the ecclesiastical institution and its structure? We spoke with Augusto Cavadi, philosophical consultant and lay theologian, author who published, a few years ago, the volume Do not let the children go to them. The Catholic Church and child abuse (with a preface by Vito Mancuso, Falzea publisher).
Cardinal Pell, indicted for serious sexual offenses, is a priest at the top of the hierarchy and was appointed to that position by Pope Francis. Can these accusations cast a shadow on the Pope and his reforming actions?
I think that a Pope, when appointing his collaborators, cannot base his decisions on rumors of the distant past. He must evaluate them on the basis of objective, or at least reliable, data. It would have been really serious, rather, if he had put some obstacle to that, and then the cardinal would stand up in court and be tried as an ordinary citizen. That would have meant that once again, the principle of conspiratorial dirty laundry being washed indoors. But apparently, Pell will respond to the allegations and will present himself at court in Australia. This is a step forward.
Has anything changed in the Catholic Church on the pedophilia issue, in the passage from papa Wojtyla, to Pope Ratzinger and today to Pope Francis?
I’d point the difference between the perception of the phenomenon and its effectiveness. It is clear that with John Paul II and with Benedict XVI, who held the role of Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and was managing the issue even before becoming Pope, the main concern was to save the image of the Church as institution, above the respect to the rights of victims of abuse. And this would lead to a certain resistance of the ecclesiastical authorities in bringing those accused priests to the civil courts.
And with Francis?
Pope Francis, as a good Jesuit, realized that self-criticism is the best way to stem the criticism and that greater transparency on ecclesiastical defects is the only way to avoid the irreversible disaster. However, very recent incidents, such as the resignation of two influential lay members like Marie Collins and Peter Saunders from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children (who were victims themselves of abuse by Catholic priests) who denounced resistance and procedural delays, attest that, as in other sectors of Catholic life, the conversions proclaimed at the top struggle to become real at lower levels. Here, as elsewhere, is not enough to change a Pope if, in the years of his rule, he cannot change the papacy and the entire ecclesiastical machine that, unfortunately for those who share the brotherhood preached by Jesus, depends vertically from the papacy.
Why is clerical pedophilia a plague so hard to eradicate? Are these mistakes made by a few “rotten apples” or there is instead a structural problem that affects the ecclesiastical institution?
Despite having been violently attacked by many priests for my book on the pedophilia issue, I want to reiterate, with intellectual honesty, what I wrote in the first pages: pedophilia is not statistically higher among celibate priests than among married Protestant pastors, teachers, football coaches or traveling salesmen. But there are remote causes, general and generic, which should not be underestimated. Then, there are the specific contributing factors mainly related to the Catholic world.
I will refer to two: the climate of morbidity that wraps and distorts all sexuality in the formation of priests, and the role of father-master the priest plays in the parish community. The first factor affects the perverse attitudes of adults, the second affects the reverent silence of the victims. If we add to these two elements the almost certainty of immunity of abusers in the past, both remote and recent, we have a pretty clear interpretation grid.