Skip to main content

Martin: Purge clergy who allowed sex abuse

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Analyst
  • Roland S. Martin: Catholic Church must focus on rebuilding trust
  • Martin says some clergy are playing victim when they should be rooting out those responsible
  • The church seems to want to denounce the acts, he says, but offer compassion to abusers

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," and the new book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a one-hour Sunday morning news show.

(CNN) -- "If it would just go away."

That could be the new motto of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, a plea for an end to the constant drumbeat of stories related to years and years of sexual abuse against boys by priests.

And I'm sure that same statement is uttered daily by those same boys, now men, who desire to have the thoughts, memories and raw feelings of being sexually abused by priests in the United States, Europe and other countries go away as well.

But it won't. And just like the boys and men have to deal with the fallout from this criminal behavior -- yes, sexually assaulting a minor should have sent these pathetic men to prison -- so must the church.

And frankly, I'm sick of some officials of the Catholic Church playing the victim. We don't need to hear another priest, bishop, cardinal or even Vatican official decrying the constant news stories that reveal the depth of the sins committed against boys by these sexual predators masquerading as men of the cloth.

The reality is that had these deplorable priests been prosecuted for their crimes (some were) other church officials would have been liable for obstruction of justice, for hiding the evidence, for shuffling priests from one parish to another, depositing them in homes for spiritual healing and renewal and doing everything to keep the sordid details under wraps.

What apparently has raised the ire of church officials is that the latest round of stories hit during Holy Week, considered the holiest of all weeks for Christians since it marks the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So exactly when is a good time for these stories? Can the priests, bishops and other leaders let the media know what days and months we should plan our editorial calendar to bring them the least amount of pain and scrutiny?

Let me be clear: I do not care about the bruised feelings of church leaders. What matters the most are the hundreds and hundreds of abuse victims who were victimized, and that the church did not protect them, choosing instead to cover for these wretched men who preyed on them.

In Oregon, Archbishop John G. Vlazny asked all of the church's ministers in the diocese to cancel their subscriptions to The Oregonian newspaper because of an editorial denouncing the church's feeble reaction in the past to the scandal.

The paper reports that Vlazny sent an e-mail on Wednesday to the diocese's ministers, saying: "The editors arrogantly scolded the church for its past failures in handling this matter of child abuse and, in an insulting and unfair attack, chose this most holy time of the year, during our church's Year of the Priest, to connect the practice of celibacy among our clergy with the problem of child sexual abuse, when everyone knows that most abusers by far are married persons!"

The fierce defense is coming right from the top.

The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, or commonly known as Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher, even had the audacity to compare the assault on the church to the persecution of Jews.

The New York Times quoted Cantalamessa as saying: "They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms."

He added that he got a letter from a Jewish friend that said, "I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."

The Vatican was quick to point out that Cantalamessa's statements, made during a Good Friday service with Benedict sitting just a few feet away, wasn't an official statement, and were merely his personal thoughts.

The Vatican has reacted with such force because the pope has come under heavy criticism for his lack of involvement, according to his critics, in stopping abuses in his homeland.

The fundamental reason the sexual abuse scandals continue to widen is that the Catholic Church, as an institution, has tried to have it both ways. Leaders want to issue statements denouncing the acts, while offering compassion, counseling and forgiveness to those who committed the sins.

But the real issue is trust. When the church protects these priestly predators, they are aiding and abetting them. Instead, the Catholic Church should do like Jesus, who turned over the tables and threw out the money-changers. He needed to root evil out of the synagogues.

The church must remove every priest, bishop or cardinal who turned a blind eye and allowed this to fester, even if it means cutting all ties with them. There have been settlements nationwide, and remaining lawsuits should be disposed of globally. The church should also establish transparent rules and procedures that let the faithful know that any allegation from this point on will be dealt with immediately -- and won't just be investigated by the church but will be referred to local law enforcement authorities.

Making excuses and lashing out at critics in the present will do nothing to rebuild the unshakable trust many people once had in the church.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.