"It Is Painful but Necessary to Acknowledge This Sin Among Us"
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, 3 MARCH 2004 (ZENIT).
Though saddened and
troubled by the National Review Board's report on clergy sex abuse,
Archbishop Daniel Buechlein hopes the Church will learn from its mistakes
and make positive changes.
"It should also motivate us all the more to continue to do all we can to
secure the protection of our children and young people and to offer
compassionate care to all victim-survivors," the archbishop of
He shared with ZENIT his thoughts on the importance of continuing the
Church's "learning curve" on the issue and the factors that may have
contributed to the crisis.
Q: What is your overall impression of the phenomenon of sexual abuse?
Archbishop Buechlein: "Holy souls sometimes undergo great inward trial and
they know darkness. But if we want others to become aware of the presence
of Jesus, we must be the first ones convinced of it."
These words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta were included in a
Christmas card from her Missionaries of Charity who serve the poor in
Indianapolis. The message struck a chord as I first read it.
Her words are timely in view of the pain and anguish caused by the abuse
of children and youth by some of the priests and laity who served in the
name of the Church during the last 52 years.
It is painful but necessary to acknowledge this sin among us. Children and
young people are God's gift to our families and to our Church. Mother
Teresa once remarked that it must be a great poverty indeed for a mother
to choose to abort her child for any reason.
To paraphrase her thought, it must be a great poverty and sickness indeed
for someone to sexually molest a child or young person.
Q: How does the newest data released by the John Jay College Study and the
so-called Bennett Report affect your view of the situation?
Archbishop Buechlein: The larger and more dramatic numbers released by the
study makes the tragedy of abuse among the clergy all the more vivid, and,
of course, saddens and embarrasses all of us.
It should also motivate us all the more to continue to do all we can to
secure the protection of our children and young people and to offer
compassionate care to all victim-survivors.
Though I do not believe I am naive, never in my worst worries would I have
thought the problem of pedophilia and the abuse of adolescents was as
common as it is. As a bishop since 1987, I have experienced a steep
learning curve in the complex reality of sexual abuse as it existed not
only within the ranks of those who serve our Church, but also in society
Q: Is this primarily a phenomenon of pedophilia?
Archbishop Buechlein: The incidence of pedophilia is sadly significant, no
matter the reported numbers. To molest a child is not only morally
reprehensible, it is criminal. It is a violent betrayal of trust that a
child expects of adults, especially of clergy who are rightly held to a
It is no less horrible that 80% of the cases of abuse reported in the
study involved boys ages 11 to 19. This, of course, raises the question of
homosexual activity among the clergy charged with the abuse of adolescent
Q: Has the Church in the United States adequately faced the root causes of
the sexual-abuse problem? Many critics say the real problem is
homosexuality, which is a politically incorrect thing to question in our
Archbishop Buechlein: While I would prefer to have more time to study the
data of the John Jay Study and that of the Bennett Report, it is my
impression that there is not a simple answer to your question.
Clearly, homosexual activity by priests, or anyone, is disastrous, immoral
and unacceptable. I think a number of factors need to be examined in
trying to understand why homosexual behavior by 2,805 priests
that's more than 60% of the abusive priests
occurred during the last 52 years.
It is significant that a high percentage of cases involving priests in
homosexual activity occurred among those ordained in the 1950s, '60s and
During that period neither dioceses nor seminaries had in place admissions
procedures that appropriately would have indicated problems of
dysfunctional persons. Nor did seminaries have sophisticated programs of
psychosocial formation, or, for that matter, frequent opportunities for
individual spiritual direction.
I believe the situation was further aggravated both in and beyond
seminaries when, in the late 1960s and the 1970s, some theologians
proposed a "revisionist" approach to moral theology in the climate
surrounding "Humanae Vitae."
This latter phenomenon provided an unfortunate pseudo-rationalization for
some troubled clergy seeking opportunities to cross moral behavioral
boundaries, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
At the same time, the gay subculture in the United States began to become
a formidable political force that more and more began to win secular
acceptability, especially in the entertainment sector.
I believe all these factors conspired to set the stage for the abuse
tragedy relative to adolescent boys.
Q: How much must seminaries change?
Archbishop Buechlein: Priestly formation programs have been undergoing
significant change relative to human and spiritual formation programs at
least since the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Just as for bishops and psychological professionals, there has been a
learning curve for seminaries with regard to psychosexual development,
especially in the preparation of candidates for celibate chastity as a way
I believe the impending papal visitation of seminaries is timely. I also
believe that the results will suggest that, with few exceptions, the
problems some critics point out were corrected 10 or more years ago.
Q: So what have we learned?
Archbishop Buechlein: In a media interview, Bob Bennett was asked if
homosexuality is the problem. He said that the National Review Board study
would indicate that it is part of the problem, but that there are some
priests of a homosexual orientation who are serving the Church well.
He also was asked if celibacy was the problem. He responded that the study
does not demonstrate that it is, but of course, psychosexual behavior of
dysfunctional celibate clergy is problematic. The same is true of
dysfunctional married people.
Sadly, as we have learned more recently, the psychological condition of
one who is inclined to molest innocent children and youth is extremely
difficult to cure in therapy.
Too late, we have come to understand that recidivism can be expected, even
presumed. It has been a painful lesson and regrettably one learned far too
late for too many victims. The delay of the learning curve has become part
of the societal problem.
While we realize ordained ministers are human persons with the ordinary
limitations of humanity, we would never have thought the problem of sexual
abuse among clergy would be as significant as we have learned in the last
A single case of abuse would be unacceptable and scandalous. Clearly,
clergy and other pastoral leaders of the Church should be held to a higher
and we are.
The learning curve must continue. We need to continue to seek effective
ways to help victim-survivors find healing and peace.
We will continue to explore what characteristics of human personality
might be early indicators of a pedophile or one who preys on teens,
especially as we continue to evaluate candidates for the priesthood and
other ministries in the Church.
for all people of society
already know that a fundamental preventative of personality dysfunction is
love. Love begins at home.
Blessed Mother Teresa said, "It is not how much we do, but how much love
we put into what we do." She also said: "The world today is hungry not
only for bread but hungry for love; hungry to be wanted, to be loved."
It begins at home. Family love, not family wealth, is the great need of
our society. And it is where every individual can make a difference.
As I think about all these things, another thought of Mother Teresa comes
to mind: "Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God
speaks in the silence of the heart. ... The fruit of silence is prayer,
the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of
love is service, and the fruit of service is peace."
She speaks of peace for us individuals, peace in our homes, in our Church
and in our world.
Sex abuse of children and young people is heartbreaking. It also speaks of
a spiritual and moral failure in our society.
One of the grave disillusionments during this entire ordeal has been the
spiritual and moral failure of too many of our clergy. I pray fervently
that fewer reported cases of clergy sex abuse happening in the last decade
signals a spiritual purification and renewal. ZE04030320