With each new day, the Vatican's handling of its now global child-abuse scandal worsens. The Catholic Church's leadership seems determined to avoid addressing the central problems and chooses, instead, to release statements that are, at best, distractions. Occasionally some high-ranking prelate delivers a sermon that makes the situation worse or inflames believers and nonbelievers alike. Analogies to Christ's suffering may have worked in the 12th Century to stifle discussion, but they will not work in a 21st Century that has a 24/7 secular and globalized media that will pursue this scandal relentlessly.
I am not a Catholic; I was raised an Episcopalian. My views, however, are not based on religious beliefs but come from the very secular experience of having helped clean up the United Way of America scandal of the early 1990s - a scandal that involved sex, fraud, and the misappropriation of a major national charity's resources. For those of us in America who have also lived through the Watergate and Monica Lewinsky experiences, it is abundantly clear what the Catholic Church must do: determine the facts, share them with the public as quickly as possible, prosecute the alleged perpetrators, fix the system, and then make a sincere apology.
Most people - especially Americans - are generous, forgiving people, but they do not like to be played for fools. The global crisis facing the Catholic Church cannot be ignored, dismissed as "gossip," glossed over, or minimized through liturgical appeals.
The abuse of young boys by some clergy first appeared as an American problem. The pedophile behavior of dozens of American priests was a problem for the Church; it was also a crime. Now we see that instances of pedophilia have been found in Ireland, France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Exactly why this crime has spread around the world has to be a principal concern of the Vatican - as well as for the law-enforcement authorities in each country affected. Defrocking these pedophiles is punishment that should be meted out by Church authorities. Civil lawsuits will continue to be filed seeking compensation by the many victims for the harms inflicted by these renegade priests. And, those guilty - as well as those who aided and abetted them - should be prosecuted to the full extent of each jurisdiction's criminal laws.
When the pedophile scandal first broke in the United States some years ago, I asked a Catholic friend - a former Catholic nun married to a former Catholic priest - why she thought these incidents occurred. I could not understand why a priest seeking sex did not look for a consenting adult, male or female. What I could not fathom was why so many of these priests went after young boys.
My friend offered an explanation that made sense. She said that many priests were drawn to the Catholic Church through a series of feeder schools that recruited future priests from among young boys in their teen and preteen years. In essence, these youngsters' sexuality was arrested at or about the time they were experiencing puberty. Their sexual terms of reference never advanced beyond these early, formative years.
I am not a psychiatrist either, but my friend's explanation remains the most coherent explanation as to why so many priests went after young boys. Moreover, the Church's insistence on priestly celibacy undoubtedly exacerbates the situation, and no rationale of any sort provides a justification for what the Church deems a sin and what the state deems a serious crime.
Vatican leaders must move promptly throughout the entire Catholic Church - and not just country-by-country as new allegations emerge - to address these crimes as well as the conditions that may have led to the crimes. The world public will not be satisfied with half-answers: people are entitled to know the facts and what steps the Church is taking to ensure that these problems cease. If there are structural issues that exacerbate these problems - such as the recruitment and training of priests or the continued insistence on celibacy - then the Church needs to tackle these matters as well. Only afterwards will credibility be restored and apologies be accepted as sincere.
Charles Kolb served in the first Bush White House from 1990-1992 and as General Counsel of United Way of America from 1992-1997. He is now President of the Committee for Economic Development in Washington, D.C. The views in this article are solely the author's.