CHARLESTON—As accusations are hurled at Pope Benedict XVI over decisions he made on priestly sex abuse and it becomes a focus in world news, South Carolina’s bishop expressed concern for victims and advised Catholics to stand strong.
In an interview with The Miscellany, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone said the faithful need to remember that, despite possible mistakes, Pope Benedict has done more than any other pontiff to address the issue of child sexual abuse and prevent it from occurring, and that must not be forgotten.
A series of reports in the New York Times and other media have criticized the pope for alleged inaction on sex abuse cases. Vatican authorities emphasized that it was the pope who, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, pushed for harsher measures against abusers and made it easier for the church to defrock them, Catholic News Service reported.
Bishop Guglielmone takes a hard-line approach to the crime of priestly sexual abuse and said the church must take responsibility and focus on the victims.
“It’s a horrible thing that has happened, there’s no question,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “For those that are criminally responsible, they should pay the price. For those people who allowed mistakes to happen, and when those mistakes occur, we must make every effort in the church to correct them.”
He said the situation today was caused by inattention, by misguided attempts to avoid scandal, and not caring enough about the victims.
“We have to accept the blame, we have to admit the fact that we caused this in the church, that the leadership of the church allowed this to happen, and we have to accept some blame for that, and we have to be willing to be in solidarity with the victims.
“The victims are hurting,” the bishop stressed. “And if we believe in an incarnational religion where God becomes human to suffer with us, then we too, as church, have to be willing to suffer with the victims who have dealt with so much.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement March 30 expressing concern for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy and their gratitude for Pope Benedict’s leadership.
“We know from our experience how Pope Benedict is deeply concerned for those who have been harmed by sexual abuse and how he has strengthened the church’s response to victims and supported our efforts to deal with perpetrators,” the bishops wrote.
“We continue to intensify our efforts to provide safe environments for children in our parishes and schools. Further, we work with others in our communities to address the prevalence of sexual abuse in the larger society,” they said.
The bishops’ comments came in a statement issued by the USCCB Executive Committee, including Cardinal Francis George, president; Bishop Gerald Kicanas, vice-president; Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, treasurer; Bishop George Murry, secretary; and Bishop Arthur Serratelli, elected member.
“The recent emergence of more reports of sexual abuse by clergy saddens and angers the church and causes us shame,” they stated. “If there is anywhere that children should be safe, it should be in their homes and in the church.”
Bishop Guglielmone agreed. He said the church has made great strides in combating the horror of abuse, which he noted is not an issue unique to priests, but a societal problem that must be dealt with across the globe. He said the U.S. Catholic Church has learned from its mistakes and implemented strict guidelines to create a safe environment for children.
With the latest eruption of abuse charges in Germany and Ireland, Bishop Guglielmone said he has received calls from Catholics who are leaving the church and looking for another religion. He said he wonders where they will go, because there is no human organization without sin.
“We are called, especially as a church, we are called to do our very best to overcome the sinfulness of the world,” he said. “We’re human, we’re going to fail, but we have to keep striving.”
The bishop said he understands that good people will have to suffer; good priests will suffer and face suspicion, but he said they must bear it with grace and put the pain of the victims first in their thoughts.
“My advice would be, let’s bear the cross and let’s do what we can to make our Catholic faith more a reflection of what it should be. Let’s continue the fight for righteousness. Let’s not run away from it,” he said.
Deirdre C. Mays contributed to this article.