Ever since the sex abuse scandal broke in 2001, the opponents of the Catholic Church seem to think that any reference (no matter how vulgar or factually challenged) to the scandal ends any debate. The Church’s hierarchy is full of pedophiles and rapists. Catholic laypeople are guilty of supporting pedophiles and rapists. That’s it. There is no way out of it. Or is there?
   CBSNews.com has an article titled: Has Media Ignored Sex Abuse in School? The article clearly demonstrates that sex abuse in US public schools is worse than what it has ever been in the Catholic Church. The article quotes Charol Shakeshaft (a researcher at Hofstra University) as saying that the abuse in US public schools is “likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests”. If you google the topic of sex abuse in public schools, you find dozens of articles basically proving the same thing. US public schools have a much worse problem with sex abuse than the Catholic Church does. 
The John Jay Study can be found on the USCCB website, and it clearly shows that the percentage of priests in the US accused of abuse of minors is 4-6%. The way the media reports it, one would think nearly all Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse of minors. Yet, the rate of priests being accused of abuse is actually much lower than, say, public school teachers.
     The facts are not on the side of the Church’s opponents. They say that the Church was involved with a decades-long, elaborate cover-up of abuse. Sure, there have been some cases where there were cover-ups. Most are familiar with the case of Cardinal Bernard Law. Recently, there is evidence that Cardinal Mahony was guilty of a cover-up. Yet, this does not prove the Church as a whole was involved in some cover-up. In fact, the documents used to prove the guilt of some priests, bishops, and deacons have been kept by the Church. If there was really an attempt by the Church Universal to cover-up abuse, then why were the incriminating documents not destroyed? There are no convincing answers to this question.
   Many opponents of the Church argue that Cardinal Law was promoted and protected by the Church when he was called to Rome shortly after it was revealed that he covered-up accusations of sexual abuse by priests in his former archdiocese of Boston. The idea that the Church was protecting or promoting Cardinal Law is incorrect. There was nothing to protect him from as, technically, he did not break any law. The law mandating accusations of abuse by priests be reported to authorities was not put in place until 2004. Cardinal Law’s indiscretions were discovered in 2002, and the instances themselves dated even before that. Not to mention that Cardinal Law actually cooperated with civil authorities in their investigation.
     Now, may one hold the opinion that the Church probably did not handle Cardinal Law’s case very well? Certainly. I can be counted among those who thinks Cardinal Law was not properly punished by the Church for his…”indiscretions”. But there is no denying that the Church did not protect or promote Cardinal Law. He was kept on a rather tight leash.
 As far as Cardinal Mahony goes, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Cardinal Mahony has been relieved by his successor of all public duties due to his involvement in covering-up accusations of abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Honestly, it isn’t really a surprise. I must admit that Cardinal Mahony was never a bulwark of orthodoxy. He often dissented from Church Teaching.
     There are many who think that because there are, or have been, corrupt priests and bishops, the Catholic laypeople should not listen to anything the hierarchy says. Their sinful actions override any authority they may have had. It’s as if people think that because some priests and bishops sexually abused minors, or covered-up accusations of it, that laypeople should revolt against the hierarchy. The Catholic Church should become more democratically ruled, according to its opponents.
     I would vehemently disagree with this. No one is perfect. The fact that there are sinners in the Church should come as no surprise to anyone. Jesus never promised that His followers would be sinless. Actually, He said that the Church would consist of both saints and sinners until the end of the world (see Mt. 13). Being sinless is not a criteria for being a part of the Church. If that were the case, no one would be in the Church!
     Being sinless also does not negate a priest’s or bishop’s authority. Priests receive their authority to forgive sins and say Mass from Christ, but they must have permission from their bishop to practice these powers in the diocese. Christ gives the power, only He can take it away. Never did He say moral uprightness was essential for a priest or bishop to practice his authority. Actually, the words of Christ in Matthew 23:2-3 show that moral depravity does not negate spiritual authority. The Church does have the right to forbid a priest or bishop from saying Mass, forgiving sins, or in any way exercising their authority. That authority was given by Christ, and only He can take it away. Still, nowhere does Christ give any indication that any priest or bishop has the right (strictly speaking) to exercise their authority. For priests to exercise their authority they must have the permission of the bishop. Bishops must have the permission of the Pope.
     What I believe has been demonstrated here is that the sex abuse problem in the Catholic Church is no greater-indeed, it is much less-than in many other areas of life. The Church’s handling of the abuse crisis was not always the best, but the US public school system has a worse track record. There were some within the Church who attempted a cover-up, but the Catholic Hierarchy as a whole can not justifiably be accused of this. For instance, many have tried to blame the Pope. A look at the Code of Canon Law will show that the Pope does not have day-to-day contact with the bishops. The bishops are not employees of the Pope, and they have jurisdiction within their own dioceses. Furthermore, one can not say that because some priests sexually abused minors, and some bishops may have attempted to cover-up accusations, the hierarchy has lost its spiritual authority. As has already been demonstrated, Christ gave the authority, and He demands this be respected. Moral depravity of any member of the hierarchy does not release us from our responsibility to follow the Church’s Teachings.
     A good book to read on Church authority (other than the Catechism and the Bible) is “The Early Papacy” by Adrian Fortescue. Another one is “The Spirit of Catholicism” by Karl Adam. Specifically on the Pope’s authority one may want to read Steven K. Ray’s “Upon This Rock” and Patrick Madrid’s “Pope Fiction”.                                                                   Peace in Christ,                        David J. Pollard                            President                            American Catholic Solidarity