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Letter to the Editor

The Catholic Church in America.

Power and Responsibility In the US, ever since former US President Richard Nixon’s ‘ Watergate,’ lay people have been questioning the leaders of government and various institutions of trust. This has spread to medicine, where doctors had been looked at as almost ‘godlike’ to financial institutions, and now the Roman Catholic Church. However, whilst it has become all too common to come across reports of political leaders misusing their positions and power and commiting immoral acts, when religious clerics do so it undermines the spiritual foundations of society and may ultimately repel people away from religion. As their life is supposed to be devoted to bringing people closer to God, their self-example must remain spotless not only for the sake of the people who follow them but also for their own sake as well, for they will be held accountable by God. One shudders to think of how they will answer for preaching in the name of God whilst committing the very acts they publicly denounce. Without doubt this has sent shockwaves throughout the religious world. Some have pointed fingers at the practice of celibacy whilst others have denounced this as a downright abuse of the privileged positions such priests hold in society. The scale and significance of this whole sorry chapter has been highlighted by the fact that the Pope has himself intervened to provide guidance on this matter when he called a meeting with senior American bishops. As can be expected, the laity too is now questioning the accountability of the Church in these matters. Throughout America, sex abuse scandals in the Church have become much more personal. From small to large con- gregations, announcements have been made about alle-gations of sexual abuse from more than 30 years ago. It has reached nightmarish proportions, as 69Review of Religions – April 2002 Letter to the Editor priests, who had moved around the country to various parishes, faced allegations. These bombshells have created all kinds of conflicting emotions within American Catholicism. Primarily, it evoked compassion for the wonderful, good, and effective priests that congre- gations had known and appreciated for years. But there were others, who were priests preying on young children, abusers they called ‘true paedophiles’. It must be noted that the bulk of the cases involved priests preying on adolescents. One response has been that throughout America, Catholic congregations organized an evening of prayer for accused priests and at prayer meetings there was much sharing of compassion and forgiveness if the allegations were to be found true. There also was prayer for the alleged victims of priest abuse. It has been a difficult period for Catholics. Many have admitted carrying a heavy burden of sadness for all involved in allegations of sexual abuse. The Catholics point out that this is also a time of sorrow for our own sins and how they impact others and pray for forgiveness. With around 46,000 priests in the US, and nearly 62 million parishioners, or lay people, some Catholic observers of the current controversy say it is a good thing that the Pope met with the American cardinals to address the accountability aspect of this scandal. Many Catholics believe that a policy of pulling an accused priest from his work and notifying civil authorities is impending and is imperative. The Catholic Church teaches compassion and for- giveness of sin. Thus, in conjunction with this, offending priests, most American Catholics believe, should be offered therapeutic intervention and an opportunity for repentance and rehabilitation. But most believe they should not be placed back into a ministry where they would have any contact with young people. A favoured proposal of most American Catholics was the creation of a panel of esteemed lay people to monitor the C h u r c h ’s performance in the handling of the sex abuse cases. 70 Letter to the Editor Review of Religions – April 2002 An outside panel to review internal affairs, many believe, is h e a l t h y. Although the proposal was discussed in Rome, it was not included in the American Cardinals’ final communiqué. There was no mention of the review boards or of the lay people. When questioned about the omission in a late-night news conference at the Vatican, the Cardinals admitted that somehow, they had inadvertently left the lay people out. The end result of this current turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church may be the demand by lay people in the pews for more accountability in church finances, Catholic schools and certainly a new era of accountability from the bishops regarding the sexual abuse scandals. Whilst this is a very serious time for Catholics the world over it would be foolish to believe that abuse of power has not occurred in other religions as well. The Catholic Church will no doubt take this opportunity to take a firm line against such irreligious prac- tices in an effort to uphold the principle of absolute justice. A starting point could be to remove those found guilty, otherwise regaining the trust of the people would be an impossible task, and the implications of this would only distance people from true religion and all the much needed guidance that it has to offer. It is evident that Catholics bound by faith will recover from these scandals but con- gregations will prevail upon bishops of the United States to make every effort to implement the challenge that lies ahead, so that the present crisis leads to a holier priest- hood, a holier epis-copate and a holier Church. Hasan Hakeem, Zion, USA 71 Letter to the Editor Review of Religions – April 2002 We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. The Review of Religions will continue to prov i d e discussion on a wide range of subjects and welcomes any comments or suggestions from its readers. To ensure that you regularly receive this monthly publication, please fill in your details below and we will put you on our mailing list. The cost of one year’s subscription is £15 Sterling or US $30 for overseas readers (Please do not send cash). Pa y m e n t s should be made payable to the London Mosque and sent to the address below: The Review of Religions The London Mosque 16 Gressenhall Road London SW18 5QL United Kingdom Please put me on the mailing list for the Review of Religions for 1 year. I enclose subscription payment of £15.00 or US $30.00. 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