The sexual abuse controversy, which has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, has left many “brokenhearted” and “angry,” says Calgary Bishop Fred Henry.
“The fact that it happened shakes you to the very core. It can shake even the strongest person of faith, but when you see the mismanagement or the lack of leadership on behalf of bishops and clergy, that is like a double whammy,” said Henry.
In an interview with the Herald this week, Henry said the crisis is a challenge for the church, but he also defended and praised how Pope Benedict XVI has responded to it.
Henry said Pope John Paul II gave to then-Cardinal Ratzinger (now the Pope) a mission in 2001 to review the conduct and handling of misconduct among the clergy involving sexuality.
Ratzinger revised protocols, among them being if a situation occurs in a diocese and there is a credible allegation, then the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith must be informed right away.
“Since that time, he’s been extremely outspoken, willing to meet with victims. He is acknowledging that, yes, mistakes have been made. We have a lot to learn, but we’re making progress and our destination, or goal, is to eliminate this with the highest degree of moral certitude that we can possibly arrive at,” said Henry.
In 2002, Henry apologized to the parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church for hiring a convicted sex offender to preside over the church without consulting parishioners. Father James Kneale had been convicted in 1999 in Ontario of a sexual offence against a 16-year-old boy. He was recognized by a Calgary parishioner who remembered him from Ontario and the priest submitted his resignation when the issue became public. Henry said he had looked at the priest’s background and had what he thought were safeguards in place.
“I think I did my due diligence. I only made one mistake, but it was a major one. I did not consult the parishioners beforehand about accepting this man.”
Here is an edited version of Henry’s candid conversation with the Herald this week.
Question: How do you respond to the criticism the church has faced recently? Do you think it’s unfair?
Answer: “It’s a real challenge for us within the church. And we ought to be pretty good at this because we’re supposed to be communicators preaching the word of God all the time, but nonetheless to communicate in this day and age is extremely difficult, with the rapidity of the communication media and how quickly responses must be formulated and so on. I think we’re not always on top of things. But that’s the major challenge.
“Like everybody else within the church, certainly priests and bishops, we are certainly brokenhearted over what happens to victims. We always have to start with that. When we see the devastation it has wreaked in the lives of the people we’re supposed to be serving, and protecting, and see the betrayal that has occurred and the brokenness that ensues in the lives of these individuals, we are on the one hand broken-hearted, but we’re also angry. I think a lot of us are very angry and disappointed in our brother priests and leaders who have perpetuated these crimes, who have not handled them properly, who do not follow protocols and as a result have caused the church great suffering.”
Q: Many critics have questioned whether celibacy and non-married priests are part of the causes of this sexual abuse issue within the church.
A: “Well, personally I don’t see a necessary connection. I think there may be at times an indirect relationship, in so far as in order for someone to live a celibate life one has to achieve a rather integrated psycho-sexual maturity to get to that particular point in time. And I think some have probably not done so very well. And when it doesn’t happen, then to take on celibacy can be an enormous burden and it can lead to some acting out or dysfunction. That, I think, can occur. But I would not want to say that it’s just simply the problem of celibacy because we see the majority of abuse of children doesn’t take place by celibates. It takes place by married people. By family members . . . It’s a problem in terms of psycho-sexual development rather than celibacy itself.”
Q: How has the Vatican and more specifically Pope Benedict XVI responded to this?
A: “I think the Pope has been outstanding in terms of his response. I think he’s probably somewhat ahead of some of the other people within the Vatican. When the first instances of sexual abuse kind of occurred and we developed in 1992 our Canadian protocol From Pain to Hope, I can recall going to (Rome) when you make a report on your dioceses and on the Canadian reality of the Church to Rome. It was evident that some people within the Vatican just didn’t get it. They had no perception. They thought again that this was a failure in sin. A failure to live a chastity and they did not recognize it as a pathological concern. That there was an illness here that was involved. And as a result, the idea was you forgive the sin, you move the person out of temptation, you put them somewhere else and the problem is solved. Well, we’re finding out that’s not the answer. It’s been a hard sell. I find personally, in all of my dealings with the Pope, going back to even when he was cardinal, he probably has done more than any other single individual to try and get on top of this issue.”
Q: This past week, on his trip to Portugal and the famous Fatima shrine, the Pope said sin within the church was probably the biggest threat to the faith. Do you agree?
A: “That’s always the case. Our biggest challenge, of course, is our basic sinfulness. The one thing about us is we are learning more and more the great need for transparency. I always thought it was a prophetic sign that when we begin our worship the first thing we do as church is we begin with the penitential rite. We start with the fact, look, we know we’re not perfect. We’re sinners and we have to contend with our own personal sinfulness and sometimes our corporate sinfulness. And instances in the past we probably rightly have been accused of trying to cover up, protect the image of the church, but the order of the day now is transparency and zero tolerance.”
Q: These cases shake people’s faith. What is your advice to those who leave the faith or are thinking of leaving the faith because of this?
A: “Sometimes, there aren’t many words you can use. If a person has already made up their mind in their decision, to think there’s going to be a quick fix or you’re going to be able to explain this or take away the hurt and the pain, you can’t do it . . . I have not had that many people who have said that they are leaving the church as a result of this. There have been a few. Most of the people have said, ‘I don’t like this, I’m disappointed.’ But at the same time, I think we have to put this in perspective. Christ came not to condemn the world, but to save it and sometimes He has to save even His clergy and His leaders.”
Q: How has this affected you on a personal level?
A: “It certainly takes a lot of time. One of the things I’ve always been intent upon trying to do is to communicate. If someone has an issue, then I want to respond. . . . Yeah, we have a lot that we need to be forgiven for, but we have done more than most people think we’ve done and I want to communicate that message and get it out there.”