A top Vatican diplomat has said he understands the ongoing and vociferous attacks on the Church over the clerical sexual abuse scandal but that the Church’s moral authority so far remains diminished on the world stage.
In an interview with Newsmax, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, stressed that one instance of pedophilia in the Church is “one case too many” because confidence and trust which people assume, particularly in their relations with a priest, is betrayed. “This is the root of the problem and this, in a way, justifies the passion of the media in highlighting this problem within the Church,” he said.
He added that there were “no excuses” to justify these crimes. “We need to be clear, transparent and condemn them and allow the court system to proceed and clean house,” he said. “People who made mistakes should pay for it. God’s mercy is always present but society demands that correction be done and is effective and visible.”
But he added that the phenomenon should be put into perspective and that the rest of the world should join the Church in trying to tackle abuse against children. He said that, according to U.N. estimates, 200 million children are abused every year worldwide compared with 3,000 cases in the Church over the past 50 years, most of which were false accusations.
“The Church may hide a bigger reality, the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “The whole mass of cases is not being discussed and the search for solution and remedies is not being equally reflected upon.” He stressed he didn’t want to be misunderstood, that everything must be done in the Church to prevent further abuse, but there also needs to be a focus on the need to protect children elsewhere as well. “The evidence is massive in schools, in families, in some professional categories,” he said. “The problem is much higher but that’s no excuse for the Church.”
Italian-born Tomasi, who was ordained in New York and has a doctorate from Fordham University, said he didn’t “see much of a problem” in the effect of the scandal on his own work. He recalled a recent U.N. discussion on sexual violence against children, saying that his contribution “was very much appreciated and no other state pointed their finger at the Holy See.”
However, he said he was concerned about the Church’s overall standing in the world. “It’s a question of the credibility for the Church because the scandals that are being highlighted with a certain gusto on the part of the media in different countries, particularly in the West, have a compounding effect on the public perception of what the Church should or should not do,” he said. “Therefore in a way, [it effects] the moral authority of the Church.”
The Holy See’s spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said over the weekend that the recent media attacks “have without doubt caused damage” to the Church but added: “The authority of the Pope and the commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [the Vatican department in charge of handling such crimes] against sex abuse of minors will come out of this not weakened but strengthened.” Yesterday, he said the pope sees this as “a test for him and the Church."
The Holy See’s spokesman under John Paul II, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, also echoed Tomasi’s comments in an article in the Italian daily La Repubblica today. A former medical doctor, Navarro-Valls cited statistics which showed that worldwide, 1-in-3 girls have been sexually abused and 1-in-5 boys subjected to violence. To focus on priests, he said, was therefore “very misleading”, although he noted the gravity of such an “aberrant obscenity”.
Like many other Catholics, he rounded on the New York Times for its inaccurate reporting of a pedophilia case in the U.S. which is said to have been manipulated to try to implicate the pope in the crisis.
“If we want to fight sexual crimes against children, at least in our democratic societies, we must avoid dirtying the public consciousness, looking only at the phenomenon where the moral gravity is perhaps even more, but in quantity certainly less,” he wrote.
“Before judging someone for something, we should have the guts and honesty to recognize that we [in society] are not doing enough, and look instead to doing something similar to what the pope is doing. Otherwise, it’s better to stop talking about pedophilia and start to discuss the raging phobia unleashed against the Catholic Church. This seems, in fact, to be being done with the meticulous care of an investigation, but unfortunately bad faith is in evidence.”
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