The Catholic Church has been seen over the last century as an organization that strives for peace and happiness. People who go to church trust their priests, whom they refer to as “Father.” What they say is supposed to be the will of God, and they are the ones who make sure God has forgiven people when they go to confession. However, a list recently revealed by the Washington Archdiocese, the Catholic Church’s version of state government, may have added caution to people’s feelings toward the church.
The list showed 77 Catholic priests in Western Washington who were accused of sexually abusing children, seven of which served in Bellevue. As someone who grew up in a Catholic family, I was initally shocked and disappointed. I always believed priests were trustworthy. I never even thought to question whether these men who were telling me how to live were good people outside of the church.
What frightens me is that the seven priests who served in Bellevue committed these crimes over the course of 35 years, according to the Bellevue Reporter, and the Archdiocese did nothing except place them in administrative leave before returning them to their previous positions or another position somewhere else. For one priest, the Archdiocese waited until 2005 to finally “defrock” him, or kick him out, even though accusations and lawsuits against him had started in 1970. That’s the entire 35 years that this list covers, which is an extremely long amount of time to let a sexual offender be around children. Almost worse, however, is the fact that this list wasn’t released to the public until 2016, 11 years after these people were defrocked, and that was only as a movement to create transparency.
One of the answers to how this could happen could lie in the beliefs of any Christian, that if a person has sinned in some way and asks God for forgiveness, God will forgive him or her and his or her sins will be erased. In Catholicism, a branch of Christianity, one has to go to confession, where they tell a priest their sins in a private room or booth and the priest bears witness that the person was forgiven. If a priest sexually assaults someone and confesses his sin, the priest who listened to the confession is not allowed to tell anyone what he has heard, no matter what, because he has been forgiven by God. This is, I think, an unacceptable misuse of this usually kind and generous belief.
In order to not abuse this system, I think that the Catholic Church should hold the same standards for working with children as schools do for teachers. My mother is a driving instructor and before she could even start training, she had to go through a process where her potential employers made sure that her record was clean and that she had never done anything to harm a child.
There is good news, however. Most of these priests who sexually abused children were dedicated to a life of celibacy at age 14, and people didn’t talk to them about what to do if they were faced with temptation. Since these men became priests, however, the system has changed. People who decide to go into the Catholic Church are older and more experienced in these kinds of matters. The schools who train priests encourage them to discuss temptation, and it seems to be working.
The seven priests who were accused of sexual assault in Bellevue were all from that earlier generation, and states are now trying to pass bills that can make priests report sexual abuse. With a new generation people may be able to trust priests once more.