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Letter: It’s not enough to pay and pray

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In a previous letter I expressed the hope that Pope Francis can be a reformer in a Catholic Church that is clearly in need of reform. Accounts of long-hidden sexual abuse by perpetrators in clerical collars are symptomatic of a deeper, systemic illness.

That illness cannot be treated unless it is correctly described and diagnosed. That illness is not primarily about sex. Rather, it is about power and abusers of power. The sick men who perpetrated their crimes against children were obvious abusers of their power, which grew out of the unquestioning trust that the children and their parents placed in them as men of God.

However, members of the church hierarchy, i.e., the bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, have greater moral culpability for abuse of their power. They repeatedly showed that they were more concerned with protecting the power of the institutional church and their own power than with protecting children.

Whatever their civil or criminal liability, those members of hierarchy who participated in the cover-up and who allowed the abuse to continue are guilty of grave sin. That is the sin of idolatry. In this case, power, their own power and that of the institutional church, is the idol they worshiped.

The hierarchy casts the entire blame on the perpetrators and evades its responsibility. At least figuratively, the proper attire for those responsible for the cover-up is sackcloth and ashes while seated on the steps of the cathedral begging forgiveness of all who pass.

Catholics should demand truth, accountability, and profound apology from those who abused their power. It is not enough to pray and pay.

John H. Burns Willmar

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