Letters to the Editor

Kirkland pastor responds to Catholic church sexual abuse

As the pastor of one of Kirkland's Catholic churches, I would like to respond to Jeff Jared's opinions expressed in the April 20 edition of the Reporter. Mr. Jared, a self-described atheist, believes the Catholic church should be shut down because of the sexual abuse committed by a small percentage of clerics and the cover-up of their conduct by their bishops.

Certainly, the sexual abuse scandal has revealed that thousands of young lives have been grievously harmed by the crimes and sins of some priests over the past half century. This is a grave evil for which the Catholic church should, and has, apologized. There is no excuse for behavior that Catholic teaching and canon law itself clearly described as evil. But while there is no excuse for these actions, if we are to reach a balanced understanding of how and why this terrible chapter in our history happened, it needs to be put into an historical context. A majority of these crimes against minors occurred between 1965-1985. What were the accepted norms back then for dealing with the sexual abuse of minors and those who abused them - not only within the Catholic church, but for other institutions?

We don't know the answer to that question yet because only the Catholic church's record has been thoroughly examined. But there are clues available. A couple of weeks ago the Boy Scouts of America lost an $18.5 million lawsuit in Oregon. It was revealed that the Scouts had a long history of moving known sexual abusers within the organization - where they could, and did, abuse again.

And what about the public school system and youth sports programs? A glimpse of the hidden history of these institutions was uncovered by the Seattle Times article, "Coaches who Prey" (Dec. 14-17 2003). This article showed that, using only a small sample of school districts, scores of coaches and teachers were guilty of sexual abuse of minors. And these abusers were sometimes given new jobs at different schools even after the abuse became known. It is also worth noting that the investigative reporters for the story found the school superintendents and teacher union officials tenacious in resisting any revelation of these past misdeeds. All this behavior mirrors that of the Catholic bishops of the past.

This is not to say that the Boy Scouts and the public school districts are filled with pedophiles any more than is the Catholic priesthood (or the Protestant churches, which have their own problems too). But it does suggest that standards and priorities for protecting children have evolved over the past decades for most institutions. It's a sad fact that many institutions - including, but not limited to, the Catholic church - were scandalously lax in their protection of children entrusted to their care. These institutions were guilty of the all too human (not specifically religious) vice of "protecting their own" at the expense of the vulnerable.

But if one's motivation is the protection of children, not furthering one's own idealogy, then rather than shutting down such institutions - as Mr. Jared suggests - why not reform them? It can be done. Due to the battering we have taken because of the sex abuse scandal, and due to the processes we now have in place for the safeguarding of minors, I would bet that today the Catholic church is the safest place in America for vulnerable children. No institution is perfect and crimes will still occasionally occur. But from being the illustration of the problem of sexual abuse of minors, I believe the Catholic church in America has become an example of the best practices in protecting them.

Rev. Kurt Nagel, Holy Family Catholic Church

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