Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Long way to go
Editorial: Abuse case shows Catholic Church has long way to go

Feb 22, 2011
By The Free Lance Editorial Board

Although the Roman Catholic Church has taken significant steps toward curtailing sexual abuses among clergymen and making the investigatory process more open, the case involving a longtime Mission priest serves as yet another example showing there is a long way to go before it gains full trust from the public and its own declining membership.

As everyone knows by now, the Catholic Church has become all too synonymous with allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Inherently and unfortunately, the church had been known historically for covering up the allegations and routinely resolving in merely transferring the suspected culprits to other, unknowing parishes. It is paying the price in recent years, in the form of a seemingly endless stream of lawsuits and possible, irreparable damage to its reputation.

Church leadership, all the way to the top, has made many important strides in changing the culture of acceptance - that of looking the other way - toward claims of sexual abuses. At the same time, the church, and it appears the Diocese of Monterey in particular, have not done enough. The sobering reality is that it still comes with little surprise when abuse cases arise, such as the one involving Father Edward Fitz-Henry from the cherished Mission.

Wherever one might stand regarding a man's allegations made public last week alleging Fitz-Henry sexually abused him when he was a 14-year-old altar boy at a Salinas congregation - the case remains under investigation by the Salinas Police Department - the diocese already has acknowledged that it considers 19-year-old claims against the same priest "credible" in nature. Those allegations, involving a different suspected victim, are against Fitz-Henry as well. The diocese says it previously knew about that prior relationship, but only recently deemed it as sexual through findings in the latest investigation.

In other words, it is naive to rule out the possibility that Fitz-Henry abused a juvenile, or more than one. And naivety is one of the major reasons why the Catholic Church, its leadership and general membership, got where it is now.

In the end, such cases further damage the credibility of a church that is trying so desperately to restore it.

The Catholic Church must do more. Its leaders and members must consider changing some of the archaic traditions that influenced a once- and somewhat still-tainted culture, such as celibacy among priests. It must get more proactive and take more serious steps to fully reform a system that customarily invited moral corruption.

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