Monday, September 10, 2018

Bangladesh Catholic Church: Matters Clergy Sexual Abuse

Father Walter William Rozario of Borni Parish of Rajshahi Diocese, 
Bangladesh, in 2018
Photo courtesy:

Father William A. Christensen, S.M., from St. Louis, USA, in 1995 
Photo courtesy:

A greater number of foreign missionaries and local priests in Bangladesh have been dedicated, honest, and truthful to their vocation, but some of them did not work as expected. As in other countries, “One-in-twelve principle” also applies to Bangladesh. It means one-in-twelve – some among many – will act quite badly. This principle is derived from Jesus’ own example with his twelve disciples, among whom one (Judas the Iscariot) was the most rotten apple.  

Sexual abuse is nothing new in Bangladesh. It is present in every community (Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian) and culture. Yet, when a religious leader, like a Catholic clergy (priest), gets involved in this sin or crime, it is a horrendous news to the faithful. Why? Because the clergy is held in a high position, he is a holy person who is supposed to have a higher level of integrity, honesty, and justice. He is the one who teaches others about being holy, honest and just. 

In the Old Testament of the Bible, we see God created the heavens and the earth as well as Adam and Eve. He then blessed them and told them: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28). Later, God made a covenant with Noah and told him: “Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1). God gave these persons sex organs for multiplication. He did not tell them to place their organs under lock and key. So, multiply they did. When things went haywire, God gave the Ten Commandments, whereby he forbade adultery and coveting of one's neighbour's wife.  Then also sanctions came on homosexuality. People, later, came up with their own social restrictions on and barriers to the use of their sex organs indiscriminately. Especially from the New Testament time, some also came up with the idea of celibacy (a state of unmarried life) so that the person dedicated to celibacy can give his or her full time in the service of God. Sexual chastity goes along with this celibacy in the Catholic Church. Did the sex activities and sex abuse stop among the married and unmarried (celibate) people? No. The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church amply proves it. The priests' celibacy and sexual chastity, idealized, idolized and heavenized (priests have been termed alter Christus -- meaning 'another Christ' -- and they can turn bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, which even heavenly angels are unable to accomplish) by the Church, almost turned into a fiction.  

Catholic clergy sex abuse, of which we hear and read so much now, was always present in the universal Catholic Church. In earlier times, the married clergy and, later, celibate (unmarried) clergy have been involved in sexual abuse. To learn more, please click on the following article: A Very Short History of Clergy Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (by Father Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D., C.A.D.C.).  

In Bangladesh, as almost in any other country, Catholic laymen and laywomen, from their childhood, learn to have a special respect and slavish fealty to and unconditional trust on the priests and bishops, who are considered holy because of their position as God’s anointed agents on earth. Nothing can be done in words or deeds to disrespect or belittle them. There is also the fear of being punished sacramentally (banning participation in the holy communion, church marriage, church burial, etc.) or otherwise. For these reasons, no one wants to come forward to complain against clergy sex abuses. As a result, very few cases of abuse came to the limelight so far.

In the past, there were a few clergy abuse cases which were open secret but remained in a hush-hush situation. Victims of those cases were underage boys and girls (pedophilia), adolescents (ephebophilia), young men -- including seminarians (homosexuality), married and unmarried women -- including Sisters or nuns (heterosexuality), incest (sexual relations with close relatives, e.g. in-laws), and fathering of children.

But things are gradually changing with widespread education among the laity, more awareness of one’s human rights, an increase in critical (analytical) thinking, the spread of feminist ideology including women’s rights -- as being emphasized in the recent #MeToo Movement, which resulted from women's actual experiences of sexual abuse in their workplaces, and, finally, the easy availability of the Internet and social media with their influences.

The abuse cases of Father William A. Christensen (a Marianist missionary from the USA) and Father Walter William Rozario (a local diocesan priest) not only came to the limelight but also became international news. 

What are the actions that the Bangladesh bishops and Religious superiors can take?

1    1. When a serious complaint is received against a Church personnel, remove the person from the position held during the complaint until the proper investigation is completed.

2    2. In the investigation of sexual abuse, involve certain persons from the priests and Religious Brothers and Sisters as well as laymen and women to have more fairness in the process. When complaints are received, patiently and with enough time, listen in depth to what both the sides (the accused and the accuser) involved in the case have to say.

3    3. If anyone, after giving a second chance, commits another incursion (crime), defrock him. It is better for him to live a laicized life than “burn” by remaining in the priesthood, (Brotherhood, or Sisterhood). By repeat failures or criminal actions, the person is trying to tell that he is not able to keep his solemn promise of celibacy and chastity anymore. He wants to be out.

4    4. Sending a person for a life of “meditation and prayer” means nothing to the person as well as to his victim(s). He was supposed to meditate and pray more than once a day for years but failed to do so. How is it possible for him/her to do it right now?

5    5. Do not rotate the person from one parish or institution to another or from one country to another. From other countries’ experience, it is found that such persons in most cases repeat the same sins and crimes in new places, too.

6    6. Arrange special orientation on awareness building. Many of the priests, Brothers, Sisters (nuns), seminarians, catechists, teachers, school-boarding masters and mistresses, and Catholic NGO workers, who regularly deal with people (men, women, youth, teens, adolescents, and children), do not know what constitutes sexual harassment, sexual molestation, sexual abuse, sexual assault, pedophilia, hebephiliaephebophilia, homosexuality and their legal repercussions. It is imperative that, from now on, they get this orientation so that they themselves can be careful with others and help others to be careful about sexual matters.

1    7. The Pratibeshi (neighbour) is the national Catholic weekly of the Catholic bishops of Bangladesh. Most of its readers reside in the rural areas. It can play a vital role in the proper formation of the Catholics by disseminating information on and building awareness of clergy sexual abuse that is being revealed publicly all over the world for more than a decade now. This weekly places a greater emphasis on pietistic, devotional, and dogmatic matters than real-life Christian living in this fast-changing world.  It is almost completely quiet on this serious problem of clergy sex abuse – as if nothing is happening on this matter anywhere in the world. It also does not say much about what the Pope and the Vatican are saying on this particular subject. If the Holy Bible can clearly and graphically speak of both the holiness and sin, the good and evil, why can’t the Pratibeshi do the same? The conversation on clergy sex abuse (happening anywhere in the world) will help priests and other Church personnel to be careful in their behavior and, at the same time, it will help its readers to be alert and careful about not becoming victims of abuses in their daily life as well as in Church life. 

I    8. It is also important to note that the Catholic Church has a definite teaching on participation in other’s sins. If any bishop, cardinal, or Religious superior anywhere in the world tries to avoid, ignore, or cover up sex abuse of anyone under his care, he participates in the sins (of sex abuse, which is also considered as crimes in any country’s civil law) of that sex-abuser. 

9. In certain parts of the world today, clergy sexual-abuse victims no longer wait for the cumbersome and slow-paced efforts of bishops and Religious superiors in taking proper action against clergy sex-abusers. Victims contact the local police directly and make formal complaints about quicker action. Bangladesh Church leaders need to learn from these experiences of other countries and take proper action timely so that they can avoid any unsavoury and nasty situation later.

10. Pope Francis, meeting 74 newly-consecrated bishops from 34 developing countries in the Vatican on Sept. 9, said, “Just say no to abuse – of power, conscience or any type.” He also said that to do so the bishops must reject the clerical culture that often places clergy on a pedestal and which Francis himself has blamed for fueling the sex abuse scandal. He also reminded the new bishops that they were to serve their flocks, and must work in communion with the Church, not as lone actors. (For more on this, please see Pope tells bishops to fight abuse, culture behind it). Catholic bishops of the Philippines, reacting to the Vatican official accusing Pope Francis of ignoring misconduct allegations against American Cardinal McCarrick, vowed not to cover up clergy sex abuse in their country. (That Vatican official is Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who in his recent 11-page testimony accused Pope Francis of covering up homosexual relations of U. S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick with some seminarians.)

In the end, our bishops in Bangladesh will be the winners if they are quick, forthright, transparent, and accountable for their actions on clergy sex abuses in the country. 

For more on the Catholic clergy sex abuse, please click on the following:

Related Items:

Pope Francis blames clericalism for the worldwide clergy sexual abuse. For details, kindly click on the following:

(Updated on Oct. 4, 2018)

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