One of the headlines in today’s newspaper was a quote from the Pope. It read, “Church must recognize truth of child abuse“. The article went on the quote the Pope saying, “Today we see in a truly terrifying way that the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from outside enemies but is born of sin within the Church“. This reminded me of something that happened to me when I was 16 years old. At that time I was schooling at Don Bosco High School in Panaji, Goa, a school that was run by the Salesians of Don Bosco.
One day at school I got a message that the Rector, who was a priest, wanted to see me. So I went to his office to meet him. I was quite surprised when he asked me to close the door behind me. He made me sit down and started making small talk with me about a range of totally unrelated things, possibly to loosen me up. Normally, when you were called into the Rector’s office, it was almost always because you did something wrong and a spanking was in the offing. After he figured that I was loose enough, he asked me a question, “So Deelip, have you ever heard the call?“. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about and I let him know that, politely of course. He went on to explain, “You know, the call from the Lord.” That was when it hit me what this whole meeting was all about. The Rector wanted me to become a priest! At that point the only thing I knew was that I had to get myself out of the room immediately. So I told the Rector two things: (1) I had not heard any call; and (2) I had just remembered an extremely important thing that I needed to do. And before he could react I was already out of room.
My point here is that at the age of sixteen I was being asked to make the most important decision of my life. At that age, I was legally incompetent to do anything substantial. I could not vote. I could not get a driver’s license. If I had committed murder I would be sent to juvenile court and not a regular court. The funny thing here is that I could not get married till I was 21 and here I was being asked to decide at the age of 16 whether I wanted to be celibate all my life. Ironically, a few years after I passed out from school, I heard that the Rector had left the priesthood. My school Principal, who was also a priest, was notorious for his closed door “meetings” with young girls after he served has daily mass. Needless to say, the last I heard of him was that he was married and settled in Canada. The exploits of the priest in the parish adjacent to mine are so well known that the parishioners have approached the Bishop to have him removed. I could go on and on.
Here is the thing. I believe that part of the problem of pedophile priests lies with the fact that boys are made to decide what their lives will be at a time when they are clearly not capable make such critical decisions and neither are in a position to understand the implications of those decisions. True, priests are given an option to walk away just before they are ordained. But only the ones who are strong willed and are capable of taking on the public ridicule that follows actually end up exercising that option. The weak stick to their sad story and spend the rest of their lives trying to come to terms with it. I have a cousin who left a year or so before he could be ordained. He is now happily married with a kid and running a business. In my part of the world, the generation previous to mine invariably had large families. The eldest son was educated and sent to work to help support the family and the youngest son was usually “given up to the Lord”. That was told to him at an early age and when the time came the decision was already made for him.
As a result of this flawed system we have ended up with a bunch of priests who are frustrated with the choice that they made earlier on in life or that was thrust upon them. Some of them eventually take it out on children because kids are less likely to expose them. I mean, after years of prayer, community service, spiritual studies and what not, if someone abuses a helpless child, you can only imagine how messed up that person is.
One possible way to solve this problem is to let a person make the decision of joining the priesthood only after he has seen or experienced what he is going to miss. The problem with that solution is that the Church will end up with an acute shortage of priests. But the few priests that would be ordained would be worth their weight in gold. Besides, to make up you could also allow women to become priests. Frankly, I cannot find a single thing that a male priest does that a female priest could not, possibly in a better way. Another more sensible solution is to let priests get married and finish off the problem once and for all. Frankly, I think priests would be far more effective at solving the marital problems of others if they could experience the same problems themselves.
This is just me venting out at what I believe to be a flawed system that probably will not drastically change, at least in my lifetime.