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Navarro-Valls on the Abuse Crisis

04/01/2010 Comments (19)

Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls

The Holy See press office director under John Paul II, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, has today criticized the media for “a raging phobia” against the Church over pedophilia while ignoring the problem in the rest of society which he says is widespread.

Writing in the Italian daily La Repubblica, the former medical doctor did not lessen the “grave criminal phenomenon” in the Church, but quoted alarming figures of abuse against children in society in general, adding that to focus only on the Church was “very misleading.”

The current papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said over the weekend that the recent media attacks “have without doubt caused damage” to the Church but added: “The authority of the Pope and the commitment of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith against sex abuse of minors will come out of this not weakened but strengthened.”

I reproduce Dr. Navarro-Valls’ article in full below (my translation):

The Pope and the Pedophilia Scandal

In the last two weeks, the media has filled the public space with the agonizing reality of criminal cases of pedophilia. The charges have risen gradually in response to a series of revelations coming from several European countries concerning instances of sexual abuse perpetrated against children by priests. To read the news, it even seems this is a huge scoop, and that now, thanks to these ingenious revelations, a rotten undergrowth is emerging in the breast of the Catholic Church.

Certainly, in Austria, Germany and Ireland, but no less in almost all countries where there is a consistent presence of Church schools and educational organizations, there has been the grave criminal phenomenon of violations of the dignity of childhood. That has been noted. Not by chance, during the Via Crucis of 2005, did the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger not mince his words when he noted with disappointment: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency!” Perhaps we have forgotten it. But you can without fear of contradiction point out that the problem exists in the Church, is known by the Church, and has been addressed and will be further addressed in future decisions by the Church.

But let’s try, for a moment, to reflect on the manifestation of pedophilia in itself. From my experience as a doctor I can highlight some important data useful to understanding the seriousness and the extent of the problem. The most reliable statistics speak for themselves. It’s certified that 1 in 3 girls have been sexually abused, and that 1 in 5 boys has been subjected to acts of violence. The truly alarming fact has been disclosed not only in scientific publications but even CNN reports that the percentage of respondents, in a representative sample of the population, has sexually molested a child ranges from 1% to 5%. That is a frightening number. 

The acts of pedophilia are perpetrated by parents or close relatives. Brothers, sisters, mothers, uncles or babysitters are the most common abusers of children. According to the U.S. Justice Department, almost all accused pedophiles, 90 percent, are male. According to Diana Russell, 90% of sexual abuse is committed by people with direct knowledge of the young victims, and remain closed in the familiar ‘conspiracy of silence’. A notable aspect, unfortunately, is that 60% of the cases of violence affected people younger than 12 years, and in most cases abusers are males with blood ties.

These statistics show, therefore, a clear and fairly broad practice of sexual violence against children. Taking into account that these figures refer only to those that have been reported, are known or otherwise known, we can easily imagine the dramatic degree of perversion that lurks behind this reality, most common in countries whose cultures do not consider this violence to be an aberrant obscenity. Now, focusing exclusively on those abusers and singling out one group, such as priests, can be very misleading. In this case, the percentage has fallen to become a minimal phenomenon, statistically. Certainly, nothing can take away the emotion and shame that comes from these recent revelations in the Church, even when they refer to events that took place decades ago and perhaps covered by the most grave ‘conspiracies of silence’. We can be certain, beginning with the pastoral letter to Ireland last week, that Benedict XVI will take all measures that are needed to expel the guilty and judge them, based on real crimes committed by those involved.

Let us not, however, fall into the trap of hypocrisy, especially in the form of that recently staged by the New York Times in its report on the case of the Rev. Murphy. There, the author of the article does not evaluate, draw conclusions or give appropriate attention to the fact that the police had received complaints about him and had released him as an innocent man.

Which country has made an in-depth study of this grievous phenomenon, also taking clear and explicit preventive measures against the abuses of pedophilia among its citizens, in families or in public schools? What other religion has moved to find, publicly condemn and assume the problem, bringing it to light and explicitly pursuing it? We avoid, first of all, being insincere: namely to focus on the limited number of established cases of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, but without opening our eyes to the tragedy of a childhood violated and abused very often and everywhere, yet without scandal.

If we want to fight sexual crimes against children, at least in our democratic societies, we must avoid dirtying the public consciousness, looking only at the phenomenon where the moral gravity is perhaps even more, but in quantity certainly less. Before judging someone for something, one should have the guts and honesty to recognize that we [in society] are not doing enough, and look to do something similar to what the Pope is doing.  Otherwise, it’s better to stop talking about pedophilia and start to discuss the raging phobia unleashed against the Catholic Church. This seems, in fact, to be being done with the meticulous care of an investigation, but unfortunately bad faith is in evidence. 

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About Edward Pentin

Edward Pentin
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Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Follow on Twitter @edwardpentin