SHOULD THE CHURCH MINISTER TO PAEDOPHILES?
Paedophilia is a most horrible crime deserving the strongest possible condemnation and punishment.
However, we Christians must ask ourselves the difficult and controversial question – “Should we minister to paedophiles”?
And I don’t only mean priest paedophiles. Only 3% of Catholic priests are paedophiles. Most paedophiles are family members known to the children that they abuse – fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts. You also find paedophiles in all walks of life – labourers, carpenters, plumbers, teachers, doctors, politicians and lawyers.
To answer the question: “Should the Church minister to paedophiles” we must turn for an answer to that question to Jesus. He was very hard on people that hurt children. He said: “Better for that person to have a rock chained around their neck and be cast into the ocean”.
At the same time He was full of compassion to all the outcasts in society – lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes etc.
In my 36 years ministry as a priest and a bishop I have come across two basic classes of paedophile:
1. Those who are truly sorry for what they did and want help never to hurt a child again.
2. Those who have no guilt or sorrow for their actions and are determined to continue abusing children.
You can do nothing for Group 2 except to punish them and supervise them intensely until the day they die.
But I believe that Group 1 – the genuinely remorseful can be ministered to, worked with and helped.
Being a paedophile is a bit like being an alcoholic. An alcoholic is never “cured”. Once an alcoholic, always and alcoholic. It is a lifetime condition that must be managed on a daily basis – one day at a time. Paedophilia is a deep rooted psychosexual condition. There is no cure for it. It must be managed for a lifetime, one day at a time.
But if a person is willing to engage in a lifetime management of their condition then they can and should be helped and ministered to. Aspects of that management would be:
1. Attending weekly lifestyle meetings preferably run by professionals and in which you are absolutely honest about your thoughts and fantasies.
2. Having a core person to call on immediately if tempted or experiencing difficulties.
3. Engaging in regular and on-going therapy with a regular focus on the issue from the point of view of victims.
4. Never allowing yourself to be alone in the company of minors.
5. Ensuring that you live in areas in which there are no families or schools.
6. Taking responsibility to inform the police where you live or your past and your condition.
7. If you attend church making the clergy and the designated child protection person in the parish fully aware of your situation.
If a guilty man or woman, who had served their time, were to follow these steps then I think that the Church community should minister to them. I think that the Jesus who “forgave” the Good Thief and who pardoned His own murderers would want us to do so. The disciples asked Jesus: “Lord how often should I forgive my enemies – as often as seven times”? Jesus replied: “Not seven times but seventy times seven times”. That’s 490 times!
It’s not easy to be a Christian. Being a real Christian is a real challenge as it nearly always challenges our prejudices, our blind spots and even our hysteria.
Bishop Pat Buckley