Action Alert!

the problem is not the structure of the hierarchy; it's the people in the hierarchy

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 13, 2010

Back in 1998, Alexandra Colen tried to warn Cardinal Godfried Danneels about offensive sex-related content in a catechism that was being used in primary schools. She learned through painful experience his modus operandi for handling such complaints:

He made sure he knew nothing by avoiding any contact with the complaining party, and if they persevered he attempted to damage their credibility... Parents were fobbed off with vague comments and shush-shushing expressions of sympathy. Yet he was the one who should have conducted investigations and taken measures.

Sound familiar?

So now Colen is not surprised by the revelations about how the Belgian hierarchy handled sex-abuse allegations.

The rampant pedophilia and child abuse in the Belgian Church is not, as some say, caused by structural inadequacies, but by individuals who refused to assume their responsibility. Each teacher or head of a school, each parish priest, bishop or archbishop who refused to take remarks or complaints by parents seriously, who neglected to take measures in their school, parish or diocese, has contributed to the culture in which pedophiles could do as they pleased and destroy the lives of hundreds, thousands of children and their families. ? 

The Belgian bishops may now follow their American counterparts, instituting policies and procedures and training programs and audits, and all these steps may even do some good. But in the end, personnel is policy. Policies and procedures don’t inspire confidence; people do. If Colen’s complaints are legitimate—and I have no reason to doubt them—the resignation of Cardinal Danneels did more to resolve the sex-abuse problem in Belgium than any policy the nation’s hierarchy is likely to adopt.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Bernadette - Sep. 24, 2010 10:31 PM ET USA

    When will our guilty bishops ask pardon publicly, repent, and RESIGN! I note that those bishops in Ireland, Belgium, Germany, etc... who failed to care for children have asked pardon and RESIGNED! American bishops seem to have too much pride and will not relinquish their offices. I would have a lot more respect for them if they RESIGNED their positions.

  • Posted by: - Sep. 14, 2010 10:49 PM ET USA

    I also have yet to hear apologies from victims or victim's groups for glaring abuses of justice. Cases are, by and large, AT LEAST 20 years old. Even so, SNAP thinks every priest may rape a child any second, others demand millions of dollars, still others insist on mandates for "Safe Environment" training. NONE have confronted the culture of lust and death that created this plague. How can I give them more creedence than the bishops when they demonstrate such a brazen contempt for Truth?

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Sep. 13, 2010 11:22 PM ET USA

    While bishops in the United States have apologized to the direct victims, I have yet to learn of apologies given to whistle-blowers, or even people who suffered condemnation and retaliation for bringing their suspicions to the attention of the bishop in the sincere expectation they would be investigated.