Primate: clergy must be more accountable12 June 2012
The Primate of the Philippines has said the Church needs a "serene but comprehensive" consideration of the issue of clerical celibacy.
Luis Tagle, who is the Archbishop of Manila, told delegates at the Irish Eucharistic Congress in Dublin that people had different understandings of the rationale behind priestly celibacy, which was unhelpful. "Many people think that celibacy is simply a rule that the conservative Church has to observe for the sake of tradition. Some make it the culprit for all types of sexual misconduct. Others defend it but in a narrowly legalistic way that proves ineffectual. We need a serene but comprehensive consideration of the matter," he said.
In a frank and wide-ranging address entitled 'Clergy Sexual Misconduct: Some reflections from Asia', Archbishop Tagle said this morning that the so-called crisis of clergy, which included allegations of sexual misconduct, was "immense in scope".
The 54-year-old prelate, who is considered conservative on issues such as contraception but strong on social justice, said this crisis also involved suspicions about clerics' handling of money, accusations of misuse of authority and "inappropriate lifestyles".
"To pretend no problem exists does not help," the charismatic archbishop said. Offering a reflection on clerical sexual misconduct from the perspective of the Church in Asia, Archbishop Tagle, whose diocese is home to roughly three million Catholics, called for a more integrated approach to seminary formation and ongoing clerical formation in areas such as "sensitivity to women and children", and in clerics' understanding of their human and sexual development.
He also called for a greater emphasis on ministerial accountability, which would give clarity of purpose and identity to priests and would force them and seminarians to engage in a "purification of motivation" such as a hunger for wealth or grandeur. The prelate urged the Catholic faithful in Asia not to "pamper or spoil" seminarians and priests.
Due to the "specific crisis" the Church and its clergy were facing, there was a need for a revitalisation of the community life of priests, with greater emphasis on community prayer, sharing of resources, spiritual direction, simplicity of lifestyle, and academic renewal among other things, he suggested.
On the issue of clerical sexual abuse of children, Archbishop Tagle said that because the Church is a tiny minority in most Asian countries, the reported cases of sexual abuse of children and other cases of sexual misconduct by clergy were fewer compared to the national averages. He further explained that when the sexual abuse crisis erupted in the Northern hemisphere there was a tendency to think of the problem as mainly tied to Western cultures. "But such a view changed when similar cases surfaced in Asia, " he said.
The archbishop called for the Church in Asia to do more to develop programmes to protect children, women and the vulnerable from sexual abuse. Acknowledging that various episcopal conferences and religious orders have addressed abuse allegations as they arose, he warned that there was a "pressing need" to formulate national pastoral guidelines for handling such cases. "The relative 'silence' with which the victims and Asian Catholics face the scandal is partly due to the culture of 'shame' that holds dearly one's humanity, honour and dignity," he said.
In his analysis of the contributing factors to clerical misconduct, the archbishop cited aspects of Asian culture where priests tended to be regarded as "more than ordinary humans" because of a belief that they possess extraordinary or divine powers. "Power in whatever form can harm when misused. Because the culture clouds over the clergy's humanity, some of them hide their true selves and live double lives. Duplicity can breed abusive tendencies," he said.
Lamenting that so many children from the vast continent of Asia were exploited through the sex trade, kidnapping and the sale of their body parts as well as sex-selective abortion, he said the Churches there were now examining the cultures, traditions, family structures and emerging trends in their societies to understand the roots of the crisis. Each episcopal conference also needed clear directions on how to deal with their respective government authorities when criminal cases involving the clergy arise.
Separately, one of Asia's leading prelates, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, has said the Church there has seen a deterioration of the spiritual context since the 1997 handover to China. Speaking to The Tablet after he concelebrated Mass for Taiwanese Catholics in Dublin for the Congress, the Salesian cardinal said there has been "some infection from the mainland which was increasingly seen in a culture of selfishness and through the influence of secularism." He regretted the recent ruling passed by the legislative authorities which he said had undermined Hong Kong's Catholic schools. "We are facing some new difficulties," the 80-year-old said.
The cardinal, who has attended a number of Eucharistic Congresses, said he had been particularly anxious to attend this one in Dublin as the Church in China owed much to the Irish Church. He singled out the contribution of Irish Jesuits in the diocese of Hong Kong, and the Legion of Mary, which was founded in Ireland, and which he said had been a "very strong force in witnessing to the faith at the beginning of the communist persecution" in China.
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