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21st Oct 2017

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Bishop urges EU leaders to criticise Vatican 'stupidity'

  • The dome of St Peter's in the Vatican, which continues to struggle with revelations of a systematic cover-up (Photo: flip.and.serena)

A Roman Catholic bishop has called on EU leaders who are Christians to speak out against the Vatican if it makes "stupid" remarks, such as a recent declaration that homosexuality causes paedophilia.

In an interview with EUobserver on Friday (16 April), Peter Moran, the Bishop of Aberdeen in Scotland, said the church's cover-up of child abuse in Ireland 40 years ago was facilitated by "an exaggerated deference toward the clergy."

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"I would not like to think that there is any exaggerated deference by Christian leaders in Europe toward the church authorities today. To put it very simply, if the church says something that is wrong or stupid, even Christian leaders should have the courage to say: 'No. I disagree with that. You are wrong. That was a stupid thing to say'."

Bishop Moran was referring to a statement by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, who earlier this month said that homosexuality, not clerical celibacy, is a cause of paedophilia.

Cardinal Bertone's remark - a classic tenet of homophobia - followed revelations that the Catholic elite, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, had in the past protected paedophile priests from exposure, in an unfolding crisis for the Vatican's credibility.

The leaders of the EU institutions, all three of whom are Christian democrats, have stayed silent on the subject despite calls by the Liberal group in the EU parliament for them to take a stand.

Bishop Moran said that delegates at a conclave of 21 bishops in Brussels last Friday under the auspices of Comece, a church body set up to analyse EU policy, were "shocked to know that someone in Rome had said that this [paedophilia] is a problem of homosexuality."

"This kind of abuse is found in all parts of society - in families, in heterosexual situations, in homosexual situations. It is not attached to any of those."

On the broader issue of paedophile priests, he said the church has turned a corner by apologising to victims, co-operating with civil authorities, excluding convicted abusers and scrutinising candidates for priesthood for signs of sexual deviance.

Asked if EU leaders should put pressure on the Vatican to do more, he said: "Perhaps it will satisfy some of the electorate of the EU if people see that they, speaking as Europe, are saying to the Catholic church: 'Please put your house in order.' But the Catholic church will say: 'In the past, we made mistakes. We are sorry for them. We have already put our house in order'."

In terms of rebuilding trust with parishioners, Bishop Moran said it would be "easy, but not helpful" to point out that abusive priests were in a small minority.

"It [reconciliation] is a very difficult, a long path. We simply have to be even more true to our own principles. We have to be very careful about our priorities - the first among these is care and love for vulnerable people, the young and the vulnerable."

Lifting the lid

Returning to the question of whether clerical celibacy causes sexual dysfunction, including paedophilia, Bishop Moran added that "perhaps now we will carry out a survey of that kind."

The most comprehensive study to date of Roman Catholic child abuse was funded by the church and carried out by the City University of New York in 2004, covering the vast majority of US dioceses between 1950 and 2002.

It found that most alleged offences were carried out by priests aged between 30 and 39 who had been ordained between 1950 and 1979, many of whom also had a drinking problem. Most victims were boys aged 11 to 14. Allegations concerned 2.7 percent of all priests and numbered 200 cases a year on average, with a peak in 1980.

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