Ubiquitously present in news media, sexual harassment and, more specifically, sexual abuse of children and adolescents, is an issue that arouses many different feelings among people.
On the whole, we may define sexual harassment as the exploitation of a child or adolescent in an unequal power relation, to provide sexual pleasure to another person. Situations involving sexual harassment include touching private parts, producing photos and videos exposing a naked child or adolescent, and even rape.
In the last few decades, countless situations involving sexual assaults by Catholic Church authorities, representatives and members in many different countries, as well as a lack of responsibility in regard to the harassment cases disclosed so far, and even information on cover-ups have been causing scandal, indignation and concern all over the world.
It is difficult to guess what might be the causes. I feel encouraged to say that, first of all, there is a departure from the truth of the Gospel in certain environments in the Church; secondly, the Church has not been able to select and form a considerable part of its clergymen, missionaries and members of congregations, since without any doubt they have not been up to the spiritual and psychological level deemed necessary to fulfill a mission that requires a great spirit of service; thirdly, the Church, being concerned about safeguarding its reputation and due to a certain puritanism, has tried to avoid scandals, by covering the truth up; fourthly, due to an inadequate comprehension of compassion, the Church has not applied with the necessary severity the norms of its Canon Law, the same that is being revised. And finally, the Church has dispensed an excessive protagonism to clergymen, forgetting the fundamental role of laypeople, men and women, who are as much a part of the Church as any cleric.
The recent meeting held in the Vatican about sexual assaults has shown a firm intent to amend the situation and a sincere effort to renew the Church, although this is just a first step. Pope Francis, at the end of the meeting, uttered the following words:
“Currently the Church has become increasingly aware of its duty of striving not only to restrain the serious abuses through disciplinary measures and civil and canonical proceedings, but also to decidedly face the phenomenon, inside and outside the Church” (...) “Time has come to find the right balance between all values in question and to establish uniform guidelines for the Church, avoiding two extremes: neither judicial activism, generated by the feeling of guilt in face of past mistakes and the pressure exerted by the global media, nor self-protection, which does not address the causes and the consequences of such grave offenses.”
Finally, to remember the words of Rafael Domingo Oslé: “The Church is not only 'the Church of abuses'. The Church, for centuries, has been a great advocate for peace in the world, in the fight against poverty, in caring for the ailing, in the education of millions of children; and it has protected life as few institutions have done. This healthy, refreshed and merciful part of the Church is what will end up imposing itself again and will wipe the stench of the wound that has been thriving inside the Church itself and has outraged a large number of people of goodwill.”
Due to all the above, it is necessary that initiatives to qualify, sensitize and form Church members to avoid such flaws become essential and indispensable to help the Church.