he Church has been racked by the stories of paedophilia that have laid the hierarchy open to such attacks.
Many of the cases are horrific records of long and sustained predatory activities by those who knew better and were using the power and prestige of their office to protect themselves from suspicion. Others are the pathetic stories of men who fed their twisted passions vicariously and thus destroyed their own lives and betrayed their vocation. Worst of all is the long trail of victims who ought to have been the subject of the love of God and were instead the object of the lust of His servants.
Of course, alongside all this, are the patently false claims, the bitterness of rejected lovers, and thwarted passions. These must not blind us to the horrific reality of so much but it is, nonetheless, a corrective in any assessment. What, however, we most need is the cooler, calmer, consideration that seems so far to be missing in an argument characterised largely by self justification and vindictiveness.
We have to disentangle two different aspects of the revelations. First, the awfulness of the actual sin and second the fact that the perpetrator was a priest. In a world in which most of what were once sexual sins have become mere indiscretions or even virtues, paedophilia has been loaded with all the hate and opprobrium that was once much more widely dispersed.
It is clearly deeply offensive to all but a tiny minority and it involves minors whom even the most "liberated" will accept need protection. The abused are often permanently scarred and the abusers show little remorse or intention or ability to reform.
This is no new issue. Any delving into 19th century prostitution would show how much was what today we would call child abuse. The authoritarian cultures of the past have protected school teachers, clergymen, and the like.
Their word was always more easily believed than the minors in their charge. There is enough evidence to suggest that this is not something that is on the increase, it is simply something that has been finally and rightly brought to public attention.
What is perhaps most surprising is just how prevalent the problem is. Children and even babies as the objects of sexual
desire is so alien to normal people's experience that it is almost unbelievable. Indeed it is precisely that which has protected so many for so long. Yet, having steeled ourselves to face the facts, how should we react? We must certainly not condone or excuse. The damage done and the abuse of power and position involved is far too great for that.
Yet, should we Christians not insist that, despite that condemnation, a real attempt at cure must be made? There is practically no money spent on research into this condtion. By its nature it is clearly a disorder.
Of all the temptations that flesh is heir to, this is not one that remotely worries the vast majority. That it should so obsess a few that they deny their most solemn vows and betray all that they hold most sacred argues for a sickness of mind and body that needs a cure.
We owe it to them in love and, even more, to their victims to find out how to release them from this compulsion.