In an article titled "The rigor of Benedict XVI against the filth in the Church," Bishop Giuseppe Versaldi of Alessandria, Italy defended the "rigor" of the Holy Father in fighting sexual abuse within the Church. It is "ungenerous," he wrote, to deny the "open and decided battle" he and the Church are leading against these crimes.
In Sunday's edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the bishop wrote that some clarifications are needed regarding the sexual abuses that have been coming to light in recent days. He began by emphasizing the Church's "wholehearted condemnation of these serious crimes that disgust the conscience of anyone."
When these crimes involve people with vested roles in the Church, he added, "the scandal becomes even graver and more detestable.”
"Rightly, the Church does not intend to tolerate any uncertainty as to the condemnation of the crime and the removal from the ministry of whomever turns out to be stained of such infamy, along with just reparation for victims."
After underscoring this position, however, Bishop Versaldi brought up the existence of a "tenacity towards the Catholic Church," commenting that it is as if it were the institution with the most frequent instances of abuses.
He referred to a "much reduced" number of cases in the U.S. and "even fewer in Europe," saying that while this puts the phenomenon in perspective quantitatively, "it does not reduce in any way its condemnation nor the fight to eradicate it, as the priesthood demands that only humanly and spiritually mature people enter.”
"Even a single case of abuse by a priest would be unacceptable," he stressed.
But the "negative image" given to the Catholic Church is exaggerated, Bishop Versaldi said, considering that "no causal nexus exists" between the priest's celibacy and deviant behaviors. First of all, “because it is well known that sexual abuses of minors are more widespread among lay and married people than among celibate clergy; secondly, the statistics of the research highlight that the priests guilty of abuses already do not observe the vow of celibacy."
However, he continued, "it is even more relevant to underscore that the Catholic Church - despite the deformed image with which it is wished to be represented - is the institution that has decided to lead the clearest battle against sexual abuses against minors starting from within."
This is the place where Benedict XVI has given "a decisive impulse to this fight," thanks to his 20-plus years of service within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Bishop Versaldi stated. From this "observatory," he explained, the Pope worked extensively with cases of sexual abuse and promoted reforms including "more rigorous" legislative norms.
"Now, as Supreme Pastor of the Church, the Pope maintains ... in this field a style of government that aims for the purification of the Church, eliminating the 'filth' that nests in it."
"Benedict XVI demonstrates himself to be, thus, a vigilant shepherd over his flock, despite the false image of (being) a devoted scholar only to writing books who would delegate to others the government of the Church," stressed the Bishop of Alessandria.
"It is thanks to the greater rigor of the Pope that several episcopal conferences are shedding light on cases of sexual abuses, collaborating also with civil authorities to render justice to the victims," he explained.
Bishop Versaldi then called it "paradoxical" that the Church would be represented "as if it were the responsible entity for abuses of minors." He also dubbed it "ungenerous" not to recognize "the merit" of the Church, "especially Benedict XVI," in leading "an open and decided battle against the crimes committed by its priests."
The bishop further proposed "another paradox" that exists today: that "wisely" established Church norms that are strict in preventing those who are immature "in the sexual field" from becoming priests, are “attacked and criticized by that same group that would like it to be the principal (entity) responsible for abuses of minors.
"The clear and rigorous line assumed by the Holy See," he concluded, "should instead be received in the Church ... to guarantee the truth, justice and charity towards everyone."
Bishop of Alessandria Giuseppe Versaldi is the ordinary emeritus of canon law and psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.