Every year after
Ordination, there are spiritual conferences, including a yearly week-long spiritual retreat, given by the Bishop or by other resource persons to the priests. These are for the purpose of
rerooting themselves more profoundly in Christ, the Good Shepherd, of deepening their priestly commitment and intensifying their priestly zeal.
So why, how and where do priests go wrong?
How shall we prevent their cases from being replicated by others? How to heal the wounded Body of Christ? These are three of the deeper questions at the bottom of "the search for
truth and justice" regarding fallen shepherds. The answers can best come from a cooperative effort of clergy, religious and laity.
The immediate issues are, of course, what truth and
justice most obviously require: how to bring to justice both in Church law and in the law of the land priests regarding their betrayal of the priesthood and their victimizing of members of
their flock? How to care for and heal the victims in justice and in compassionate care? Likewise, how to heal the "wounded healer"? Can he at all be healed? Or must he be
thrown out of the priesthood?
These are questions that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has discussed and deliberated on for some years. As a result the Episcopal
Commission on the Clergy has been holding an intensive care program for priests with special difficulties. The program employs psychiatric help, spiritual direction, professional guidance
counseling, peer counselling, and even continuing care for several years if need be. Intensive renewal and healing programs to rehabilitate erring priests have also been put in place by
some religious orders and congregations, usually on a one-to-one basis.
At the same time, the Episcopal Commission is studying protocols adopted by some Episcopal Conferences in other countries
so that formal procedures may be drafted for the Philippines. These would establish public criterial on dealing with errant sexual behavior.
A scanning of the contents of one such
protocol shows the comprehensiveness of its coverage. Topics deal with Principles
for dealing with complaints of abuse (the nature of sexual abuse, physical and emotional abuse, the victims, the offenders, the response of the Church; Procedures
for dealing with complaints of abuse (structures, receiving a complaint, criminal offenses and the reporting of child abuse, responding to a complaint, selecting the appropriate process, outcomes, preventive strategies). The protocol demonstrates that coordination between civil law and Church procedures is absolutely needed. At the same time, beyond the requirements of justice, the pastoral dimension of the problem regarding the care of victims and offenders is paramount, if the protocol was a product of several years, consulting experts from various fields, victims and offenders, people in the ministry of pastoral care, etc.
Two statements from the protocol are significant lessons for us: (a) "Concealing the truth is unjust to victims, a disservice to offenders and damaging to whole Church community";
(b) We must recognize that humility (in acknowledging that some of the clergy, religious and other Church personnel have committed abuse) is essential if we are to care for victims and prevent
abuse in the future."
The Church in the Philippines still has a lot of work to do in formulating procedures. But we have begun. We hope to finish by the end of 2003.