It seems not a week goes by without some devastating revelation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church being reported in the international media. But there’s one nation where the Catholic Church has so far avoided scandal. It’s in Ukraine, where millions follow the Greek Catholic Church, a unique branch of Catholicism, which is loyal to Rome and the Pope but with one major difference. Its priests are allowed to marry and have families and its followers say that makes all the difference.
You can see where the argument is headed a mile off, can’t you? I don’t believe this story is being pushed by anyone in the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and, as I will say in just a moment, I think it would be better not to push this line for a couple of reasons. But the first comment on the Cathnews report to this story sums up the problems with it. Paul Mees of Melbourne writes:
This was an uninformed story, even by Lateline’s standards. The optional celibacy rule is hardly ‘unique’ to Ukraine or the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Mr. Hurmont thinks he has discovered something new, but Lateline could have interviewed married Catholic priests in Australia, had it bothered to do its homework.
And as for married clergy preventing sex abuse scandals, Lateline might have interviewed Anglicans from Brisbane, Adelaide or Hobart, who could soon have put them right on that one.
Lateline failed to mention that the Ukrainian Catholic Church was an illegal organisation in Ukraine until two decades ago, i.e. the period when most of the sexual abuse that is now coming to light occurred. This report deserves an F for Journalism 101.
But there is another side to this story too. In a report this week, John Allen writes about renewed pressure being placed on the Ukrainian Catholic Church by the Service of Ukraine (SBU), the successor to the KGB. It is worth keeping an eye on this story – and keeping the Ukrainian Catholic Church in your prayers – for several reasons, one of them being that Fr. Borys Gudziak, the main character in the report, is coming here on a speaking tour later in the year.
Allen notes that there is another angle on these developments worth considering:
One reason that these developments have not galvanized much Catholic interest in the West is that the rise to power of the Yanukovich government in February more or less coincided with the explosion of the sexual abuse crisis in Germany, which quickly brought Pope Benedict XVI into the center of the storm. Tight focus on the scandals has made it difficult to tell any other Catholic story, and other stories gain traction only to the extent that they have something to say about the crisis.
In the case of Ukraine, finding a connection is actually not as much of a stretch as it might seem. In fact, the growing pressure facing Greek Catholics has implications for a key point about the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse crisis: The question of cooperation with the police and other civil authorities.
…Such a policy [of universal mandatory reporting of sexual abuse] amounts to a no-brainer in parts of the world where the rule of law holds, and where the police enjoy basic public trust. But consider what it might mean in a place like Ukraine — where the police and security forces are often seen as corrupt and subject to political manipulation, and where Catholics in particular regard them as agents of a hostile regime trying to hobble the church. (Gudziak, for example, says he believes himself to be under regular surveillance by the SBU.)
In that context, a binding requirement under canon law of cooperation with the police could seem self-destructive.
It is something worth considering.
I would also argue that it would be self-destructive of any single part of the Catholic Church – or indeed any Christian community at all – to boast of having “avoided” the scandals (I am not saying, please note, that the Ukrainians are doing this – it is the ABC Lateline report that was ill-considered). The sad thing about this kind of abuse is not what you know, but rather what you DON’T know.