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Hiding Pedophilia

March 8, 2002



WHEN a clergyman sexually abuses a child - and then his church settles the matter quietly with the victim and with little consequence for the offender - does the rest of society need to know?

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For years, many dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in America thought not. (See story, page 1.) They treated the abuse as a sin, not a crime. Their leaders believed, probably sincerely, that such behavior could be dealt with on their own moral terms.

Not so, Massachusetts prosecutors have concluded, after The Boston Globe exposed dozens of cases involving pedophile priests.

The state contends that the larger society, beyond the moral universe of the church, needs to treat such priests as lawbreakers, not just moral transgressors, in order to ensure that they are not repeat offenders.

The issue has a deeper meaning for any group whose moral practices can be at odds with the laws of the larger society. Morality, by definition, requires compassion and empathy for everyone, not just those in a particular community of faith. And that means respecting society's consensus about what is legally right and wrong, and then obeying those laws.

This problem within the Catholic Church provides a lesson for all organized religions about the need to see more clearly the wider meaning of charity toward all.

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