A Mafia-like “omertà” on sexual abuse in the Catholic hierarchy?
The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano has published an interesting article saying the Catholic Church might have avoided some of the clerical sex abuse scandals it now has if more women were in decision-making positions. The Italian historian Lucetta Scaraffia says that women “would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered with silence the denunciation of these misdeeds.” The word she used for “secrecy” is omertà, the Italian term for “code of silence” well known to anyone who’s seen the Godfather movies or read about how the Mafia works.
Scaraffia writes that Pope John Paul said women should be given posts of equal importance as men and that Pope Benedict has written to bishops promoting collaboration between men and women in the Church. She then writes, in a rather academic style:
“The problem is that this important theoretical development has not been followed with equal clarity by a transformation in women’s participation in the life of the Church. Their participation, although significantly enlarged, has remained mostly outside the decision-making spheres and areas of cultural processing. One can understand, then, that the pressure of the excluded — who are often shut out for no justified reason — can be felt, even if quietly. It is not just a matter of social justice or equal opportunities. The Church risks failing to develop energies and contributions that are often of primary importance.
“One example suffices: In the painful and shameful situation where harassment and sexual abuse by clergymen of young people entrusted to them is coming to light, we can hypothesize that an increased female presence, and not only at lower levels, would have been able to rip the veil of male secrecy that in the past often covered the denunciation of misdeeds. In fact, women — both religious and secular — are naturally more inclined to defend the young in cases of sexual abuse, avoiding the serious damage these guilty attitudes have done to the Church.”
One can argue whether women in some leadership positions would act much differently from men. Some, like Margaret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi, can make one sceptical about that. But if women had been part of the decision-making process when abusive priests were shuffled around from one post to another, there surely would have been some who — like the Boston mothers in the photo above — would have shamed the bishops with that simple question, “What would your mothers think?”