A couple of weeks ago, I was shocked to read of the return to Australia of a high-ranking Catholic priest from Rome to face sexual assault charges. He had been my school principal and teacher here in Melbourne!
There had been no rumours or suspicions back then, but the allegations were traced to a different locality. Nevertheless, the timing placed them during my four years in this particular college. Had I been taught by a paedophile? He is still maintaining his innocence, although the Catholic church apparently paid one of his alleged and now-deceased victims tens of thousands of dollars some years ago, before the matter became public.
Of course, the very great work that many people do, including the priest in question, can be brought undone very quickly by one far-reaching character flaw. The problem with sexual abuse is that it violates one’s identity, erodes self-worth, deeply affects relationships, undermines trust and then demeans any nobility in the wider cause that the perpetrator represents. The biblical King Solomon described the ‘little foxes that ruin the vineyards’ (Song of Songs 2:15). It is often something that seems small to us and maybe also seems hidden, too, that can do us such great damage. Too many Catholic priests, though, have not seen that their ‘little foxes’ have not been little at all. Sadly, those who should know better cannot seem to see this for themselves as they have justified their reprehensible behaviour to themselves, if not to others.
Many perpetrators of sexual crimes continue believing in the greater cause of their own life and therefore end up minimising their devastation of the lives of others. Although sin of all descriptions crouches at the door of every sector of society as people bow to all manner of temptations, this particular ‘little fox’ is a giant sin with gargantuan consequences.
The gravity of the offence of such abuse is partly that it is caused by those who have dedicated their lives to godliness and have then disregarded the trust afforded them. Even though the vineyard of faith may well have much ripe and praiseworthy fruit, its spoiling at the hands of a few shows the incredibly destructive power of sin and thus heightens, all the more, the power of God’s grace to rebuild lives broken and battered as a result.