As we read through and contemplate these reports, that’s what we’re all looking for: the First Cause.
There is none, except human sin. Sorry. No easy answers on this.
As Joe pointed out in a post below, this is not a new problem that anyone can blame on Vatican II. Clerical sexual abuse of youth is noted with great concern, particularly in the monastic context, in the Middle Ages. Anyone who has worked with victims can attest to the pain of abuse borne by many who were abused long before Vatican II. The horrors of abuse in large Catholic institutions like orphanages – which happened – occurred long before that Council as well.
The Council and its aftermath threw more spices into the mix: laxity, theological and spiritual…um…creativity, a sense that the Church had much to gain from being open to the world, not to mention the exodus of so many mostly heterosexual men from the priesthood beginning in the 60′s, which left the group of priests remaining less broadly representative of the male population than ever, which then, for a time, because self-perpetuating.
There is another problem, too, and one that has nothing to do with the Council. The clerical caste is just that. It is a closed system, accountable only to itself, it is deeply socialist (that is, you are supported no matter what, excellence is not rewarded, but loyalty is), and it fosters immaturity. And it is all-male. All single male. (For the most part)
Do you see what this means? It does not mean that all priests are irresponsible sociopaths living off our tithes. It means that, as is the case in every system, this way of being and doing has weaknesses that make it very easy to focus on protecting its own, no matter what, no matter who.
It doesn’t mean that a celibate priesthood in a hierarchy is doomed, by nature, to be a place harboring child molestors. It means, recognizing its weaknesses and its vulnerability, and its inherent temptations to close in on itself, it must take extra steps to insure that it does not.
(It is comparable to any other system in this regard. Nothing special here. To say that the clerical realm is different is like saying that just because two people are married sacramentally, their marriage is going to effortlessly beautiful. )
Those extra steps involve many things – and most of them involve greater transparency and accountability, at root, as a foundation for any specifics, whether that be banning homosexuals from priesthood, dispensing with mandatory celibacy, or whatever your angle or solution might be.
It is a hard place to be, because we look at the experiences of Protestant bodies with greater all-church involvement in decision and policy making, and we see them all, without exception, torn apart at some level. We don’t want that. We’re divided enough. We know that the only alternative to a closed-in clerical caste can’t be simple democracy – there must be something else. What is it?
Whatever it is, though, bishops and other clerics must reclaim something very important. Their primary task is not to protect each other. Their accountability goes far beyond their brother priests. They (and we all,yes it’s true) need to remember and act out of the conviction that they are, now, and one very interesting day in the future, accountable to God for what they have done and what they have failed to do.