"A mea culpa is not enough for sex abuse"

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

US Roman Catholic priest Roy Bourgeois is no stranger to controversy, but his call this week for Pope Benedict XVI to resign may spell the end of his almost 40 years in the church. According to Father Bourgeois, saying "mea culpa" or sorry just isn't enough.

The priest has a history of activism since his ordination in 1972. His first posting was Bolivia where he embraced liberation theology and was eventually deported for his criticisms of the regime. Since the 1980s he's been an outspoken critic of US policy in South America and a campaigner for reform within the Roman Catholic Church. Now Father Bourgeois, after a lot of reflection and prayer, says it is time for the Pope and other senior church leaders to take real responsibility for the recent string of child sex abuse scandals:


"When I call for the resignation of our church leader, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, that's serious. Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, knew, or should have known as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, we do know that he handled those thousands of sexual abuse cases arriving at his desk in Rome."

The Pope, claims Bourgeois, was more concerned with protecting the church from scandal than protecting children from paedophile priests. But despite his current criticism of the way the church is handling the issue, he says that after 38 years as a priest he does understand how the cover-ups could occur. He even admitted to RNW that he was involved in a small-scale cover-up himself:

"You know, you look after each other; you protect the church from scandal. And I remember, years ago, being told by people about a priest that I knew who was abusing children. And how it was just instinctual. I tried to defend that priest. I just thought it could be handled within the church. And now, looking at this with critical eyes we should have, and we have to, report those cases to civil authorities."

It's his change of heart about that long ago cover-up which has now propelled Father Bourgeois to speak out. He says it's time for the Pope and other senior church figures to accept that they are NOT infallible:

"They must be reminded that they are not gods. They are human beings; they make mistakes like all of us. And when they make serious mistakes, they must step down. Like in this situation, the crisis we are going through. No, I think that it is just and reasonable that the Pope and many church leaders resign from their positions of authority, simply because they have not been faithful."

Women priests
This isn't the first time Father Bourgeois has been in open conflict with the church leadership. In 2008 he faced excommunication for supporting the ordination of women priests. His current position within the Catholic Church is unclear. He is at peace with himself though, even though he knows his call is likely to cause further problems with the church hierarchy:

"I'm breaking a very serious rule in the old boys' club. I have no choice. I must speak from what my conscience compels me to say. And what I am saying is: we are adults and we have a right to speak. Not only a right but a responsibility."