The following article appeared on http://www.dnaindia.com/india/.
Ahmedabad: Pope Benedict XVI begging for forgiveness from God and victims of sexual abuse, is his clearest acknowledgement ever, of the misgivings of Catholic priests that have been spoken about only in hushed tones so far.
DNA caught up with a few prominent Catholics from the city and asked them their take on the issue of child sexual abuse, whether punitive measures are needed against offenders and whether celibacy law of the Catholic Church needs reviewing.
Father Thomas Macwan, the Catholic Bishop of Ahmedabad diocese, feels that Gujarat has hardly been impacted by the scandal. "Things have been very smooth here. No cases of sexual abuse have been detected here, and hence the question of losing faith in the church does not arise," he asserts.
Fr Macwan advocates that a sexual offender be moved to an entirely different, unrelated field, so that his chances of committing the same offence again are minimised.
"For example, someone with accusations of child molestation could be made to work with senior citizens for some time. If made to live and work in a different and conducive environment, with the grace of God, such problems can surely be cured," he says.
Fr Macwan feels mandatory celibacy has little to do with sexual crimes, as the rates are not any different from those in other sections of society. "Celibacy is a very high virtue, essential for someone who wants to work for the betterment of society, as there would be far less personal disturbances," he says.
Father Fernand Durai, principal of the St Xavier's Loyola High School shares Fr Macwan's views on giving a second chance, but not on the issue of celibacy.
"There is nothing wrong in giving an offender a chance to reform himself. But as far as celibacy goes, that needs a revaluation, like everything else. Isee no necessary connection between sexual abstinence and child molestation, but then, nothing can remain constant in society. If the present hour demands a re-look, it should be considered," he remarks.
The Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Gujarat, Father Keith Abranches opines responsible behaviour is the need of the hour for our religious leaders. "We are, after all, looked up to by the masses as their leaders. However, they also need to remember that at the end of the day, a priest is also a human being," he says.
The same is the reason, he adds, why mandatory celibacy might need a second look. "The philosophy was evolved in the 12th century, and we have come a long way. This is not to say that sexual abstinence invariably leads to sexual crimes. But then, sexuality is present in each one of us. Instead of ignoring it, we might as well rethink the concept," he says.
"A crime is, after all, a crime, and even priests should be accountable for their actions. But, criminal action might take him away forever from the service of humanity. Ideally, we should strike a balance so that we punish a wrong-doer and yet not lose the person," he says.