[This is the first in a two-part series based on Crux’s interview with Bishop Kay Schmalhausen of Ayaviri, Peru].
ANAHEIM – Bishop Kay Schmalhausen of Ayaviri, Peru believes current punishments for both the crime of clerical sexual abuse (usually expulsion from the clerical state) and the cover-up are ineffective, and suggested harsher penalties including excommunication.
As a former member of a group whose founder has been charged with abuses of conscience, power and sexuality, Schmalhausen told Crux that some key questions need to be asked.
“What has been done so far with the perpetrators of such crimes? How is the damage to the victims, along with the scandal caused to the faithful of the Church and in the eyes of the world, being repaired? Is there even a minimum of proportionality and justice in the measures implemented so far?” he asked.
“Clearly the answer today seems to be no. The result is the indignation of many Catholics and non-Catholics,” he said, adding that the Church needs to admit “that faced with these new problems uncovered inside the Church, our criminal law was not, nor is it currently, ready to act.”
Ordained a priest with the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV) in 1989, Schmalhausen was appointed bishop of Ayaviri in 2006. In 2015, abuses perpetrated by the SCV’s founder and other high-ranking members, including the sexual abuse of several minors, were made public with the publication of the bombshell book, Half Monks, Half Soldiers, by journalists Pedro Salinas and Paola Ugaz.
Luis Fernando Figari, the Peruvian layman who founded the SCV in Lima in 1971, has since lost two appeals after being sanctioned by the Vatican and is barred from communicating with the group, nor can he return to Peru without permission from the group’s superior general, José David Correa.
Schmalhausen left the SCV in 2018, though he clarified that his exit from the community was not due to the revelation of the scandals, but after having made a lengthy process of prayer and discernment “with enormous suffering, but also a great peace.”
In his comments to Crux, Schmalhausen noted that for decades the Church has suffered from fresh abuse scandals, including North America, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Chile, Peru and beyond.
Using examples of abusers whose punishments he believes did not go far enough, Schmalhausen pointed to four recent cases:
• Marcial Maciel, a Mexican priest who founded the Legionaries of Christ and who was removed from active ministry by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 but was never defrocked.
• Ex-Father Fernando Karadima, Chile’s most notorious abuser, who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 after being found guilty of sexual abuse and defrocked by Pope Francis last year.
• Figari, who, though a layman, is currently awaiting new quarters after the community house he was living in was dissolved following a Vatican edict forbidding him from living with other members of the group. However, he has not been formally removed from the SCV.
• Theodore McCarrick, the former prelate and priest who, for many years, was a giant in the American Church, but who was recently defrocked after being found guilty of sexually abusing minors in 2018.
Though each of the four perpetrators were sanctioned, and some dismissed from the clerical state, “never have we ever heard any public manifesto of repentance or a request for forgiveness; only silence and their disappearance from the public scene,” Schmalhausen said, adding that victims and Catholic faithful “deserve something more as a measure of reparation.”
When it comes to Maciel, Karadima and McCarrick, though the latter two were removed from the priesthood, Schmalhausen said the move “doesn’t seem to repair anything either,” since, while considered a penalty, there are some clergy who can request voluntary dismissal from the priesthood “as a ‘grace’, not as a sanction.”
“Common sense warns there’s something that doesn’t add up,” he said, noting that the action is also problematic from the perspective of the laity, since the priest, bishop or cardinal who abused, while being removed from public life, will still enjoy access to the sacraments and other spiritual and material benefits of the Church.
Also a life in retirement as penance seems inconsequential, as “This is actually what many pensioners who reach a certain age do, and it is not at all a penalty but a natural rhythm of life,” Schmalhausen said, adding that he believes more drastic measures are necessary.
Schmalhausen said he found inspiration by reading the biblical passage in Chapter 5 of the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians, in which Paul chastises the Christian community in Corinth for failing to judge a man caught in incest.
After issuing a searing critique of the community’s failure to act, Paul orders the man to be excommunicated so that “his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus.”
“To what extent does our ecclesial situation resemble the aforementioned (passage)?” Schmalhausen asked, adding that in his view, when faced with the current abuse crisis the Church is “still unable to adequately judge the causes that are involved here. But it is very clear that it is time to wake up and engage in it.”
“Before the usurpation of the name of God, the enormous scandals that demean the face of Christ and his Church, and the irreparable damage so many victims have suffered, it would be a duty on our part to rethink the implementation of more proportionate and just penal measures,” he said, adding that method of excommunication employed by St Paul can be a “healthy remedy.”
He stressed that the measure would not just be a sanction against the perpetrator, but it should also constitute “a necessary penitential itinerary” for the abusers’ return to the Church which would include a public show of repentance and a public plea for forgiveness from both the victims and the wider Catholic community for the harm caused.
Though the measure would likely still be “insufficient,” Schmalhausen said he believes it is necessary given the rightful indignation of mass-goers “before our own inoperativeness and contradictions in our way of acting on these and other cases.” It is imperative, he said, for the Church to evaluate what it is doing poorly and to correct these shortcomings.
When it comes to cover-up, including the transfer of abusers from one parish to another, Schmalhausen said it has become obvious that civil justice is more proactive than the Church, which has sheltered abusers and allowed them to have access to other potential victims.
Civil criminal measures typically end up with the guilty party behind bars, while in the case of fellow bishops and cardinals, “the little we have seen is the acceptance of their resignation, as if it were plainly unknown that in a repetitive and almost systematic way they have caused with their procedures very serious spiritual and material damage,” he said.
“When we prelates have seriously failed in our ministerial obligations by harming third parties, we must assume the consequences and understand that we will be punished,” Schmalhausen said.
For bishops who have committed serious offenses, he suggested following measures already in place for priests in many areas. Namely, immediate removal from ministry and the delivery of evidence to civil justice.
“To raise this matter, I understand, it is very painful and perhaps it can create adverse reactions. But the questions will always be there: What do we call justice, where do we find fair proportionality between offences and sanctions, what does repair really mean?” he asked.
In his view, presenting a resignation at 75 or 80 – the typical age of retirement for bishops and cardinals, respectively – and having it accepted “neither in fact nor in law constitutes a sanction, even if one wants to interpret it that way.”
“It is worrying, then, that we are sending our faithful the wrong message: That our Church is not capable of doing justice or repairing the damage caused,” he said.