[Editor’s note: This is part two of Elise Harris’s conversation with Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Part one, in which Gudziak discussed Russia’s role in Ukraine and in ecumenical relations, appeared on Feb. 15.]
ROME – When representatives of Eastern Churches this week join a three-day anti-abuse summit convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican, many will bring with them the experience of living with war or violent persecution, traumas one leading Greek Catholic Bishop says increase the risk for abuse.
In an interview with Crux, Bishop Borys Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of Paris, said the clerical abuse scandals are the result of “a collapse of virtuous living,” which he said ought to be “the essence of the Christian life.” [Note: On Monday, the Vatican announced that Gudziak has been appointed the new head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia and elevated to the rank of archbishop.]
Manipulation and abuse of power are also part of the problem, he said, noting that while some progress has been made, “there is a long way to go.”
“There are still countries where both Church and society are in massive denial regarding [abuse] and analogous issues involving violence and psychological manipulation,” he said, noting that for the Eastern Catholic churches the situation is even more complex because many are located in areas of conflict.
Ukraine and the Middle East are at war, whereas other churches in Africa and Asia suffer persecution, he said, noting that both “demean human dignity.”
When violence becomes a normal part of life, “sexual abuse proliferates,” Gudziak said. As a result, he said, “Eastern Catholics will, unfortunately, have something to share now and in the future on this agonizing subject.”
Gudziak spoke ahead of a Feb. 21-24 summit on the protection of minors, called by Pope Francis to address the global clerical sex abuse crisis, which will include heads of all bishops’ conferences worldwide, the heads of Eastern Churches, and religious superiors and abuse survivors, among others.
Below are excerpts of Crux’s conversation with Bishop Borys Gudziak:
Crux: You recently participated in a seminar on the protection of minors led by Father Hans Zollner, a member of the organizing committee for the Feb. 21-24 summit. What were some of the big points made?
Gudziak: During the seminar, Father Zollner emphasized, and our community strongly experienced, the plight of the victims of sexual abuse. As a psychologist, theologian, and pastor, Father Zollner delved deeply into the issue of spiritual and human suffering caused by sexual abuse.
Our community was shocked by the devastating nature of the suffering that he described, and also by the statistics cited regarding the prevalence of sexual abuse in human society. Close to 10 percent of the population in the European Union have endured it. According to some estimates, half of the women and children in India have suffered sexual violence. A majority of refugee women and children coming to Europe from Africa and the Middle East have been sexually violated.
Yet statistics can lead to abstract thinking. It’s important to remember that each victim is a profoundly suffering person, a human being in need of a personal approach, of recognition, dignity, and solidarity.
Father Zollner spoke very pointedly about the fact that to adequately address this issue, profound moral reform – the courage to recognize and repent – is necessary. I believe that the abuse of minors reflects deeper issues about the morality of the clergy, of Catholics, and of human beings in general. It is an issue of a collapse of virtue and virtuous living, something that should be at the essence of the Christian life. It is also a question of the misuse of power, manipulation by people endowed with moral authority in the Church and otherwise. We are only starting to realize how widespread such manipulation and sexual abuse might be in the workplace, sports, in schools, and in the family.
To recover its moral authority, the Catholic Church needs to reach much deeper than merely safeguarding policies, although the latter are necessary and, in many parts of the world, still not in place. We must reflect critically upon who we are as Church, and who we should be. We need to return to the example of Christ, who gave up power to serve and save. He did not lord it over his disciples, much less manipulate or abuse them. To heal us, the Son of God became our victim. We need to return to the kenosis [“emptying”] of God.
This process has begun, but there is a long way to go. There are still countries where both Church and society are in massive denial regarding this and analogous issues involving violence and psychological manipulation.
The seminar took place just ahead of a summit on the protection of minors at the Vatican. Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches will participate. Will you be there?
All of the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches are expected to participate. His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, will represent our entire community.
How would you evaluate the awareness level of the issue in the Eastern Catholic world?
The Eastern Catholic world is diverse. In the U.S., Eastern Catholics are generally quite aware of this issue. However, in many Eastern European, Middle-Eastern, and particularly Asian countries we are at the early stage of the process and at the beginning of the crisis.
Is there a difference in how married clergy approach the issue?
According to specialists, some 90 percent of all sexual abuse occurs in the nuclear family or broader circle of relatives. Being married and having a family does not necessarily obviate the possibility of sexual abuse. We all need to be vigilant, practicing virtues and bridling passions, something at which much of our culture scoffs.
Sexual abuse is a profound moral pathology. Moral pathologies need to be addressed by moral means. We need holiness in the clergy and among the laity, holiness in the Church and society. It is scandalous when the call to sainthood – issued to every person – is so perverted by those who have a particular mandate to share that call, namely the clergy. A sin needs to be recognized, named, and repented. This is true for all walks of life: clergy and laity, married and unmarried, and celibate.
Clearly, married priests understand the danger of the abuse of minors in a special way, knowing that it could happen to their children. This should help them be in the forefront of fostering awareness of the issue.
What contribution do you think Eastern Catholics will bring to the February summit?
There are 23 Eastern Catholic Churches on six continents. It is not possible to speak of them in a generalizing way. I think that Eastern Catholics will be attentive at the summit and will share their experiences.
Many of them, particularly in the Middle East and in Ukraine, endure war. For others in Africa and Asia, it’s confessional persecution. War and persecution demean human dignity. In Ukraine, the Russian invasion and war have been ongoing for five years. Violence becomes a part of life and sexual abuse proliferates.
The Eastern Catholics will, unfortunately, have something to share now and in the future on this agonizing subject.