An extract from a commentary by Colin Tan with a similar title in the March 26, 2004 issue of The Straits Times:
"IT DOESN'T MATTER who is right or wrong when parents fight in front of their kids - the children suffer. The same principle applies to the patriarchs of the Roman Catholic Church and their flock.
"When parents quarrel publicly, children become anxious, feel helpless and may even feel the pressure to choose sides, say child psychologists. In the end, the children's faith in the family is shaken and this can cause them serious emotional damage in the long term.
"When an archbishop and a parish priest - both 'fathers' to their congregations - are forced to disagree publicly in court, the rest of the spiritual family is also 'damaged'. I don't claim to be a staunch Catholic, but the ongoing case of the Church and Joachim Kang has hit me on a personal level as much as any other Catholic out there."
I AGREE PARTIALLY with the sentiments expressed and hope too that this sad case will lead to a building up of faith.
However, this is not a fight between 'parents'. Yes, the archbishop and a parish priest are both 'fathers' to their congregations. But in the Catholic Church, all priests make vows of obedience. Archbishop Chia is Fr Kang's superior. They are not on the same level. IF there is a disagreement on how things are to be done (which doesn't contravene moral principles), a priest is supposed to obey his superior (such as the Archbishop or the Pope), PERIOD.
Regarding fodder for scandal-hungry media and ammunition for anyone hostile to the religion: don't these people always have something to throw at the Church -- be it things that happened hundreds of years ago or only recently, and be it truths, half-truths or even lies?
As for probable erosion of respect for priests: my respect for many priests in the Church has remained unchanged -- perhaps even increased with greater awareness of the kinds of temptations that they could go through. Besides, if among the twelve apostles that our Lord Jesus had hand-picked, one could betray him and another deny him three times, it's almost a sure thing that some among the 100-odd priests in Singapore could go astray some of the times. What matters is they must repent and return to Him.
i also sincerely believe that while Jesus wants us to forgive all sinners, He also wants us to reject all sins in no uncertain terms. We've been told so many times: Love the sinner, hate the sin.
When i first heard about Fr Kang's imminent trial last year, i prayed for him and my first reactions were thoughts of forgiveness. i felt that he should be excused for a moment of weakness. Afterall, he had served the Church for so many years!
Earlier in the week, however, i was quite concerned to read that our Archbishop had been cross-examined for more than five hours for taking one of his priests to task for numerous unauthorised transactions over a four-year period. Five hours of interrogation: isn't this too much? Four years of unauthorised transactions: Can this still be a momentary weakness?
Around the same time, when i searched for online information on the trial, i was quite shocked to read a blog entry by an apparently recently converted Catholic, claiming that Archbishop Chia is merely a pawn in our SM Lee's supposed vengeance against Fr Kang. This same person also claimed that according to Canon law, Fr Kang had done nothing wrong. Surely our archbishop won't subvert justice to persecute one of his flock to satisfy a political whim?!!!
i was quite troubled and knew not what to think. For several nights, i have been praying that God's truth and grace would prevail in this court trial.
On Thursday (third day of the trial, i think), did a Google search and found that according to Canon law (as documented in an online Catholic Encylopedia), priests are obliged to at least inform the Archbishop and even seek permission on what they do with church properties and monies, especially when large sums are involved. It is also highly undesirable that they should own any church property, let alone make a god-daughter an owner of a church property. (This was later confirmed by yesterday's S.T. reports of Archbishop Emeritus Gregory Yong's testimony in court.)
Fr Kang, according to some reports, is a civil lawyer and an expert in Canon law. If a swimming pool costing less than a hundred thousand dollars requires approval from the Archbishop, wouldn't the use of millions of dollars require even greater approval?
Finally, to quote some of the highlights of a National Review Board report commissioned by US bishops, as reproduced in the Catholic News (for the Sundays on March 14 and 21, 2004):
The National Review Board monitoring the US church response to clergy sexual abuse of minors released a 145-page report on the causes and context of that abuse over the past half-century.
Here are highlights of some of the main findings of that report, which was made public in Washington Feb 27.
Issues related to priests who sexually abused children included:
... cut ...
- Special issues of spiritual life for bishops and priests, since both the acts of abuse by priests and the failure of bishops to put an end to it were "grieviously sinful."
The report also said that in the case of too many bishops, their responses to allegations of abuse "were characterized by moral laxity, excessive leniency, insensitivity, secrecy and neglect."
Among issues it cited regarding bishops were:
- A failure to understand the nature and scope of the abuse and the harm it caused.
- A failure to respond adequately, to victims, pastorally or legally.
- Making unwarranted presumptions in favor of the priest when assessing allegations.
- A culture of clericalism that sought to protect the accused priest.
- Weaknesses in church law that made it difficult to inflict criminal penalties even when it was clear the priest violated church law.
- A culture of forgiveness that failed to recognize the horror of the abuse and the need to condemn it.
- An emphasis on secrecy and avoiding scandal "at all costs."
- Failure to report actions that were crimes in civil law to civil authorities.
- Over-reliance on the therapeutic model, depending on psychologists and pyschiatrists to "cure" offenders and make them fit to return to ministry.
- Over-reliance on attorneys, treating allegations as primarily a legal problem rather than one of pastoral and moral concern.
(See also Court gets glimpse of church assets, finances and Priest had wanted to build swimming pool in church.)
Last Sunday, while preaching the sermon for the 9.45am mass, Monsignor Lau said something to this effect several times, "I assure you! This court trial was not initiated by the Archbishop." He would not give more details though. Merely reminded us over and over again that we are not to judge. God alone, who can see into people's hearts, will be the fairest judge. A sad thing that had happened was a number of people had judged the Archbishop and the Church quite hastily and unfairly.
Personally, i've also wondered why this matter was not dealt with behind closed doors, perhaps with some censuring and even expulsion, etcetera.
However, my stand is this: If for some reason, the Church had to have this court trial, i can only put my trust in God that "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28). And I would give my full support to our Archbishop, the leader of our diocese, and all his priests -- in that order. Afterall, our trust in church authority (unless proven otherwise) is what really differentiates us Catholics from the Protestants, and a key reason why I have chosen to be a Catholic.
(See also The Original Sin.)