Bishop sorry for ‘missed opportunity’

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Norway’s Catholic Bishop Bernt Eidsvig stopped short of criticizing Pope Benedict XVI, but said on national television during the Easter holidays that he thinks the Vatican “missed an opportunity” to ease tensions over recent charges of sexual assault and pedophilia. He has come out strongly for a need to deal firmly and openly with such assaults, and to call in the authorities when needed.

Bishop Bernt Eidsvig PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

Eidsvig, appearing on the nightly newscast of Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), acknowledged that the pope didn’t mention the assaults or the controversy surrounding them when addressing the masses in Rome over the weekend. Asked whether he was disappointed, Eidsvig said he thought the church “missed an opportunity” to address the issue.

Disappointment in the pope and the Vatican is spreading all over Europe, not least because of reports the pope himself failed to take action against implicated priests and because of the church’s silence over the years. Indignation and criticism also have arisen over other Vatican officials’ vigorous defense of the pope, with some equating reports of the assaults to mere “slander.”

Eidsvig also defended the pope during a pre-Easter mass at St Olav’s Church in Oslo, but candidly admitted that he has never experienced such a difficult time during his “28 years in the church’s service,” and said he believed other priests felt the same.

‘Collective shame’
The many charges now confronting the church, he said in his sermon, “can’t avoid damaging us,” he said, adding that it’s only right the priests “feel a collective shame over what some of our colleagues have done and others have hushed up.”

Eidsvig cautioned his colleagues against taking on a feeling of “collective guilt,” and urged priests to be “brave and righteous” and do “all we can” to prevent new assaults.

He noted that no one “in the history of the church” has had “permission” to assault children or minors, and “therefore these incidents, with some extreme exceptions,” have  always occurred in “darkness and in secrecy.” He conceded that “it has been a problem for us to believe that priests … can do such things, and in many cases this has led to silence and denial. It’s not difficult to understand why, but we know too much to excuse ourselves.”

Handling cases ‘professionally’
Eidsvig also claimed, however, that the media “is impatient,” and has often “drawn the conclusion that the church systematically denies the phenomenon and covers its tracks.” He said the pope “very unfairly” has been accused of this. Eidsvig claimed the pope “more than any of his predecessors” has tried to “clean up and improve routines in these types of cases.”

Eidsvig claimed a report on NRK Radio late last month that the church didn’t see a reason to investigate cases of assault was “misleading.” He said that in Norway, any case of sexual assault by priests or church officials “will be handled professionally” and by an ethics council. He said legal or medical assistance will be called in when needed, and any cases considered punishable will be reported to the authorities.

He said two cases from the 1950s have been reported involving priests now deceased, and he couldn’t see a need to open a new investigation after 50 years. The victim’s “needs and wishes” have been followed up, he claimed, and “should indicate that we take complaints and assaults very seriously.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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