Lucetta Scaraffia (Italian historian) recently wrote an article in L'Osservatore Romano "An Ancient and New Collaboration" [Una collaborazione antica e nuova] where she proposes that a greater presence and involvement of women in the Catholic Church would have either prevented some cases of clergy sex abuse with children or at least would have mitigated the cover-up and clandestine transfers of abusers by members of the hierarchy. She bases this on the assertion that women have a natural nurturing disposition which would protect kids from a possible Preying Mantis (a.k.a. a celibate cleric). Isolated priests are more likely to abuse children, she maintains, when there are no women religious around to keep an eye on things. Furthermore, once horrible and despicable deeds have been committed, women are less likely to keep silence as would men in the tradition of the 'good ole boys club.'
"in the sorrowing and shameful situations in which the molestation and sexual abuse by ecclesiastics on the young entrusted to them come to light, we can hypothesize that a greater, non-subordinated feminine presence would have been able to rip the veil of the code of masculine silence ["omertà"] that in the past often covered over in silence the denunciation of misdeeds. Indeed, women, religious and lay, would be by nature more inclined to the defense of the young in cases of sexual abuse, ridding the church of the evils that these guilty attitudes have procured for it."
While initially making sense, what Scaraffia overlooks are two important realities.
1. Most cases of child abuse, be it sexual or physical, occur in the home and committed by a family member. In many of these instances, the mother (female adult presence) knows or suspects the abuse is going on but out of credible fear for her own life and the lives of the children, keeps SILENT. This silence very often confuses the victims who erroneously presume their mother consented to the abuse done by their father, step-father, brother, uncle or mom's boyfriend.
2. Recent revelations in Canada, Ireland and elsewhere show WOMEN Religious being accused and found guilty of child abuse in orphanages and parochial schools. Ritual physical beatings and worse are not exclusive to male perpetrators. Like their male clerical counterparts, the abuses are by no means the majority, on the other hand, no one can claim abuse is reserved to males alone.
Hence, I fail to see how more nuns in ecclesiastical positions of power and authority or more women religious in the parish DE FACTO make our kids safer and ensure the prevention of covering-up and transfer of abusers. What will help is what Pope Benedict has already said to American, English and Irish bishops already: BE fathers to your priests and encourage your priests to BE fathers to their parishioners rather than being bureaucrats, business managers or politicians. When priesthood and episcopacy are primarily focused on running the plant and balancing the books rather than saving souls, trouble is not far behind. When more emphasis and effort is made by dioceses to implement programs and policies which make the church function more as a CORPORATION than as a family of faith, then misbehavior will sneak in under the radar screen.
The Church is indeed an institution and requires competent management but all too often, especially in the aftermath of the recent scandals, it seems as if some 'middle-management' personnel feel the need to use the same modus operandi of corporate America. We do not need to appease the lawyers, psychologists or sociologists. Bishops need the advise and counsel of reliable and orthodox theologians and canon lawyers but as spiritual FATHERS of the local church (diocese), they need to act as any good Dad to protect, teach, discipline and encourage their sons and daughters. Our clergy (bishops, priests and deacons alike) need to emulate SAINT JOSEPH, the spouse of the BVM rather than Perry Mason. The Catholic Church is older, bigger and more organic than Microsoft or IBM.
Married clergy and ordaining women are not a panacea that would prevent child or adolescent abuse. Even the presence of more women, lay or consecrated religious would not be the magic bullet. Solid training and forming (and POST ORDINATION CONTINUING FORMATION) of good priests and deacons is the only viable solution. Promoting the sense of spiritual FATHERHOOD rather than a business, managerial, corporate or political paradigm currently infecting some sections of the church. Holy Orders is a vocation not a career. Candidates who show difficulty with controlling their anger or sexuality (in addition to identifying those deficient in orthodox doctrine or reverent liturgical celebration) need to be removed. Lex orandi, lex credendi. BAD theology + BAD liturgy = BAD morality and vice versa. Conversely, when a seminary, cathedral and parish promote SOUND theology + REVERENT (valid & licit) liturgy = GOOD morality. Accounting and managerial skills are better found in the lay faithful if not among the permanent Diaconate (many of whom have excellent experience in the business world). Priests and Bishops, however, need the good advice and counsel of these competent collaborators, but we do not need to become them. We clergy need to take our spiritual fatherhood as seriously as did Saint Joseph and like him, remain close to Jesus and Mary while leaving much of the mundane business aspects to those better trained and qualified.