It is wrong to think that paedophilia is widespread within the Catholic church because it is widespread in general worldwide and the Church is supposed to be clean and priests are accepting celibacy voluntarily, rape victim and activist Mary Dispenza told N1 as bishops were discussing the crimes at the Vatican Summit.
It is true that paedophilia is a problem all over the world, said Mary Dispenza, who was raped by a priest when she was seven.
“But the Pope has wrongly concluded that paedophilia is present in the Church because it is present everywhere in the world. That is a big mistake, as priests obligate themselves to cleanliness and celibacy and want to live that way,” she explained.
She said that the Church’s problem is also a culture of secrecy, cover-ups and the “genealogy of abuse which is carried over from one generation of priests to the next.”
“Their culture needs to be reexamined, and it should not simply be said that we are part of a larger culture where sexual abuse of children is the prevalent problem so it is also like that among priests,” she stressed.
The Vatican meeting is a huge event, she acknowledged.
“This morning the Pope said that if one more child is abused by a priest, he will immediately react. That is fantastic, and I hope that the bishops and cardinals will begin reporting crimes and seeking responsibility,” she said.
However, what happened to Dispenza belongs to a painful past and has to be addressed as well, she argued.
“At age seven, I was raped by a priest, it was the first parish he served after leaving the seminary. He kept moving from one parish to the next for the next 40 years,” Dispenza said.
It happened in a dark school hall where the priest played a film from a projector.
“He asked me if I wanted to sit in his lap. I agreed as I was taught that he was God. I was focused on the projector, and he put his hand in my panties and his finger into my vagina,” she said.
“The light within me was then extinguished,” she declared.
“He left, I washed my hands in the small bathroom and in that bathroom, I left the child within me,” the woman said.
Dispenza saw the priest again when she was in seventh grade. He was to help her with her Sacrament of Confirmation.
“I looked at him and I experienced that moment in which I told myself: That man has raped me,” she remembered, adding that she hated the fact that she had to go to him for the Sacrament.
Dispenza explained that she continued working for the Church and became a nun, but remained silent about what happened until she was 52.
“I didn’t want to remember it as I knew that if I face it I will lose something that I love, and I loved the Church. But at 52, I guess I was brave enough to come forward at a workshop on sexual abuse among the priesthood,” she explained.
“I woke up and said – this happened to me and I need to do something about it. In the meantime, I confronted the abuser, but he did not face any serious consequences,” she added, explaining that this is why she came to the summit in the Vatican to see how the Church will deal with predator priests, “and there is a lot of them.”
She suggested the website ‘bishop-accountability.org’, saying it contains a list of priests who were accused of abuses or cover-ups.
“We victims want all priests whose past abuses are proven to be thrown out of the clergy, as well as the bishops who covered it up, and there are still some of them today and they need to be held accountable,” she said.
The main advantage of the summit is that the matter is being discussed in a way in which it never has been before, she said.
“We need media, as they can focus light toward dark areas,” she said, mentioning the Academy Award-winning film ‘Spotlight’ which she said did just that. “That would have not happened without media. I can speak here as much as I want, but until you publish my words, they have no strength.”
“Those people need to face serious consequences, they cannot continue committing evil to children, while the Pope continues promising that ‘we will do something about it when the next case occurs’,” she argued, asking, “but what about your brothers, who are here today and who are guilty?”
Nevertheless, Dispenza said the summit did achieve some small changes.
“We are talking about it, people are finally getting angry about it.”
But she also said she thinks a lot of time is needed for it to be resolved.
“We survivors have not heard what we wanted to hear. We want to hear what the Pope will do today about the problems that exist within the clergy.”