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April 9, 2010
‘This is not a Catholic problem. This is a world problem.’

The Catholic Church of today should not be blamed for the mishandling of the sexual scandals which took place in the past.

This is the response of Catholic Archbishop Robert Rivas to the recent allegations coming out of the Church in Ireland, where it was discovered that high ranking church officials ‘covered up’ incidents of sexual misconduct committed by members of the clergy.{{more}}

“There is nothing for the Church to cover up for any individual who has molested a child,” Archbishop Rivas told SEARCHLIGHT.

“We cannot judge whatever happened in the past,” he said.

“Today, I don’t think there is any Bishop who is just going to shift a priest to another place to cover up a story because they don’t want it to be public – I think those days are gone.”

“In many of the cases where alleged cover ups were used, the church was trying to protect the victim,” the Church official said.

Rivas, who heads the Catholic Dioceses of Barbados, St Vincent and St Lucia, added that the almost secretive manner in which the issue was dealt with in the past was done in keeping with the norm.

“That was the social acceptance of the day, it not only happened in the Church, but in society,” he explained.

“I am not saying it was the right way or that it was a good thing to do, and we are not saying that mistakes were not made where priests were moved from one place to another and there were horror stories,” he said.

Rivas downplayed the media’s recent reporting on the sex scandals involving members of the Catholic Church and on blaming the Pope for his alleged involvement in the cover up.

“This is not a Catholic problem. This is a world problem,” he said.

He said that the issue of celibacy among priests had nothing to do with the issue and that all religious groups had cases of sex scandals.

“But the whole thing is played out like it is a Catholic problem and Catholic priests are the bad guys, but in all religious denominations there are pedophiles,” Rivas told SEARCHLIGHT.

However, according to the Archbishop, since he was first appointed to this country in 1990, there have never been any serious allegations brought against any members of the clergy.

Rivas said that the church has since taken steps to deal with issues of sexual misconduct and pedophilia among the clergy.

One such example was the decision taken by the United States conference of Bishops to expel priests and deacons from their ministry, having been found guilty of committing a first offence.

“This was a radical approach, but it shows how serious the Church in America took to the issue,” Rivas explained.

On a regional level, the Bishops making up the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) have adopted a document which addresses the issue.

The document titled ‘Common Norms of the Antilles Episcopal Conference for Diocesan Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons’ outlines what action is to be taken in the event that any member of the clergy is accused of sexual misconduct, particularly against children.

“It is very clear the steps and measures that have to be taken if an offence was to take place,” Rivas said.

He referred to the setting up of a review board, which is the body charged with investigating these matters.

“If allegations are substantiated, the priest is suspended and removed from his ministry until the matter is cleared,” Rivas told SEARCHLIGHT.

The Archbishop of Castries further explained that the matter has to be reported to the Police and the process has to take its legal course.

“If it becomes a public crime where the person stands trial, then they do so, and if the person is proven guilty, then he has to face whatever legal consequences are of the land.”

In cases where the Diocese may be deemed too small, as in the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, which has just over 9000 Catholics, the appointment of a review board is then done in another territory, such as is the case with the existence of one in St Lucia.