As I transition away from the Editor’s desk and into my new role with DeSales Media, I wish I had cheerier things to write about.
Unfortunately, the clergy sex abuse scandal that has gripped the Church for so many years continues to haunt us. The latest news details a Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania last week on sexual abuse in six dioceses there.
The text is horrible to read. It goes into detail about the abuse suffered by about 1,000 young people at the hands of approximately 300 priests over the past 70 years.
There is no excuse for anything that happened. The gross conduct of some of our priests was reprehensible. But the report also claims that some Church leaders went to great lengths to cover up the abuse and therefore to put more youngsters in harm’s way.
A few other states are now preparing to investigate dioceses in their own territories and so we will continue to live with the scandal and the horror that comes with such gross behavior. Doors will be slammed in the face of the Church’s efforts at evangelization.
This week’s meeting of families in Ireland and the papal visit to Dublin has been hijacked by the sexual abuse crisis. Regardless of what is said at this important gathering, it will be reported with the backdrop of a sex scandal.
The media could care less about the Church’s teaching and the Pope’s pronouncements about family life. The only question they want answered is what is the Church going to do about the sex abuse crisis.
To be fair, a grand jury report is not an indictment. It simply says that there is enough evidence to support further investigations.
Unfortunately, the great majority of the cases mentioned in the report cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations that allows indictments to be brought within a certain time frame of the crime has run its course. The recommendation of the grand jury is that the statute of limitations be eliminated for such crimes. That has severe legal liability but will be encouraged more and more in spite of the inherent dangers in such a proposal.
The greatest lesson we can learn about this scandal is that victims and survivors need to be heard. In trying to put a lid on scandal for the Church, we have stifled recovery for many. Real damage has been inflicted on individual people. No matter how unpleasant they are to hear, they must be heard.
We put our clergy on pedestals and couldn’t imagine they could be perpetrators of such crimes. That attitude has stopped, for sure. We fully appreciate that priests are people and they are subject to the same human condition that we all are.
Fortunately, the Diocese of Brooklyn immediately reacted when the scandals broke in 2002. In Brooklyn and Queens, victims and survivors are taken seriously. They are listened to. The incidents are immediately reported to the proper law enforcement authorities. The Diocese has been very tough on priests who have had credible charges brought against them.
It’s tough to find anything positive to say about this whole sordid affair within the Church. Hopefully, we can say that it will never happen again. Let’s hope that the rest of society will take the problem as seriously as the Church has. Sexual abuse of minors occurs throughout society and at least the Church has shown a resolve to try to eliminate it. Public school teachers unions and education authorities have sheltered abusive teachers for years. When will that grand jury be convened?