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Can the Catholic Church Reform From Within?

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The short answer is “No, it cannot. That’s been tried, and it didn’t work.” Sarah Jones writes in the New Republic:

The numbers alone are staggering: 1,000 victims, 300 priests. On Tuesday, to collective horror, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the results of its grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses. The report spans all but one of the state’s dioceses and documents abuse that goes back decades. “There have been other reports about child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church,” the report begins. “But not on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: It happened everywhere.”

Tale after tale of unimaginable exploitation and cruelty make up the grand jury report. One priest tried to tie altar boys up with rope. That same priest also belonged to a child porn ring with other priests. In a detail that reads like a fever dream, clergy gave victims large gold crucifix necklaces, which marked the children as prey to other members of the ring. One priest collected trophies of urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood from female victims. Another impregnated a minor and urged her to get an abortion.

Throughout it all, the church stumbled over itself to protect its priests and its reputation. In 1996, the Pittsburgh diocese received a report that one priest had been repeatedly accused of “sexual impropriety”—he remained a priest until 2004. When dozens of parents complained that a different priest had inappropriately touched and ogled their naked sons at a Catholic school, the diocese removed him from the school, but issued him a letter of good standing in 2014 that denied that there had ever been any report of wrongdoing.

What happened in Pennsylvania is similar to what infamously occurred in the archdiocese of Boston, where victims were bribed into silence and accused priests were transferred to new parishes. What happened in Pennsylvania and Boston is similar again to what happened on the island of Guam, where there are 200 clergy sex abuse cases for a population of under 160,000 people and where the archbishop himself stood accused of rape. Other clergy scandals are unfolding in the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, New York; in Baltimore, Maryland; in Chicago, Illinois; in the countries of Ireland, Poland, Argentina, Australia, and Paraguay. The scandal is as universal as the church.

At this point, what could the church possibly do to cleanse itself in the eyes of its congregants and the world? And if the church cannot police itself, is there anything outside authorities can do to intervene?


The church’s secrecy is a repeating fact throughout the Pennsylvania grand jury’s narrative of predation. While dioceses did take some complaints seriously and removed priests from ministry, it’s clear that accused priests did not consistently face justice from their own church. Instead, dioceses shuffled priests from parish to parish. The report implicates some prelates: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as the bishop of Pittsburgh before becoming archbishop of Washington, D.C., repeatedly allowed accused priests to remain in ministry, usually at the recommendation of the church’s own treatment centers for abusive priests.

How deep does the problem go? The sheer size of the Catholic Church means it’s difficult to know the extent of clerical abuse. In recent years, however, church officials have made efforts to provide a systematic approach to oversight and accountability. The Dallas charter, first created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018, requires dioceses to publicize procedures for reporting abuse and to create review boards for investigating claims—boards that will include lay people as well as clergy. It further orders dioceses to “demonstrate a sincere commitment” to the “spiritual and emotional well-being” of victims and forbids dioceses from entering settlements that require confidentiality from victims unless it’s at a victim’s request.

The most important documents to emerge from the charter include two reports commissioned by the church in conjunction with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first, released in 2003, examined the church’s abuse record from 1950 to 2002; the second, released in 2011, examined the “causes and context” of Catholic clergy abuse, and says the absence of “human formation” courses at Catholic seminaries contributed to abuse. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more. The article concludes:

. . . On Thursday, two full days after the grand jury report broke, the Vatican released a six-sentence statement about the report’s findings. Lessons must be learned, said the Holy See; abuse is “morally reprehensible.” It urged accountability, but did not explain how it planned to achieve that goal. Meanwhile, Pope Francis’s current itinerary for an upcoming visit to Ireland lacks a visit with victims of clergy abuse. Victims and faithful Catholics alike must then hope and trust that the church’s current procedures are enough to prevent future outbreaks of abuse—that the Vatican takes the problem seriously, though its prelates and even the pope either contribute to the problem or respond tepidly to its moral and criminal outrages.

One of the most disturbing details of the Pennsylvania report did not describe the abuse of children. “Abuse complaints were kept locked up in a ‘secret archive.’ That is not our word, but theirs; the church’s Code of Canon Law specifically requires the diocese to maintain such an archive,” the report states. “Only the bishop can have the key.”

 

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2018 at 11:50 am

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