Commentary: Catholic Church needs to confess episodes of sexual abuse
By Gene Kemmeter
When will the Catholic Church finally step forward and identify all cases of sexual abuse within its dioceses in the United States and around the world?
Several weeks ago, the issue sprang back into the news when a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed the abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of priests over decades. Since then, five states, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico and New York, have said they will investigate sex abuse by Catholic priests in their state and asked local dioceses for their records.
Incidents of abuse have existed for decades, but they began to be publicly identified in the 1980s. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops received a 92-page document from a committee in 1985, warning them about pending cases and advising them to defend victims and be honest with the public. The bishops ignored the report and carried on as usual.
Incidents continued to be reported. But in 2002, a judge ordered Boston Cardinal Bernard Law to turn over more than 10,000 pages of records from the Boston Archdiocese after multiple incidents regarding several priests came to light.
The Boston Globe newspaper used those records to develop an extensive series on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese, which won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Those reports were later used as the basis of the movie, “Spotlight,” which won the Best Picture Academy Award for 2015.
Thousands of victims of clergy abuse around the world came forward after the Boston reports and sued the dioceses where the abuse occurred, resulting in settlements of hundreds of millions of dollars. Dioceses declared bankruptcy over payments for pedophilia cases, including Milwaukee; Tucson, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; and Davenport, Iowa. Religious orders also declared bankruptcy.
Abuse of a child causes unfathomable problems to that child that money and counseling alone can’t solve. Children have had to bear additional burdens of telling their stories to adults who deny the offense, condemn the accuser, offer payment for the accuser’s silence, hire the best lawyers, go to settlement and maybe apologize for those who were “harmed.”
The Catholic Church needs to acknowledge its “top down” management has been responsible for the problems of the past and work to be more open in reporting the incidents and taking action to combat them.
As with most scandals, greater problems come after the act has been committed, when people begin to cover up the incidents and deny it ever occurred. But then enough evidence surfaces, along with the coverup, making the initial offense even worse.