The National Catholic Review
Andrew M. Greeley

Feb. 27, 2004, was a bad day for the bishops of the United States. They received little credit from the media or victims’ groups for the study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the prevalence and incidence of sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic clergy during the last half-century. The bishops’ own National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People issued a scathing report on the Causes and Context of the Current Crisis that placed the problem squarely in the hierarchial culture that created it—where it belongs.

 

The John Jay report was an objective and professional effort to get at the facts of the abuse. Despite the possibility of underreporting by certain dioceses and the chance that more abuse cases may yet emerge, there is little to fault in the John Jay report. It is shocking that more than 10,000 young people have been abused by over 4,000 priests during the last half-century. Yet, given the phenomenon of sexual abuse worldwide and in contemporary U.S. culture, an offense rate of 4 percent among priests may not be statistically excessive when compared with other groups that work with children and young people. Edward Laumann, Robert Michael and others, in Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (1994), report that 17 percent of Americans (equal for both genders) were abused before puberty, by men and women equally. (In a lapse of professionalism, the John Jay report did not cite the Laumann-Michael study.)

Those who have blamed the abuse on celibacy now must face the fact that most celibates are not abusers. Those who blame it on homosexuality must face the fact that most gay priests are not abusers either. Neither hysterical faction, however, is likely to change its mind simply because of facts.

The church has been forced to this public accounting because of the reassignment of abusing priests to parishes and its harsh treatment of victims. Sexual abuse will occur despite every effort to prevent it. The added crime is to encourage it by sending the abusers back into situations where they will have access to children, and it is an even worse crime to beat victims into the ground by the use of harsh legal tactics.

This behavior has created the worst crisis in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, a crisis that will not go away for a long time. The National Review Board report analyzes in rich detail the chancery office culture that caused the crisis—avoid scandal, protect fellow priests, give erring brothers another chance, forgive sin, protect the church from scandal, avoid costly litigation, punish those who claim that abuse has occurred, cite reports from psychiatrists that the abuser can safely be reassigned, establish procedures that priests on your staff can control, deny even to yourself that any abuse has occurred.

Those of us who have fought the chancery office culture know it all too well, and are familiar with its arrogant assumption that it knows the truth and is doing the right thing, when patently it is not. Yet it is good to see it revealed as the sinful environment it was, and perhaps still is. The National Review Board is devastating in its critique of the advice provided to bishops by lawyers (both canon and civil), psychiatrists and psychiatric institutions, especially the last-named, which assured bishops that recidivism could be controlled. All of these co-conspirators surrounded the bishop with the advice he wanted to hear and not the warnings he did not want to hear. “The shrinks and the lawyers and the cops cleared them,” was the mantra of many priests who were in denial about the abuse problem. (Many of them still are.)

The National Review Board suggested that there must be “consequences” for bishops who engaged in these criminal and sinful acts. I would add that there must be consequences too for their staff members who supported such crimes. It is simply unacceptable that lawyers who engaged in hardball tactics against victims and their families should still serve in chancery offices. I would also add that those men who were appointed as bishops or promoted to higher office after sanctioning reassignment and tough legal stands (although the Vatican should have known about their past), ought to be replaced. Unless the hierarchy cleans its own house, it will never again achieve credibility.

Among the solutions the National Review Board recommends is that the laity participate in the selection of bishops. Such a strategy would restore the norms of Pope Leo the Great and Pope Gregory the Great, who ordered that bishops should be selected by the priests of a diocese and accepted by its people. As long as a bishop can be imposed without the consent of the priests and people, thus promoting the kind of bishop who created the abuse crisis, I do not see how credibility can be restored.

The National Review Board is a group of very tough men and women. Normally when bishops select laypeople to serve on committees, they choose their own, the kind of people who will be docile and respectful. Bishop Wilton Gregory, in my judgment the hero of this story, broke the rules and chose the members of the board, for which many of his colleagues will never forgive him. I have to wonder whether the board has a future. Its honesty and integrity have won it few friends among the bishops. I expect we will see attempts to abolish it or to replace it with more compliant members.

Despite the usefulness of the John Jay report and the candor of the National Review Board, I am troubled about the future. Rome is reportedly uneasy about the “zero tolerance” policy (which is essential to reassure the laity). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has yet to act on most of the cases sent to it. In one instance it ordered a priest reassigned. It is not clear to me that Rome “gets it” even now. The three smooth, polished archbishops on the podium at the National Press Club the day the reports were released did not seem to get it either. They did not appear to realize how deep the crisis of credibility is or to display either guilt or grief over what has happened.

Other members of the hierarchy apparently do not understand that they must be silent for a long time and listen. Those who think they can now “move beyond” the sexual abuse crisis deceive themselves, a tendency that seems to come with the purple buttons. I see no likelihood that the bishops responsible for the problem and their loyal staff members will resign or be removed. The notion that laypeople should participate in the selection of their bishops (despite Gregory and Leo the Great) is no more likely to become practice than that the Cubs will win the World Series.

The crisis goes on, and the credibility of our leaders—a precious resource for all Catholics—will, I fear, continue to decline.

The Rev. Andrew M. Greeley is professor of social sciences at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona and research associate at the National Opinion Research center at the University of Chicago. His two new books, P

Comments

Jim Conniff | 3/18/2004 - 8:36pm
You've covered all the bases, Andy, except for the ONE base necessary to keep this shameful history of abuse or worse from happening again. That base is simple honesty on the part of those whose enabling misbehavior let it happen. Simple honesty will require them to propose a foolproof system of annual line-item accounting for where every last dime contributed by the laity goes, and that they publish such an annual audit in full detail so that every trusting soul in the pews has easy access to such crucial information.
Marc Giaquinto | 3/14/2004 - 7:55pm
I would agree in large part with the bulk of Andrew Greeley’s article except for the following two points:

Fr. Greeley said: “…. restore the norms of Pope Leo the Great and Pope Gregory the Great, who ordered that bishops should be selected by the priests of a diocese and accepted by its people. As long as a bishop can be imposed without the consent of the priests and people, thus promoting the kind of bishop who created the abuse crisis, I do not see how credibility can be restored.”

Fr. Greeley here perpetuates some misconceptions, - that incompetence and a kind of corporate irresponsibility cannot exist within the community of priests or laity, while competent Episcopacy is an oxymoron.

“ I am troubled about the future. Rome is reportedly uneasy about the “zero tolerance” policy (which is essential to reassure the laity). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has yet to act on most of the cases sent to it. In one instance it ordered a priest reassigned. It is not clear to me that Rome “gets it” even now.”

Fr. Greeley here fails to touch on the fair trial, due process system currently in use here nationally and internationally. I’m sure he doesn’t favor a “ sentencing first, trial later ” system of justice. Please explain. For many years in the U.S., and on many issues, Catholics have often complained about Vatican intrusion, now, right away we want action from Rome. I’m sure he’s not advocating it should have started with a Martha Stewart type trial for the former Archbishop of Milwaukee.

Hal Albergo | 3/25/2004 - 2:43pm
In the article (March 22nd), " A Bad Day for the Bishops" by Rev. Andrew M. Greeley , the author states "Unless the hierachy cleans its own house, it will never again achieve credibility"

The word of God from the new testament (Romans chapter 12, verse 2) provides us direction in saying :"Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of the mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, what is pleasing and perfect"

Mona Villarrubia | 3/14/2004 - 3:10pm
I agree with Rev. Greeley, Bishop Gregory is a hero in our church at a very difficult time; I, too, applaud Bishop Gregory's courage and commitment to change. In responding to the two reports released last week, Gregory described these terrible events as history. And to ensure it does not happen again, Gregory says that the bishops "have put in place a comprehensive response to abuse of minors by clergy that includes making our church institutions the safest of environments for children and young people [and] keeping from ministry anyone who would harm the young." These are laudable goals, but I believe, still shortsighted. And despite Bishop Gregory's obvious sincerity, it seems clear, as Greeley points out, that neither Rome nor the American hierarchy "get it" yet.

Rev. Greeley suggests one solution to the credibility crisis of our bishops is a return to an ancient practice of involving the laity in the selection of bishops. An excellent suggestion with an historical precedent. However, a more pressing concern, I believe, as a victim myself and as member of SNAP, is that the bishops release the names of the priests who have been accused of abuse. I wish I could be comforted by the report that 700 abusive priests and deacons have been removed from active ministry since January 2002. But where are they? Who are they? This issue isn't history; these abusive priests are not history. They are alive and well, out in the general community, still claiming their status as priests; very few have been laicised. All they have to do is move to another area and their anonymity is guaranteed, once again. They can volunteer to help an over-burdened pastor with hearing confessions or assisting on over-night Confirmation retreats. What is to stop them? The pastor won't have a list of names any more than the parents will. So these priests can molest and rape our children and do so while wearing a Roman collar. This is not my idea of a safe environment for our children. Taking them out of "parish ministry" does not take them out of the priesthood. It is tantamount to just moving them around yet again.

Bishop Gregory won't release the list of names of the accused; some of the accused might be innocent so they deserve protection. There is merit to that argument. So I'll amend my request: give us the names of those against whom the allegations have been deemed credible, those who have been removed from active ministry or forcibly retired because of these allegations. Can we have those names, at least? Pastors, principals, and parents all deserve to have this information so that the "safe environment" Bishop Gregory is committed to for our children can truly exist in the Catholic community and in the general community.

As Greeley pointed out, "Those who think they can now “move beyond” the sexual abuse crisis deceive themselves.." Certain things must change before we can claim, with Bishop Gregory, that this crisis is history. I concur with Greeley that bishops and their staff members who knowingly reassigned predator priests should tender their resignations and that the laity should demand representation in the process of the selection bishops. I would add that the names of priests credibly accused of sexually assaulting minors should be made available to the Catholic community and that financial support of the Church should be withheld by the laity until these real changes take place.

Charles E. Zech | 2/9/2007 - 12:43pm
Thank you for the recent series of articles on the report by John Jay College (3/22).

As excellent as those articles were, like much of the information contained in the secular press, they failed to analyze fully the financial data collected by the researchers and neglected to comment on the report’s shortcomings in the financial area or on the financial impact on the dioceses.

The John Jay Report calculates the total cost of the scandal thus far as $573 million ($237 million has not been covered by insurance). By its own admission, the report seriously understates the extent of the financial impact because it fails to include recent expensive settlements like those in the Archdiocese of Boston, as well as potential future settlements from the more than 1,000 pending legal cases for which cost figures are not yet available.

But there are other causes for the underestimation of the financial impact. The report considers only the abuse of minors under age 18. But the press has reported on a number of abuse settlements involving young men (frequently seminarians), which would inflate the cost figures. More significantly, fully 14 percent of the dioceses and religious orders failed to report any financial figures at all for the John Jay Report. In addition, other dioceses reported only partial figures: 40 percent failed to provide data on the cost for priest treatment expenses, 38 percent gave no data on attorney’s fees, and 20 percent failed to provide complete cost figures for victim compensation. It is likely that the total cost of the scandal to the dioceses, even after insurance payouts, will exceed one billion dollars.

Unfortunately, many bishops are stonewalling on the financial impact of the scandal. In an attempt to deflect criticism, a number have issued statements to the effect, “Diocesan payments with respect to the clergy abuse scandal came from investment income, not parishioner contributions.” The kindest term for this rhetoric is ingenious. Bishops understand that the ultimate source of all diocesan investment wealth comes from the contributions or bequests of previous generations of Catholics. Do the bishops honestly believe that it was the intention of those parishioners that their contributions and bequests (and the investment return earned on them) be used for clergy abuse costs, typically with no transparency or accountability?

Finally, both bishops and parishioners need to understand that the real financial cost of the scandal is not so much in the funds expended, but rather in the important uses to which these funds could have been employed, but for which they were not available. As a consequence of the financial costs of the scandal, we have fewer (and more poorly funded) diocesan programs, including those that reach out to the most needy. The underfunded deferred maintenance in our parishes is a ticking financial time bomb. And I am sure there is no need to remind anyone of the scandalously low salaries paid to our parochial school teachers and other dedicated lay personnel. The billion-dollar payout could certainly have been put to better use!

The extent of the abuse is enormous. But its financial impact has only begun to be felt.

Joseph A. Califano Jr. | 2/9/2007 - 11:01am
I believe the reports of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the National Review Board set up by the bishops grossly underestimate the percentage of priests accused of sexual abuse who were involved with alcohol or other drugs (3/22). The report notes that 19 percent of accused priests had substance abuse problems, but only 9 percent used drugs or alcohol during their acts of abuse.

The reality is almost certainly many times that 9 percent number. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has done extensive analyses of national data sets that reveal that alcohol or drugs are involved in more than 70 percent of child abuse cases, the overwhelming proportion of rapes (e.g., 90 percent of college rapes) and most cases of incest. Alcohol is the most frequently implicated disinhibiting culprit in all forms of sexual abuse. I believe the studies commissioned by the bishops probably relied on faulty memories or records that did not include any reference to alcohol or substance abuse (a common omission in medical and criminal records until recently).

The bishops would be wise to educate their clergy about substance abuse and be particularly sensitive about the danger of sexual misconduct by priests who suffer from alcohol or drug problems.

Jim Conniff | 3/18/2004 - 8:36pm
You've covered all the bases, Andy, except for the ONE base necessary to keep this shameful history of abuse or worse from happening again. That base is simple honesty on the part of those whose enabling misbehavior let it happen. Simple honesty will require them to propose a foolproof system of annual line-item accounting for where every last dime contributed by the laity goes, and that they publish such an annual audit in full detail so that every trusting soul in the pews has easy access to such crucial information.
Marc Giaquinto | 3/14/2004 - 7:55pm
I would agree in large part with the bulk of Andrew Greeley’s article except for the following two points:

Fr. Greeley said: “…. restore the norms of Pope Leo the Great and Pope Gregory the Great, who ordered that bishops should be selected by the priests of a diocese and accepted by its people. As long as a bishop can be imposed without the consent of the priests and people, thus promoting the kind of bishop who created the abuse crisis, I do not see how credibility can be restored.”

Fr. Greeley here perpetuates some misconceptions, - that incompetence and a kind of corporate irresponsibility cannot exist within the community of priests or laity, while competent Episcopacy is an oxymoron.

“ I am troubled about the future. Rome is reportedly uneasy about the “zero tolerance” policy (which is essential to reassure the laity). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has yet to act on most of the cases sent to it. In one instance it ordered a priest reassigned. It is not clear to me that Rome “gets it” even now.”

Fr. Greeley here fails to touch on the fair trial, due process system currently in use here nationally and internationally. I’m sure he doesn’t favor a “ sentencing first, trial later ” system of justice. Please explain. For many years in the U.S., and on many issues, Catholics have often complained about Vatican intrusion, now, right away we want action from Rome. I’m sure he’s not advocating it should have started with a Martha Stewart type trial for the former Archbishop of Milwaukee.

Hal Albergo | 3/25/2004 - 2:43pm
In the article (March 22nd), " A Bad Day for the Bishops" by Rev. Andrew M. Greeley , the author states "Unless the hierachy cleans its own house, it will never again achieve credibility"

The word of God from the new testament (Romans chapter 12, verse 2) provides us direction in saying :"Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of the mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, what is pleasing and perfect"

Mona Villarrubia | 3/14/2004 - 3:10pm
I agree with Rev. Greeley, Bishop Gregory is a hero in our church at a very difficult time; I, too, applaud Bishop Gregory's courage and commitment to change. In responding to the two reports released last week, Gregory described these terrible events as history. And to ensure it does not happen again, Gregory says that the bishops "have put in place a comprehensive response to abuse of minors by clergy that includes making our church institutions the safest of environments for children and young people [and] keeping from ministry anyone who would harm the young." These are laudable goals, but I believe, still shortsighted. And despite Bishop Gregory's obvious sincerity, it seems clear, as Greeley points out, that neither Rome nor the American hierarchy "get it" yet.

Rev. Greeley suggests one solution to the credibility crisis of our bishops is a return to an ancient practice of involving the laity in the selection of bishops. An excellent suggestion with an historical precedent. However, a more pressing concern, I believe, as a victim myself and as member of SNAP, is that the bishops release the names of the priests who have been accused of abuse. I wish I could be comforted by the report that 700 abusive priests and deacons have been removed from active ministry since January 2002. But where are they? Who are they? This issue isn't history; these abusive priests are not history. They are alive and well, out in the general community, still claiming their status as priests; very few have been laicised. All they have to do is move to another area and their anonymity is guaranteed, once again. They can volunteer to help an over-burdened pastor with hearing confessions or assisting on over-night Confirmation retreats. What is to stop them? The pastor won't have a list of names any more than the parents will. So these priests can molest and rape our children and do so while wearing a Roman collar. This is not my idea of a safe environment for our children. Taking them out of "parish ministry" does not take them out of the priesthood. It is tantamount to just moving them around yet again.

Bishop Gregory won't release the list of names of the accused; some of the accused might be innocent so they deserve protection. There is merit to that argument. So I'll amend my request: give us the names of those against whom the allegations have been deemed credible, those who have been removed from active ministry or forcibly retired because of these allegations. Can we have those names, at least? Pastors, principals, and parents all deserve to have this information so that the "safe environment" Bishop Gregory is committed to for our children can truly exist in the Catholic community and in the general community.

As Greeley pointed out, "Those who think they can now “move beyond” the sexual abuse crisis deceive themselves.." Certain things must change before we can claim, with Bishop Gregory, that this crisis is history. I concur with Greeley that bishops and their staff members who knowingly reassigned predator priests should tender their resignations and that the laity should demand representation in the process of the selection bishops. I would add that the names of priests credibly accused of sexually assaulting minors should be made available to the Catholic community and that financial support of the Church should be withheld by the laity until these real changes take place.