The Editors and Thomas Reese on the Abuse Crisis

Two new pieces on the burgeoning sexual abuse crisis are now up on our Web site. First, a Web-only analysis from Thomas J. Reese, S.J. of the Woodstock Theological Center (and former editor of America, of course) on what the European bishops can learn from the U.S. sexual abuse crisis.

The biggest miscalculation the American bishops made was to think that the crisis would pass in a few months. Hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass is a failed strategy. Unless they want this crisis to go on for years as it did in the United States, the European bishops need to be transparent and encourage victims to come forward now. Better to get all the bad news out as soon as possible than to give the appearance of attempting a cover-up.



American bishops also made the mistake of blaming the media, blaming the permissive culture and trying to down play clerical abuse by pointing out that there are 90,000 to 150,000 reported cases of child sexual abuse each year in the United States. While there is truth in all this, it is counterproductive for the bishops to make these arguments, which come across as excuses. Rather the bishops should condemn the abuse, apologize and put in place policies to make sure that children are safe. Nor is one apology enough. Like a husband who has been unfaithful to his wife, they must apologize, apologize, apologize.

Read "Taking Responsibility."

And from the editors, a call for institutional conversion that requires greater accountability, transparency and a more prominent role for the laity.

The shame associated with the abuse of children by Catholic priests is borne these days by all Catholics forced to explain to incredulous friends and acquaintances how this could have happened, how it could have gone on so long, how it could have been allowed to become so extensive—questions that still require a proper answer. Like a millstone around our necks, the scandal, year after endless year, drags us all down with it. How the church as the people of God respond to it should not be a question of loyalty to the pope nor even more demands for his resignation; it is a matter of restoring the church’s integrity as an institution and renewing the life of holiness for its members. It is a matter of corporate conversion.

It is clear we are no longer dealing with an “American problem.” We never were. This is a global crisis that requires a church-wide strategy. The whole church—from parish to diocese to Roman Curia—needs to respond with the resources and the urgency it demands.


Lay participation in church governance is a conciliar value more honored in the breach than in the practice. That is no longer acceptable. The faithful must insist that parish and diocesan pastoral councils be activated and that they be given greater authority in canon law. Positions of real responsibility also need to be assigned to lay people and women religious for decision-making roles in church government. Humility should be a virtue for all to embrace just now, but especially for church leaders in seeking the guidance of the faithful.

Read "The Millstone."

Tim Reidy

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jim dick
8 years 9 months ago
"The shame associated with the abuse of children by Catholic priests is borne these days by all Catholics"
How true. I work the evening shift and this afternoon I am going to ask to have the later half of my shift off so I can go to Holy Thursday Mass. I can only hope no one asks why.
8 years 9 months ago
Before the European  bishops change their defensive tactics they must make sure that they do not have someone the likes of Catholic League Bill Donohue take over their 'message', US bishops used him as a secretly funded ally..something like the CIA funding  an Afhgan drug warlord.. Donohue with a 16 million dollar budget, a $350,000 salary [with an expence account] and a very loud mouth is a media attack dog.  Cable TV loves it when his 'everybody abuses too' shout is the Catholic answer to crime and cover-up. This W/E on CNN he answered the who else abuses question with,,, 'Rabbis'  phew.. See why cable 'TV loves' him???
Carolyn Disco
8 years 9 months ago
These are among the better comments on the scandal, with important points about blaming the media (copy Dolan, DiMarzio, Levada et al) and hunkering down. The knee-jerk anti-Catholicism charge is a staple that won't fly. I appreciate the strong wording in the editorial and Reese's column.
But, RE: ''Rather the bishops should condemn the abuse, apologize and put in place policies to make sure that children are safe.''
That's the easy part, condemning the abuse, parking the problem exclusively (or almost) on the priests.
As to putting policies in place to protect children, how meaningful are they as now bishops quietly return accused priests to ministry? See yesterday's report on NPR, “US bishops quietly reinstate accused priests” at  A civil jury thought 9-3 a priest is guilty but could not agree whether the diocese knew, and a settlement was reached. He is now in ministry. About a dozen similar cases are identified.
In the NPR report, Justice Anne Burke complains of returned secrecy. You bet.
daisy swadesh
8 years 9 months ago
I'm a survivor of incest: Child molestation is a tragedy for all. And, as a transgenerational trauma it needs extended healing. One step is to consider the origins of molestation in the Catholic Church. A Letter to the Editor of NCR quoting St. John Chrysostom (4th c. bishop of Antioch) gives important insights (See April 8, 2002, titled Their Little Game). But, as I thought about it later, I realized that this didn't start with the Church or even with the Roman Empire, but probably with the beginnings of slavery. When an adult has exploitative power over children but no personal commitment to protect or care for them, the adult might do anything. And to think how many early Christians were slaves-survivors, and some, perpetuators of what was done to them!
I've come to terms with the complex issue of healing. The problem in the Church is that for so many centuries no one knew what to do when historically there was no outside support to do so. But the time has now come when it's possible. Ending an entrenched tradition of silence, denial and cover-up is hard for everyone. It needs firmness, insistence-and forgiveness. As for the media, they need to ask what they can do to heal, not just bash. (How easy it is to criticise and do nothing.
Pearce Shea
8 years 9 months ago
As the NPR piece itself points out, the Church also takes into account the rights of the priest. The workings of the tribunal are kept largely secret because accusations of the sort that attend this kind of thing are generally lurid and can easily ruin the accused. You'll note, for example, that most colleges have a similar policy when it comes to cases of "sexual misconduct" - the idea here is that someone is innocent until proven guilty.
I also think the line of argument that a priest that has been accused, much less arrested, for some instance of abuse ought to be forever barred from ministry is not just unfair, but also I think it shows some ignorance of the huge amount of spurious accusations fly across the desk of a bishop each year. Some accusations bear enough weight (and as anyone familiar with the process can attest- it doesn't take much to at least warrant further investigation by the diocese) for further investigation. Most never get beyond that.
Finally, the last quote from Anne Burke in the article again seems to be about _accusations_. Part and parcel of our justice system's presumption of innocence is the idea that the details of accusations themselves are damaging to a person's reputation- thus the pains taken in picking a jury with little to no knowledge of the accusations, sordid stories in the press etc. I would not tear down the laws of man to go after the devil himself, let alone some bishops.


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