Bishops around U.S. respond with ‘sorrow’ to abuse report, vow to act

Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh addresses the media Aug. 14 at the pastoral center in Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Chuck Austin, Pittsburgh Catholic)  Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh addresses the media Aug. 14 at the pastoral center in Pittsburgh. (CNS photo/Chuck Austin, Pittsburgh Catholic)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a tweet, a U.S. bishop said he had spent the night reading a grand jury report detailing seven decades of child sex abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses and "it was like reading a horror book."

Unfortunately, it was not a fictional account, wrote Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville early Aug. 15, a day after the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General published the mammoth document of more than 1,300 pages detailing accounts of the rape of children, secrecy by church officials and some law enforcement failures over 70 years.

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"It is real and lives were destroyed and faith shattered," Bishop Stika tweeted.

Painfully aware of the anger Catholics are voicing, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said Aug. 16 that something must be done right away.

He joined at least a dozen or so prelates outside of Pennsylvania who, via Twitter, TV or in person, at Masses for the feast of the Assumption, took time to express the same sorrow and pain that lay Catholics have been feeling and expressing. But many bishops also spoke about the added layer of what to do about the pain of a shattered trust between shepherds and their angry and pain-stricken flock that many say they now must fix.

"This is extraordinarily painful, it is humiliating, it is nauseating," said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan during an interview with local CBS station WLNY in New York City. "This is a kick in the gut. I really worry about a loss of credibility, a loss of trust. There's no use denying it. We can't sugarcoat this. This is disastrous."

Painfully aware of the anger Catholics are voicing after the revelations out of Pennsylvania, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said Aug. 16 that something must be done right away.

"The clock is ticking for all of us in church leadership, Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us," said Cardinal O'Malley in a statement. "But I am not without hope and do not succumb to despondent acceptance that our failures cannot be corrected."

Transformation has to take place in the way the church prepares priests, "the way we exercise pastoral leadership and the way we cooperate with civil authorities; all these have to be consistently better than has been the case," he said, adding that "we remain shamed by these egregious failures to protect children and those who are vulnerable and affirm our commitment that these failures will never be repeated."

At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Cardinal Edwin F. O'Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, began a Mass on the feast of the Assumption Aug. 15 by making a brief reference to the developments.

"Mary, our patroness, has guided the church in America through many difficult moments," he said. "Today, yet another moment of trial is upon us, a very serious crisis which has brought many of our people to the point of despair and anger and even the loss of faith."

“The clock is ticking for all of us in church leadership, Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us.” 

He said he offered the Mass asking for Mary's intercession, so "that the bishops of our nation might accomplish a renewal of trust in the church and its leaders across the land."

"And no less I ask Mary's son, the Good Shepherd, for the graces of healing, reconciliation and justice for all the people of God among us, above all for those who have been abused and their families," he said.

The report by a Pennsylvania grand jury of 23 people said the investigation of almost two years identified more than 1,000 people who say they were abused by some 301 priests, many whom are now dead.

However, some living priests named in the report are disputing some of the information and claims in the document and challenged to have their names blacked out, or redacted. They will be heard by the courts in September. The grand jury said it was likely that more victims as well as perpetrators were not identified in the months-long investigation.

Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns told The Dallas Morning News he felt "sick" reading the accounts, "knowing that this occurred at the hands of men that you knew and even worked side by side with adds to a dimension of disbelief."

Bishop Burns grew up in Pittsburgh and knew some of those named in the report, The Dallas Morning News article said.

Recalling one of the priests named in the report, Bishop Burns told the newspaper that the priest "was domineering, he was extremely bossy, he did not possess a shepherd's heart, from my perspective," adding that "now I have come to recognize that he not only had a different view of priesthood, he just had a double life.

But like others, he never suspected the horrors that were taking place.

Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron said in an Aug. 13 statement, before the report became public, that it was disheartening, "for us once again to come face-to-face with moral failures in the priesthood, especially among us bishops."

"These sins are marks of shame upon the church," he said.

Though there may be the temptation to despair and think that change is not possible, "reform can only happen when hope lives," he said.

"We must move forward with the conviction that God will not abandon his church. He wants her purified, cleansed of these sins and brought to new life," he said.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez urged prayers during the feast of the Assumption for abuse victims.

"We are aware that this is a sad and confusing time for the church in this country," he said in his homily. "In recent days and weeks, we have heard new revelations about sin and abuse in the church. This is a time now for prayer and repentance and a time for examining our conscience, especially for those of us who are bishops and priests."

Bishop Michael F. Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, said in an Aug. 14 statement that it's time to hold accountable "morally and legally" those who allowed the abuse in Pennsylvania to occur, as well as those who hid alleged abuses by former Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.

"Pledges of penitential prayer and actions on the part of church leadership are meaningless unless first preceded by contrition, confession, firm purpose of amendment and concrete actions of conversion," he said.

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Molly Roach
11 months ago

Did Cardinal Dolan just start reading about this? I've been reading about it for twelve years now. I recommend "Sacrilege" by Leon Podles to get a national view of things. Really, the bishops should resign.

Tim O'Leary
11 months ago

While this report is about abuse before the Dallas Charter, the McCarrick allegations are about more recent and even ongoing scandals in the seminaries and dioceses - see this http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/new-allegations-surface-regarding-archbishop-mccarrick-and-newark-priests: Six priests of the Archdiocese of Newark, and one priest member of a religious order discuss their experiences in seminary under Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. The Dallas Charter does nothing to address this.

William Wilson
11 months ago

Talk is cheap , Cardinal O’Brien. Time for you and your compadres to resign.

Kathleen Macpherson
11 months ago

Religious order priests should not be allowed to continue living in religious order residences after being adjudicated guilty of sexual crimes. They receive free room and board for the rest of their lives. Very wrong.

John Eise
11 months ago

What nonsense. Read the last sentence. It istotally meaningless to everyone except those in the Clerical Club (CC). How completely boneheaded could he be? Just points out how disconnected the CC is from reality. And don’t start with me about Dolan. When he was in Milwaukee he acted as though he was so sympathetic - as it turns out, he was a Judas. It is time to destroy the entire clerical structure in the Catholic Church and all clerics to be defrocked and live hand-to-mouth like Jesus did. Either that or the laity will come in with “whips of cords” and clear them out the Temple.

Anne Chapman
11 months ago

It's just like the "thoughts and prayers" after the mass shootings that occur all too frequently. Totally empty words. We feel SO sad. We are So sorry. But, we aren't going to actually do anything except lie low until the storm calms down and then go back to business as usual.

I left active participation in the Catholic church around 10 years ago because I realized that the hierarchy of the church could not be trusted. Sure, there are exceptions, but as a group - not to be trusted. I found a wonderful new congregation to gather with on Sundays, but one can go it alone also. Pray and meditate and study, and try to live as Jesus asked us to live - in love. You don't need men in Roman collars to be "intermediaries" between you and God.

It had become clear by then that nothing would be done to hold hierarchy accountable for protecting criminals, that Rome was just as complicit in protecting these priests as the bishops, by protecting the bishops who hid the crimes.

People cite the Dallas Charter. It seems to have helped a bit, but we don't really know, since young victims of sexual abuse seldom come forward until they are adults in their 30s or older. But, although it seems that it may have reduced the numbers of victims (we hope this is real and not simply a function of not enough elapsed time) the Charter only impacts lay employees, deacons and low level priests. Not bishops.

One example - a couple of years after Dallas, Cardinal George of Chicago failed to report a priest accused of molesting kids. Eventually the parents called the cops and the secular press, which is what they should have done in the first place. George was so "sorry". These bishops are all "so sorry". Mea culpa, mea culpa - until the next time. The USCCB then proceeded to elect him as its head - very soon after it came out that he had protected this priest/molester. It was pretty clear that the bishops would always protect their own, with little or no concern for victims of sexual perverts.

This is just one of many, many examples of how it was business as usual with the hierarchy after Dallas. Until Chile, Rome did nothing other than protect the bishops who were protecting the priest/abusers. I imagine that if every single diocese in the US (and maybe in the whole world) did a similar grand jury investigation, the results would be much the same as in Pennsylvania. If the abuser in the Chile case hadn't been a bishop himself, but just one of the many bishops who protect priests who molest, it's possible the outrage wouldn't have been enough to move Francis to act.

But, the laity have power that so far they have chosen not to use en masse. They can simply walk away, as I did, choose not to continue to enable the institution that has let these sins of the hierarchy protecting perverts continue for the last 18 years (a study of the history shows that it's been a pattern throughout the entire history of the Catholic church. It's not a recent thing at all. It's only because of a free secular press in the US that the story was finally accessible to all who read). Following Jesus may even require one to take the dramatic action of leaving the institution. The institution is not God. It's the church itself that teaches that those who cooperate with evil are also guilty of that evil.

Those who cannot bring themselves to leave the institution have another powerful tool - money. The entire clerical class is dependent on the money of the people in the pews. Close the checkbooks. Set up non-profits for parish members to donate to to cover parish expenses directly - the electric bills, the heating bills, the salaries of the staff. All paid by the non-profit, run by lay members of the congregation. Not one penny for the discretionary use of the clerics, especially not of the bishops (who tax every parish, so the money has to be kept out of parish coffers). No more money to the Bishops/Cardinals' appeals. Donate directly to Catholic charities, big and small. No money to the clerics.

This is the closest lay Catholics can come to overturning the tables in the temple. There are 1 billion Catholics who are the Church. It's time for them to stop being "the simple faithful". It's time for Catholics to stop being passive sheep who, after many angry words, put money in the basket on Sundays.

Larraine Lauter
11 months ago

The more I pray, the more my anger grows.

Bishops: you must humbly plead with your people to pray with you for the repentance and healing of the Church.

People of God: In solidarity with the victims, children crucified on the altar of evil in our own church, we should attend Mass but refuse Communion, with silent tears, until our bishops confess and offer their resignations.

We need Eucharist, more desperately than we know... but so too all those who have been driven from the church by this evil. The Eucharist has been sinfully denied them by the presence of evil in our midst, a presence that we have failed to root out. This is a moral and spiritual matter. The bishops see withholding contributions and rallies as punishments, but not as a moral holding to accountability. Even one Sunday, once a month, where the pastors and bishops literally see in front of them the spiritual pain of their people, in solidarity with all those who have been driven from the Eucharist by this evil…that might give them pause. Yes, it’s a drastic step… but this is a time of mortal danger for our Church.

For too long, this spiritual, moral evil has been primarily treated as a legal problem requiring damage control management. That in itself is evil.

I call on every bishop to stand and recite the Confiteor facing his assembled flock: "...that I have sinned, in my thoughts in and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do... and I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God." Every bishop must then confess what he knows, in detail, rather than wait for another civil investigation to bring to light his shame...and then offer his resignation to the Pope. Nothing less will begin to salvage even a remnant of the moral standing of the Church in the US.

Keep in mind, the Chilean bishops did not hold only themselves to a moral reckoning... they forced the Pope and the Vatican to face the deep moral abyss they had the courage to name in their own body. They had the courage to recognize that even if they were not personally complicit, that they were morally complicit as a collegial body.

I cannot believe that this terrible moral and spiritual travesty is confined to one state’s borders. We cannot take comfort in the reassurance that only a few cases have arisen in the past decade. Even if that be true, what of the thousands of suffering victims who have been kept silent and secret in the archives of these institutions? How could pastors of God’s people have simply consigned them to a file in the back of a drawer? How could they have simply shrugged their shoulders regretfully over their disappearance from our communion of faith? How could they have held secret the knowledge of children crucified on the altar of evil? Every bishop, every priest of God bears the canonical burden of the good of every soul within their geographical boundaries. The good of every soul. Every bishop who has failed to reach out to even one soul suffering and alienated by this evil has utterly failed this mandate. It does not matter if the bishop himself is not a perpetrator, it does not matter if the evil did not happen on his watch, it does not matter that he has made firm resolutions of no tolerance in the present and for future, it does not erase his responsibility if he has comforted the few victims willing to present themselves. It does not even matter if it never happened in his diocese. Children were raped, exploited, sold, crucified in this Church, children who were more easily victimized because they and their families were baptized believers, and these men knew it, and apparently hoped they would die before they spoke.

The bishops, keeping secrets about their own or other dioceses, failed to give meaningful opportunity to thousands of suffering victims. Many of these victims have indeed died, alienated from Eucharist and all that it is and signifies, because of this secret, evil determination to protect the reputation of the institution and its agents. Yes, it is an evil determination. Even good men, even loving pastors can be persuaded by evil to collude in evil ways. That is obviously, heartbreakingly true.

First things before all else: integrity, truth, justice, repentance, solidarity with victims. Until our bishops publicly embrace these first things in a spirit of true repentance, publicly confessing their failure as a collegial body, all of us as church are hung with the millstone that belongs around their necks. In truth, the most spiritually compassionate thing we can do for these deeply compromised men is call for and pray for their repentance.

Again, I call for Sundays of solidarity with the secret victims, in which we stay silently, sorrowfully in our pews rather than go to communion. Let our communion be a spiritual communion with the Christ who suffers in the thousands of these victims alienated from his Eucharist. Let it be as well a nonviolent, compassionate call to our bishops, for their own salvation and for that of the entire church.

Jim Byrum
11 months ago

And the good bishops still do not understand. The time for reformation of our church is here. All church function, oversight, and leadership must be infused with lay and religious faithful who love Christ's church. Anything less is continuing to grasp the veil of clerical secrecy, clericalism, and elitism that we now clearly see as intrinsically evil. #ReformationNow.

arthur mccaffrey
11 months ago

Viva La Reformation! Martin Luther revolted because of the commercialistion of the Church, now we need to revolt because of the criminalisation of the Church! These Bishop statements are sick examples--not of 'folie a deux'--but of 'folie a tous'
Bring on Reformation II !

Tim O'Leary
11 months ago

McCaffrey - you keep showing your anti-Catholic bigotry. Unlike Luther, you show no interest in reforming God's Church, just destroying it. Every Reformation Church has had a major sex abuse scandal, as have the Boys Scouts, Mormons, many universities, Hollywood, politicians, etc. Now, regarding the Lutherans, start with this: NYT article.https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/13/us/abuse-by-clergy-is-not-just-a-catholic-problem.html
http://www.protestantya.com/index.php/protestant-ministers-convicted-of-sex-abuse-lutheran

Robert robtlongo
11 months ago

Pope Francis should call for Vatican Council III. Time to stop hiding behind the cloak of tradition and time to breakup the "Boys Club". Other faiths have addressed these issues before crashing into the side of the mountain. Everything needs to be on the table. Married priests, optional celibacy, women priests and hierarchy, gay clergy, lay Catholic checks & balances, no more special civil immunities or priviliges leading to illegal/immoral/unethical behavior, and "One Strike You're Out" rules for depravity that even angered Jesus. It's time to invest in the "millstone" business! This is beyond a crisis in faith. Anyone who even had an inkling of suspicion that ended up violating innocent victims is just as guilty as many of the sick perpetrators. If we buy the old baloney that the Chuch moves slowly, the next Pope will have "no robes" and worse when he looks over his shoulder no flock. We have created a culture and environment that globally has been a magnet for the "worst of the worst" in humankind. Predators who used religion, the gift of faith, the vulnerabiity of children and strugglng families to satisfy their most dastardly urges/acts imaginable. We are all guilty if we don't demand immediate change and stop buying the "Fake Truth" that created this godless. "Black Wall" has created. Evil does exists and it has been rampant in our midst. I know, I'm from Pennsylvania and like many other PA Catholics, I know and am shocked at names on that list!

Robert robtlongo
11 months ago

Pope Francis should call for Vatican Council III. Time to stop hiding behind the cloak of tradition and time to breakup the "Boys Club". Other faiths have addressed these issues before crashing into the side of the mountain. Everything needs to be on the table. Married priests, optional celibacy, women priests and hierarchy, gay clergy, lay Catholic checks & balances, no more special civil immunities or priviliges leading to illegal/immoral/unethical behavior, and "One Strike You're Out" rules for depravity that even angered Jesus. It's time to invest in the "millstone" business! This is beyond a crisis in faith. Anyone who even had an inkling of suspicion that ended up violating innocent victims is just as guilty as many of the sick perpetrators. If we buy the old baloney that the Chuch moves slowly, the next Pope will have "no robes" and worse when he looks over his shoulder no flock. We have created a culture and environment that globally has been a magnet for the "worst of the worst" in humankind. Predators who used religion, the gift of faith, the vulnerabiity of children and strugglng families to satisfy their most dastardly urges/acts imaginable. We are all guilty if we don't demand immediate change and stop buying the "Fake Truth" that created this godless. "Black Wall" has created. Evil does exists and it has been rampant in our midst. I know, I'm from Pennsylvania and like many other PA Catholics, I know and am shocked at names on that list!

Robert robtlongo
11 months ago

Pope Francis should call for Vatican Council III. Time to stop hiding behind the cloak of tradition and time to breakup the "Boys Club". Other faiths have addressed these issues before crashing into the side of the mountain. Everything needs to be on the table. Married priests, optional celibacy, women priests and hierarchy, gay clergy, lay Catholic checks & balances, no more special civil immunities or priviliges leading to illegal/immoral/unethical behavior, and "One Strike You're Out" rules for depravity that even angered Jesus. It's time to invest in the "millstone" business! This is beyond a crisis in faith. Anyone who even had an inkling of suspicion that ended up violating innocent victims is just as guilty as many of the sick perpetrators. If we buy the old baloney that the Chuch moves slowly, the next Pope will have "no robes" and worse when he looks over his shoulder no flock. We have created a culture and environment that globally has been a magnet for the "worst of the worst" in humankind. Predators who used religion, the gift of faith, the vulnerabiity of children and strugglng families to satisfy their most dastardly urges/acts imaginable. We are all guilty if we don't demand immediate change and stop buying the "Fake Truth" that created this godless. "Black Wall" has created. Evil does exists and it has been rampant in our midst. I know, I'm from Pennsylvania and like many other PA Catholics, I know and am shocked at names on that list!

Lisa Weber
11 months ago

Bishops and cardinals guilty of hiding sexual abusers should resign or be made to resign. That would be a good start.

John Chuchman
11 months ago

Resign, Wuerl!

John Chuchman
11 months ago

Zubik must go.

arthur mccaffrey
11 months ago

Arch Vigneron/Detroit= "We must move forward with the conviction that God will not abandon his church. He wants her purified, cleansed of these sins and brought to new life," he said.....so now God is a co-conspirator in the crimes of HIS church?--- these are the crimes of vain mortal men whose delusions are pathological !!
....and all these calls for prayer and confession and repentance are disgusting--hey guys, these are not Lenten reflections we are talking about--these are CRIMES that call for trials, convictions, jail time when you will have plenty of time to play Confession!
the most honest response is RESIGNATION out of shame--now that would be leadership!

Molly Roach
11 months ago

After reading this again, I have come to the conclusions that Cardinal Dolan and the other bishops expressing their "sorrow" have not read the other Grand Jury Reports that have been published since 2002. There are seven of them: Westchester County, NY 2002, Suffolk County, NY 2003, Manchester, NH 2003, Philadelphia, PA 2005 and 2011, Portland, Maine, 2005, Altoona-Johnstown 2016. Additionally, the Massachusetts Attorney General published a report in 2003 called The Reilly Report. Finally, the Ryan Report was published in Ireland in 2009. All of these documents tell the same calamitous stories. There are countless people whose lives were literally trashed by predatory priests who were enabled by their bishops. They're here with us. Their story has been being told by civil authorities because our bishops have not been paying attention. The "apologies" of this past week do not count as attention.

Stephanie Hampton
11 months ago

As in Chile, I believe that the US Bishops should tender a mass resignation in a public penitence and in submission to Pope Francis and the Vatican. As the entire world and our US government wallow in evil corruption. the Church must act boldly to rise out of this past to provide moral leadership that the world needs. I like the idea of Vatican III despite the fact that some still have whiplash from Vatican II. I still believe in the Church and Pope Francis leadership.

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