A crisis that is far from over: how the church can respond to sexual abuse

(CNS photo/Jason Cohn, Reuters) 

The Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, released on Tuesday, Aug. 14, recounts abuse by 301 priests across six dioceses, with more than 1,000 victims. While the vast majority of the cases described by the grand jury predate the first tidal wave of the U.S. church’s sexual abuse crisis in 2002, the visceral reaction to this report and the wave of reports it is triggering are stark evidence that the crisis is far from over.

This is not to say that there is an ongoing epidemic of priests committing sexual abuse of children. Though vigilance is still required and even one case of abuse is unacceptable, there is reason to believe that the practices and policies adopted in the Dallas Charter, along with greater public awareness of the problem, have drastically reduced the incidence of abuse.

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The visceral reaction to this report and the wave of reports it is triggering are stark evidence that the crisis is far from over.

But while the reforms adopted in 2002 have helped prevent further abuse, they have not repaired the devastating breach of trust caused by years of obstruction, denial and negligence on the part of leaders of the institutional church, especially bishops and superiors of religious communities, who returned abusers to ministry repeatedly, while doing little or nothing to care for their victims or protect those who were vulnerable. This crisis in the church continues—most painfully for the survivors of abuse whose stories have not been heard and whose wounds have not been sufficiently cared for. They have even seen some of the bishops who failed to protect them promoted through the ecclesial ranks.

It is part of the church’s great shame that we will not willingly and fully hear the Gospel’s call to repentance for these crimes and sins until it is delivered to us by a grand jury. Yet as the church finally begins to hear the call for repentance, here are a few key steps its leaders, especially bishops, should take in the months ahead:

Focus first on the survivors of abuse, not on the effects of this crisis on the church as an institution, its reputation or financial standing.

Do not be reflexively defensive or dismissive in response to accusations against the church and revelations of past or ongoing failures. Some of the responses of bishops to the grand jury report have demonstrated a remarkable tone deafness to the horror that the faithful are currently experiencing and to the trauma survivors still live with. Our primary response to this crisis must not be framed in legal, financial or practical terms, but in the language of true contrition, sorrow and, above all, action and reform.The example of Bishop Lawrence Persico of Erie, who chose to testify before the grand jury in person and replaced lawyers who resisted disclosure of records, is a model for other bishops to follow.

Do not wait for civil authorities to bring past scandals to light. The experience of the last 16 years shows that the worst will eventually come to light. Such disclosures should be anticipated and embraced, not resisted until they are imposed. All dioceses and religious communities should follow the example of those that have begun to make a comprehensive public accounting of their knowledge of abuse claims. One of the few remaining ways that the church can offer mercy to survivors of sexual abuse is to demonstrate through such voluntary disclosures that we value the sacred dignity of the victims more than the church’s reputation and security.

Focus first on the survivors of abuse, not on the effects of this crisis on the church as an institution, its reputation or financial standing.

Do not pretend that bishops alone can hold themselves and each other to account. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany has called for a commission of laypeople to investigate claims of abuse and misconduct against bishops. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, has announced that the bishops will take up a comprehensive plan to address this “moral catastrophe” in their November meeting. Such a plan should be swiftly implemented, with a clear mandate for a commission to examine the culture, policies and practices that enabled bishops to continue assigning abusive priests and to recommend effective remedies. The bishops of the United States should both endorse such a commission themselves and also ask Pope Francis to give it his clear approval. As we first said several weeks ago, the bishops should not hesitate to call on those among them who have failed most grievously to acknowledge their faults and to resign.

Find ways to begin to make meaningful reparation to the survivors of sexual abuse in the church. This should include meaningful financial support, to help with counseling and to make some measure of restitution for the trauma they have lived with for years. The church may be concerned about the effect of expansions of civil liability for sexual abuse, which can financially bankrupt dioceses and limit ministry to people in grave need. But the church must demonstrate greater concern for the needs of victims, which have too long been neglected, a sin that has left the church morally bankrupt in the public mind. Compensation funds like the one established in the Archdiocese of New York may provide a good starting point, though we must ensure that such efforts prioritize care for survivors over the church’s avoidance of legal liability.

Beyond new safeguards and financial restitution, the church should also make a significant act of public repentance and reparation, especially within its liturgical life. Imagine a publicly declared day of fast and penance for bishops and priests, on which bishops and other ecclesial leaders humbly prostrate themselves and listen in silence to the testimony of the faithful. Imagine a simultaneous act of contrition by bishops and priests, in their own names and on behalf of their predecessors, in every cathedral in the country. The church should also consider ways for parishes to mark their solidarity with survivors of abuse beyond merely adding a petition to the prayer of the faithful.

We do not pretend that these recommendations are comprehensive or even minimally sufficient. They are merely a starting point. Above all, while we can acknowledge the great good done by most priests, no one should pretend that the moral failures by church leaders that accompanied the grievous crimes of some of their priests were merely isolated or accidental events. The pattern of sin is clear. Now we must confront the catastrophe that has befallen the church as a result and beg for the grace of conversion, however agonizing that process may be.

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Monica DeAngelis
1 month ago

I'm afraid that at the moment, the bishops sound more like Captain Renault in Casablanca (I am shocked...shocked to learn there is gambling...!) than Emile Zola ("J'accuse!") or, more appropriately "quia peccavi nimis." Too many guys trying to hang onto their zucchettos.

Jim Lein
1 month ago

Well said--in four languages!

A Fielder
1 month ago

This is a fine editorial. Thanks to the editors for a good start, and for your recent treatment of these current issues. I am glad to hear of compensation funds. A trained person can tell immediately that a person has sustained a traumatic event with a cleric. Therapy should not be dependent on an extended legal battle. In my personal experience as a victim, the longer it takes to secure therapy, the more acute the suffering becomes. Also, I agree that our usual prayers of petition are quite sanitized, and not just in relation to clerical sexual misconduct. I think we need more formal communal laments. The Book of Lamentations could be re-written as a prayer service in response to pain experienced by victims, their families and communities today. There should be no cry to God that is not suitable for prayer, even public prayer. Gina Hens-Piazza has written an excellent commentary on Lamentations to consider as preparation. I am also appreciative of the Dallas Charter, I think that I benefited from it (in 2007) even as my allegation was made as a adult. Since the current scandals point to misconduct in seminaries, and this does not surprise me, the essence of the Charter should be formally expanded to include other allegations of sexual misconduct. The magazine might also seek suggestions from Seminaries that have already dealt with sexual misconduct allegations against their faculty or students in order to share best practices with other seminaries who could benefit from knowing more, and to provide peace of mind to seminarians and their parents that misconduct and abuses of power can be identified and eliminated.

J Cosgrove
1 month ago

Does anyone think that similar accusations could not be made against any diocese in the world? There isn't enough money in all the Church coffers to fund even part of the compensation as now planned.

The problem is belief. How many of these religious who are guilty actually believe? That is a very serious scandal.

John Eise
1 month ago

Then so be it. Sell off everything. Close the Vatican. The Church needs to be destroyed and rebuilt from the ashes.

Khoi Nguyen
1 month ago

I like it. The only issue is how can we prevent this from happening again after rebuilding it?

Stanley Jaskiewicz
1 month ago

I am a resident of a state and diocese that have already been investigated. It is mind boggling to think about what might be revealed if every diocese were subjected to the same scrutiny - although I cannot see how that could not be the next step after the latest report.

sheila gray
1 month ago

I wholeheartedly agree: put the needs of Survivors first... a strategy finally being put forward after generations of Catholic education has created perhaps MILLIONS of victims across the US and around the world. Talk about locking the barn after all the horses are gone!!!

Vince Killoran
1 month ago

A good editorial. I think may bishops and priests thought this would all be wrapped up about a decade ago. The new guidelines, a score of lawsuits, and some perfunctory apologies. This is a multi-generational crisis that will require serious consequences for the hierarchy and laity.

If you visit other Catholic publications' websites you will see that they persist in arguing that this is a "gay" thing. The scholarly evidence notwithstanding, a whole cottage industry of paraintellectuals have generated their own literature--at whose center is raw self-assertion--countering that is really is just a matter of purging gay men from the seminaries and priesthood. Then, like magic, the "heroic clergy" model is restored. Intellectually bankrupt and delusional.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

Vince - Not sure if you were meaning to exclude the gay lobby even in the McCarrick scandal - the only news scandal that has yet to be investigated. There definitely has been a problem of a gay subculture surrounding the seminaries. A minority no doubt, but substantial enough to cover for McCarrick, Myers and some other bishops. This was newly revealed today - 6 priests witnessed it in the Newark diocese. Key quote: “But there was a subculture, with its own group of men, that was openly homosexual and petty and vindictive with everyone else,” he explained.

The whole article is painful - here are some quotes "In recent years, several priests said, Father Weiner is known for hosting cocktail parties in his rectory, which other homosexual priests of the archdiocese are known to attend. Three Newark priests independently gave CNA nearly identical accounts of being invited to these parties when they were newly ordained. One recalled that he attended a cocktail party, thinking he had been invited to a simple priests’ dinner. “I was led into the room to a chorus of wolf-whistles,” he said. “It was clear right away I was ‘on display.’” Another priest recalled that after asking for a beer, he was told by his host, “You need to try something more girly tonight.” All three said they left quickly upon realizing what was going on. “Everyone was getting loaded and getting closer on the couches, I wanted out of there,” a priest told CNA. “Everyone kept calling me a ‘looker’ and saying they had to ‘keep me around’ from now on,” a third Newark priest told CNA. The archdiocese declined to answer questions related to those parties."
http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/new-allegations-surface-regarding-…

Vince Killoran
1 month ago

What constitutes a "gay subculture"?

As the purported number of gay men who are priest have increased sexual abuse has decreased.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

Vince - the gay culture is is well described in the Newark article, it includes homosexual banter, lewd jokes about looks and body parts, laxity of conduct, special favorites, drinking parties, recriminations for whistle blowers, etc. Those with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should not be in the seminaries in the first place, in part because they are especially targeted and susceptible to blackmail, etc. I am demanding chastity and sexual abstinence of any type, including for any sexualized subculture. The common thread is lax morals, tolerance for low standards and a general lack of holiness, secrets, tolerance and denial. The most comprehensive data (John Jay College study) was only of minors and found 81% same-sex, 67% post-pubertal in a group of 4% overall. The McCarrick revelations show some sort of continuum his his proclivities. he is certainly not likely to be the only one.

Andrew Wolfe
1 month ago

It's dishonest to claim gay priests have increased or that such an increase has anything to do with the reduction of abuse. What is true is that over the years 80% of sexual abuse by priests has been homosexual. So yes, there's a lot of evidence behind the claim this is a gay problem.

Tim Brantley
1 month ago

The vast majority of cases are homosexual in nature, they involve post pubescent males, teens and young men. You deny this?

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 month ago

There is NO correlation between homosexuality and sexual abuse. These are crimes of opportunity and boys were more available. The scientific literature is clear. The Church has enough real problems without creating imaginary ones and scapegoating gay priests.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

Mary - are you saying there is no correlation between homosexuality and same-sex with teenagers, young adults in seminaries or relationships between priests? Then the word has no meaning. The Dallas Charter deals with the abuse of minors, including teenagers, but did not resolve the culture that permitted McCarrick to abuse and still get promoted. My position is to have a full (lay-led) investigation of sexual activity of all clergy, and all sexually active clergy should resign. They have reneged on their vows and are not living holy lives. All enablers should also go. We need courageous strong men in the clergy, not weak cowards compromised by concupiscence. Zero tolerance is needed now!

Michael Barberi
1 month ago

You are correct Mary. The problem of sexual abuse by clergy is caused by moral corruption influenced by a culture of clericalism. There is no study by a prominent socio-scientific organization that concludes that homosexual men have a stronger desire for sex than heterosexual men. The overwhelming majority of homosexual and heterosexual priests adhere to their vows and are good priests. Prohibiting well adjusted homosexual men to be candidates for the priesthood is not a solution but an irresponsible overreaction and an easy scapegoat to this problem.

Don't misread what I am saying: Any priest or bishop found guilty of sexual abuse of minors or those in hierarchy that covered up the abuse and moved priests around only to abuse again, should be removed from the priesthood including bishops. However, the problem is not homosexual men. It is moral corruption, immaturity fueled by a culture of clericalism and irresponsible toleration.

If we are also going to defrock any homosexual priest or bishop that had consensual sexual relations with adults of the same sex, then we should also defrock any heterosexual priest or bishop that had a consensual sexual relations with adults of the opposite sex.

We need a better seminary screening process to ensure adults are well adjusted, mature and sincere. We also need effective followup, and a strict policy of enforcement of sexual abuse and an effective zero tolerance policy. This includes bishops some of whom have been promoted to Cardinal, and/or have not been subject to the same policy of zero tolerance that priests face. The 2002 guidelines and procedures are not the answer because they don't address bishops and cardinals and there does not seem to be any formal review policy of each diocese by a National Lay-Clergy Committee with adequate authority and responsibility. The Church leaves each Bishop to run their own diocese and police themselves.

We also need "effective transparency" which, honestly, is lacking. The hierarchy continues to believe that this sexual abuse problem is somehow limited and isolated. IT IS NOT. It is a "Systemic Problem" as the PA Grand Jury Report and other evidence in other countries demonstrate. The hierarchy refuses to connect the dots.. Frankly, very few Catholics believe that what we see in PA is isolated to PA.

The root causes of this culture of clericalism should stop and Pope Francis must get involved, not to mention the U.S. Conference of Bishops. We need significant reforms NOW. Unfortunately, the Church continues to demonstrate shameful, arrogant and inexcusable tolerance to this problem, often with a blind eye. This dramatically poisons the credibility of its message of love and charity.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

There is a lot of denial going on here. However, everyone should read this article from a man who has "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies. https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/08/why-men-like-me-shou…. He notes "Fr. James Lloyd, C.S.P., a priest with a PhD in psychology from NYU, has worked with homosexual men (including priests) for more than 30 years as a clinical psychologist. On the subject of chastity and homosexual priests, he says, “It is clear enough from clinical evidence that the psychic energy needed to contain homosexual drives is far greater than that needed by the straying heterosexual.”" This conclusion is corroborated by the data from the CDC that MSM (men who have sex with men) have 38 times the incidence of syphilis infections https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23049658. "Fr. Lloyd’s insight is invaluable here: “The compulsion dimension attendant upon the SSA [same-sex attracted] personality cannot be ignored. Too long has the Church turned away as if nothing were happening. We can no longer blink at the obvious … Whenever there is a doubt about any candidate for the priesthood, the doubt must be resolved in favor of the Church!” If the Church wants to avoid sex scandals, it must stop ordaining the sorts of men who have the hardest time remaining chaste."

I absolutely agree that any sexually active priest, with men or women, needs to resign.

J Brookbank
1 month ago

Tim, the First Things article is by a gay man who wrote a book titled "why I don't call myself a gay man. ..", is a Catholic who returned to the church, decided to accept and live by church teaching and was distressed to learn that, AS HAS HaPPENED BEFORE, the church is actually changing both from inside and outside, and wanted priests to condemn his actions, only to discover they did not. Distressing, yes, but a reality that is here and had been here before: the church is changing. Most Catholics don't accept the teachings on contraception or homosexuality.

That is the first thing. The second thing is this:

The article that CSP priest had worked with gay priestsfir 30 years. OF Course he found during those 30 years that it has taken more psychic energy for gay people to manage their sexuality than it has for straight people. Straight people havr been not coping with bigotry, rejection by our families, churches, schools, friends, threats of physical violence, isolation, hatred, name-calling, loneliness, failed straight marriages they tried to pull off, the loss of the children from those marriage masquerades, on and on and on and on. For straight people over those 30 years, desire sex could just be desire for sex. For gay people in those same 30 years, desire for sex meant to other people that devil had gotten hold of you and you were were going to shame everyone you ever met, especially your dear sainted RCC mama.

Please stop this campaign against gay priests.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

My position is that all sexually active clergy need to resign now, for the good of the Gospel. Zero tolerance is demanded to regain credibility. But, many seem more earnest in protecting homosexual ideology than present/future sexual victims or the true Christian teaching. The McCarrick scandal has blown their cover. Richard Sipe, wrote a letter to liberal Bishop McElroy in July 2018 (both believers in homosexualism). Here is a key quote: "Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children. When men in authority—cardinals, bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors—are having or have had an unacknowledged-secret-active-sex life under the guise of celibacy an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative. Many of the sexual patterns are set up during seminary years or in early years after ordination when sexual experimentation is initiated or sustained. The 2009 Vatican Report (in English) on American seminaries invented a new term—transitional homosexuality. I believe this is due to the awareness of the frequent activity in the homosocial structure of seminary and religious life."

Paul Mclaughlin
1 month ago

The issue isn’t whether any priest is gay or straight. Clergy took a vow of chasity. Period.

I don’t expect perfection. In fact, I expect most have wandered off the farm and explored their sexuality at some point (I am talking about consensual sex with another adult, not rape or sex with anyone underage ). What I am talking about serial sex with others and blatant abuse of their vows.

I think there is a subculture where there is known “serial sex” in seminaries and among the clergy - including Bishops and Cardinals. It is the “big secret”. Meaning most knows who and they know others know about them. So, their is an unwritten vow of secrecy.

Michael Barberi
1 month ago

There seems to be a constant theme here that all homosexual men cannot be well-adjusted, loyal priests who abide with their vows and do the Will of God. I repeat: There is no promenient socio-scientific organization that has concluded that the desire for sex in homosexuals are significantly stronger than the desire for sex in heterosexuals A viewpoint from one person, regardless of his 30 years of professional psychological experience, cannot be used as a substitute for a credible scientific research report by a respected national organization.

When we imply or assert that all homosexual men must be prohibited from entering the priesthood as though this is one of the root causes of moral failure on the part of some priests we unjustly disparage well-adjusted homosexual priests and make them a scapegoat for the clergy sexual abuse scandal, coverup and the turning of a blind eye by the hierarchy to this moral corruption. Let's get real here. One of these root causes of this moral corruption is the culture of clericalism and the irresponsible tolerance of such criminal abuses by those in authority. This culture of clericalism is a systemic problem. In my view, it is hard to believe that the Vatican and the Pope did not know of the decades long sexual abuse accusations of Bishop McCarrick when he was promoted to Cardinal. This occurred under the papacy of JP II who everybody knows was criticized over his handling of Marcial Marciel. We also know that the Vatican did not want to defrock one priest who had a history of sexually abusing minors. It was Bishop Wuerl who fought this for years and finally the Vatican backed off. Bishop Wuerl had other serious accusations against him according to the Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania. He deserves a fair and impartial investigation by Vatican authorities. However, if found guilty he should not have been promoted to Cardinal which is another root cause of this overall sexual abuse scandal.

All priests and bishops who sexual abuse minors and adults should be defrocked. Let's pray for our Church and for the victims.

J Brookbank
1 month ago

Michel, you are on target

Michael Barberi
1 month ago

Thanks for your kind comments.

The clergy sexual abuse scandal is truly not insurmountable or a Gordian Knot. The solution takes real courage and honesty. Whether a priest is homosexual or heterosexual, any sexual abuse of minors or adults that is based on credible evidence must be subject to a zero tolerance policy and removed from the priesthood. Priests who are homosexual or heterosexual that have consensual sexual relations with another adult, in violation of their vows, should be subject to the same policy. Let me be clear here: I am not saying that other possible solutions could not work. However, I am not an expert here. If other things might work, based on the best psychological advise, then there might be room for: being removed from contact with minors, being required to undergo a lengthly psychological treatment program and being managed by a senior overseer each month, etc. Under no circumstances should any priest that sexually abuses minors or adults be moved to another parish without accurate and comprehensive knowledge of the problem priest, effective treatment safeguards and frequent oversight. Anything less is nothing more than kicking the problem to someone else that is not only irresponsible but immoral. However, I am very skeptical about anything resolution except the removal of such priests from the priesthood.

Nevertheless, a mandate that all homosexual men should be prohibited from becoming priests poisons the majority of well-adjusted homosexual priests who control their sexual desires, abide by their vows and are good priests. Such a blanket prohibition is nothing more than a scapegoat to the root causes of clergy sexual abuse.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

One doesn't have to go the the Vatican to see denial. It's right here in this combox. Dr. Paul McHugh, the most prominent psychiatrist in the US (Chief at Johns Hopkins) & a member of Church's National Review Board, stated clearly (Aug 25, 2006 NCR editorial) that the John Jay Report revealed a crisis of “homosexual predation on American Catholic youth." And the John Jay report is the most comprehensive socio-scientific study we have to date. 81% abuse was same sex & 67% were teenagers. If it found that 100% were SSA, I bet the denial of the connection would persist. Richard Sipe, PhD, another expert, even though a "gay-is-ok" scientist, says it is "obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children." Let's see if the sex in the seminaries are also largely same-sex. We need an independent investigation. Stop the cover-up!

alan macdonald
1 month ago

And yet in the recent Penn. Report it states "almost all victims were male'. That suggests to me that the great majority of sexual contact between Priest and victim was homosexual.

Paige Smyth
4 weeks ago

80% of these instances were on teen boys. They no longer fit the pedophilia definition. This is straight up gay clergy wanting homosexual acts with young men. It is 100% a gay issue

Jim Spangler
1 month ago

I don't care about compensation or anything but one thing! I want my Church back that is morally fit to lead and that we can have assurance that all of this scandal will not happen again. The clerical hierarchy needs to come under clear scrutiny. Over seen by a board of Laity to review any actions that are taken concerning decisions on personnel, be it Priest, Cardinals and Bishops. The hierarchy can no longer be trusted to wield the power that they have assumed from day one. It is a different, more educated society, not a bunch of dumb peasants that could not read, or understand. This power structure needs to be overhauled and revamped. It may have been used for 2018 years, but look at the power drunkenness has resulted. How far back has this been happening? One can only imagine. Millions of lives have been destroyed. Is this Jesus Christ's Church??

Jeffrey More
1 month ago

I think you are on to something. Our Church needs a revolution - not of doctrine, but of structure. The offices of Cardinal and bishop should be severely limited, if not abolished altogether. The role of the laity must be vastly increased - after all, WE are the Church, not buildings, not bishops/cardinals, not even, when you come down to it, priests. There should be total financial transparency on a parish by parish, diocese by diocese basis - certified financials at least annually. We should not be afraid to look to Protestant churches for ideas regarding structure (perhaps Presbyterianism?).

Charles Erlinger
1 month ago

Organizational structure in the Roman Catholic Church could be an impediment to effective management when crises of leadership occur such as the present one that concerns clerical sexual predation.

In most government, military and business organizations, leadership failures can eventually be dealt with fairly effectively if not always swiftly. Typically, every leader is subordinate to somebody, whether that “somebody” is some other leader, some board of directors or some societal structure that enables groups or whole populations to effect change. The only condition that is usually required for a given leader either to be changed or to be convinced to find some other line of work is “loss of confidence” in the leader.

“Loss of confidence” broadly relates to mission accomplishment or, more to the point, mission failure. A replaced leader need not be “guilty” of anything in a criminal or even ethical sense, but might merely be ineffective.

There does not seem to be any potential for this degree of freedom of action regarding leader replacement in the Roman Catholic organizational structure. Yet it seems obvious that the structure is not divinely ordained, since it was simply copied from autocratic and monarchical models readily available to the early Church populace, with minor modifications to fit the trans-national features of the populace. So it could be modified without getting into a deep theological hullabaloo, it would seem. It’s worth a try.

Barry Fitzpatrick
1 month ago

This is an excellent summary of steps that could well take us along the journey of healing the deep wounds this tragedy has inflicted. The suggestion of Cardinal DiNardo that the Bishops take up this issue and its resolution at the November meeting rings loudly hollow, however, given the present reality. As on other issues as well, DiNardo echoes the cautious CEO not wanting stock prices to tumble because fault has been admitted. This isn't a business. If it were, he and many others would long have been replaced as the Church entered a universal Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This is a bankruptcy that is spiritual in nature, and on so many levels has the talking heads speaking out of both sides of their mouths. The changes must be responsive to those who have suffered most. There must be liturgical and ritual seeking of forgiveness. And there must be practices in place to back up any policy geared to heal this nightmare. The bishops do not need to wait till November, nor should they be the ones crafting the solutions. Will there be victims and other appropriate non-Bishops at their November meeting to help them? Doubt that even occurred to them yet.

Michael Barberi
1 month ago

A great article by the Editors including some good ideas as a first step. I don't pretend to have answers but I do want to share some additional thoughts.

1. The U.S. Bishops should call a Synod on Sexual Abuse. That would demonstrate to U.S. Catholics that they are taking these recent revelations of sexual abuse and coverup seriously. The bishops should determine "honestly" the extend of the problem given the PA Grand Jury Findings, and the promotion of McCarrick and Wuerl. This should include an accurate assessment by each diocese and it should cover a time period covering decades, including pre and post 2002. The objective is to identify the degree and extent of the problem at a high level (e.g. the U.S.) given these recent problems. The bishops should not take a defensive position or minimize the problem such as refusing to admit that this problem is systemic. It is systemic and the bishops must not issue irresponsible assertions that the 2002 sexual abuse policy is working. It is not working because it does not address the corrosive culture of clericalism or the fact that the 2002 guidelines do not address the larger problem when bishops and cardinals are involved in committing sexual abuse or covering it up. Let's be honest. Promotions to Cardinal involve the recommendations of a committee of bishops assigned with such responsibilities. No one believes that these bishops did not know about the accusations and evidence about McCarrick. They merely ignored the problem!

Equally important: Papal emissaries must participate in this US Conference of Bishops' local Synod and also be involved in the final recommendations because the culture of clericalism is worldwide. Pope Francis should issue some communique as well about what he will do to reform the Curia and the institutional structure of the Church, its governance and how justice will be handled when bishops and cardinals are involved.

2. Every Diocesan Bishop must call for parishes to communicate to parishioners, the results of this U.S. Synod of Bishops. It also must include a day of repentance as mentioned in the article by the Editors.

3. Additionally, each dioceses should poll every parishioner in every parish for their opinions on this sexual abuse issue. If possible, the polling should be done now and after the US Conference of Bishops finalizes its report and issues what it intends to do about sexual abuse including all changes in the 2002 guidelines or procedures.

4. The focus should be on the victims but the Church must also adequately address the root causes of this systemic problem.

Jim Spangler
1 month ago

These are good points, but there needs to be visible action NOW!!! This announcing that "Francis is on the side of the victim's" smells like spoiled garbage. All of the groveling announcements by the Bishops and Archbishops means nothing!!! Until there is visible action that "WE" can see and hear keep their groveling to themselves. They are only sorry, because they have been caught. We thought this was done and over with in 2002. Garbage, garbage, garbage. It is evident that the hierarchy thought that everything had been shuffled under the carpet and were merrily back on their way to business as usual. Did it not make sense to them that some of these predators had been elevated to Bishops and Cardinals? How stupid do these people think the Laity are? These people need to take the only step that they can, and that is to resign, confess their sins, and let credible people take over with check and control in the process of governing the Catholic Church. This includes Laity! This makes me want to "PUKE"!

Chris Simpson
1 month ago

I am a non Catholic whose son is a Jesuit in formation, now in his First Studies. I have great respect for the Jesuits and my son's chosen vocation. I was disappointed that the editorial did not discuss the position of the Jesuits on the statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse claims. These statutes, which vary by state, limit the number of years that a victim has to bring a claim in court. Because it can take victims many years to summon the courage to come forward, these statutes often deny victims their day in court and allow clerical abuse to go unpunished. I believe the Jesuits (and the Church in general) have a particular responsibility to advocate for elimination of these statutes of limitations since, unfortunately, many child abusers are Catholic clergy. To my knowledge, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has not endorsed elimination of these statutes. At a minimum, the Jesuits should lobby the USCCB to change its position.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

Chris - glad to see you have a son who has chosen a life for holiness in what used to be the marines of the Church. May he be part of the reform. I could support an elimination of the statute of limitations if an argument could be made for due process. The Philadelphia Grand jury in 2011 accused 26 priests. They were all immediately put on leave. Over the next 4 years, 11 of the 26 had been found innocent and returned to their priestly service. And they were all recent cases. Also, justice demands that any law would be applied to all institutions. Witness the Penn State and Michigan State revelations of Sandusky & Nassar, and many public and private schools.

Fred Medina
1 month ago

We have been exposed to this behavior for the past 20 or more years. I remember San Joaquin valley, then Massachusetts, now Pennsylvania. We can only imagine that we are still scratching the surface. lets call it what it is; Pedophilia. Granted, that we need to punish those who are guilty and co-conspirators. This Venue requires dramatic changes to examine church law, process and procedures dealing with sexuality in the church. We need to get the politics and protectionism out of the decision makers. The pope is the leader of our church. Who ever he appoints most have a good cross representation of groups within the church.

Crystal Watson
1 month ago

None of this will matter as long as the many bishops and cardinals who are known to have covered up abuse are not only allowed to keep their jobs, but are not even criticized by the Vatican. Why didn't Pope Francis fire Cardinal Law? Why wouldn't Pope Francis fire Cardinal Brady when a sex abuse victim asked him to? Why is Cardinal Mahony still on the payroll? Why is Barros still drawing pay? Why is Finn? Why does the Pope say nothing of Cardinal Dolan, who defrauded sex abuse victims out of $57 million dollars? Why is the Pope still standing by Cardinal Pell? Why should naubody believe the church gives a flying fig about ending abuse and making the abusers accountable?

Michael Barberi
1 month ago

Given what Crystal and Jim said, what we do not need is "another investigation or a process that will take months". We need an immediate response by the U.S. Bishops, not to mention Pope Francis. This response should not be another series of shameful apologies or statements of compassion and prayers for the victims. We need real reform NOW, the swallowing of pride NOW and the courage to implement real reforms that will address all the root causes of sexual abuse, coverup, secrecy and the culture of clericalism....NOW.

At the moment, all we hear is a few bishops issuing talking points. We don't need talking points. We need immediate effective action.

Henry Brown
2 weeks 3 days ago

Michael,

I rarely agree with you, but I do here and now.

Why are the Bishops waiting until their November meeting to discuss this issue ?

Wolves are devouring the lambs of our Good Shepherd Jesus and the Bishop are doing nothing.

All the Bishops need to resign.
All new Bishops should have to be approved by the People of God in the Diocese they might lead.
Then the Pope should resign and a new Pope elected by the People of God.

Seminaries should be closed and the candidates sent to good Catholic Colleges.
Women Deacons should be allowed and if a new Council held with the Orthodox approves,
Women should be allowed to become Priests and Bishops in due time.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

The editors give good recommendations, but they are focused not on preventing the abuse, but on dealing with the aftermath. We require a deep change in culture, a renewed demand for holy, strong celibate men willing to sacrifice themselves completely. What is needed is holiness, chastity, vigilance, more rigorous psychological testing of seminarians, avoidance of the occasions of temptations, active fraternal correction, regular audits and procedures led by the laity. Every seminarian who leaves should have an exit interview independent of the diocese. There should be zero tolerance for sexual activity, as one vow broken begins to unravel the others. Any bishop or priest who has hidden or enabled a non-celibate culture should resign or be fired and possibly defrocked. The Dallas Charter has proven very good at preventing abuse of minors. It should be applied to bishops and expanded to any sexual activity, not just the criminal.

Tim O'Leary
1 month ago

For historical perspective, from St. Peter, our first pope (1 Peter 2-2) regarding false teachers and licentiousness: "Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.…. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority...With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable;they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! ...by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 

Peter Schwimer
1 month ago

A good beginning. The Church needs to be open and transparent and eliminate the secrecy that surrounds its administration. Believe it or not, laypeople can handle the truth. A commission of lay people is a good start as long as those folks are ordinary citizens from the pews and not just the big donors to the bishops favorite charity.

Andrew Wolfe
1 month ago

Sexual immorality is a mortal sin about which the Church is silent. It's hard to convince children to live in chastity according to the law of the Church when the Church won't talk about it.

The omission implies that sexual activity outside the laws of the Church is not a serious problem, or even that it is not a sin. This is damaging and dangerous.

Young people have terrible suffering and damage from illicit sexual behavior; they may not see it, but I've seen the destruction for forty years.

It's hard not to associate the silence on lay sexual morality with the silence on clerical sexual abuse.

Nicholas Mangieri
1 month ago

How many of these have we seen? Diocese after dioceses, Boston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Charleston, to name a few. How many countries, The US, Austria, Ireland, Australia, Chile, to name a few. The question is; what makes you think this is the end? What is going to come out next year, and the year after? The Pope needs to take action. He needs to compel the bishops everywhere to release the information they have so we can get it all out now.

John Eise
1 month ago

Being LGBT is a red herring. The problem is that the Catholic Church has refused to recognize the LGBT community and allowing everyone, including religious, to be openly gay. Bring it out into the light and embrace the truth. Open the doors and let the winds of change purge the Church of hypocrisy. I love my LGBT brothers and sisters - just as Jesus would.

Jim Lein
1 month ago

An excellent piece yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered was entitled "What allows sex abuse to proliferate within the Catholic church." Professor Mark Jordan of the Harvard Divinity School described a priest's loyalty to the church as all too similar to a Marine's loyalty to the corps: "Your first loyalty is not to God and not to the people you serve and not to Jesus. The first loyalty is to the church. " This seems to ring true. Too much magisterium, too much structural authority? It seems so. Would Jesus approve of such power wielding, such bureaucracy, such pomp ? He gave no indication of this when on earth teaching us how to live.

Jim Lein
1 month ago

The point I didn't quite make was that priests loyalty to the church undoubtedly held back many, most or virtually all priests from reporting fellow priests who were abusing children. The harm to the church concern overrode the harm done to victims concern. The culture is like Semper Fi, always loyal to the church above all, as the Marines are to the corps.

Will Niermeyer
1 month ago

The Bishops need to resign now that too have blood on their hands. Shame on them. Shame on them all. Please do not ever talk morals to your people until you get your house in order Hypocrites.

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
1 month ago

These are excellent suggestions, all of which have been suggested before. Until the power structure of the church changes, nothing else will. Let's see what they come up with at the November meeting. At the USCCB meeting after Dallas 2002, they focused on a new anti-birth control pamphlet. Therein lies the sin and the senselessness.

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