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The EditorsApril 12, 2010

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. Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, argues it is time for a thorough housecleaning. “We need a culture of alertness and bravery,” he said, “to do the housework,” and we must begin with caring for the victims.

Seek out the victims. Instead of waiting for victims of abuse to step forward, we should seek them out. During his 2008 visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI met with victims of abuse; he has promised to do the same in Ireland. These meetings need to be replicated by bishops and pastors wherever abuse is alleged. Though he seems to have had a tragic blind spot with respect to sexual abuse by the clergy, the late Pope John Paul II set a precedent for a ministry of apology and forgiveness for the offenses of church people. Small- and large-scale apologies need to be offered and forgiveness requested by bishops in dioceses where abuse has been committed. Public repentance needs to be demonstrated, as Cardinal Sean O’Malley showed with a penance service early in his healing ministry in Boston. Finally, funds should be established for the psychological healing and social support, where needed, of victims aimed at making them as whole as possible. Acts of piety and even reparation will be insufficient, however, without church reform as the manifestation of institutional conversion. Deeper institutional conversion will entail transparency, accountability and lay empowerment.

Come clean. “There is nothing that is concealed that will not be revealed,” Jesus said. The image of the church has been so profoundly diminished that there is now no point in forestalling investigations or attempting to stamp out brushfires of scandal. Innocent lives have been desecrated. At this point Catholics and others feel that desecration is drawn out wherever the church’s response is perceived to be halting and defensive. But the distressing truth is that surely more revelations await in countries where the poor have few resources or where legal systems are inadequate to respond to such crimes. Church offices should reveal all they know about the breadth and depth of this crisis. As in all organizational recoveries, transparency is necessary.

Be accountable. There are the sins of the clerics to contend with, but there is also the sin of clericalism that helped feed this crisis through silence and denial. Many bishops have persisted in their refusal to accept accountability for failure in supervision of priest personnel.

A handful of bishops have resigned, and in his letter to the church in Ireland Pope Benedict admitted the failures of the hierarchy in perpetuating the scandal. Members of the hierarchy may continue to find enemies in the media, and the media is not without fault, but for the most part the complicity of superiors in these crimes remains to be acknowledged. For genuine conversion in this matter, a searching examination of conscience over the sins of the institution will be needed.

Empower the laity. 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. Whether what emerges in the future is a more humble but institutionally stronger church or a community in decline may be decided by the actions the church takes in the coming weeks and months to renew the spirit and structures of its own governance. For there is a conversion for institutions as well as for individuals, and it is often even harder to embrace.

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Molly Roach
13 years 11 months ago

"Tragic blind spot"??   You don't want to let people off the hook with this kind of language.  John Paul II  was unwilling to look at the sexual assault of children and youth by priests because he was unwilling to change his view of the church, his life, his role.   "Tragic blind spot" is very passive language in which no accountability is called for.  He wasn't just anyone.  He was the Pope.  And his unwillingness to act as a real shepherd for the church cost many young people dearly.   And it cost the church too.  This man should not be canonized.  He betrayed too many people to be set up as an example.   He's a shining example of what not to be-a dupe of that snake Maciel and his cronies in the Curia.

Charle Reisz
13 years 11 months ago

I have freed myself of the millstone.  After fourteen years of Catholic Education, part of which was under the Jesuits, it finally dawned on me that the Roman Catholic Church was all about power and money.  The structural church did not live by the morals they professed to teach.  I turned and walked away a quarter of a century ago and today only my family knows of my background.  I do not have to answer for the "sins of our fathers".  I attend church only for weddings and funerals of family and close associates.  There is no other way I could have been freed in this life. 

Stephen O'Brien
13 years 11 months ago

I strongly agree with Molly Roach: Pope John Paul II should not, and cannot, be canonized.  I hope that halting all efforts to beatify him will be one of the positive outcomes of the sexual abuse crisis.  

Despite his undoubted accomplishments, especially the issuance of the new catechism, the failure of John Paul II to use papal authority to safeguard minors from the sin of the millstone was not his only lapse.  When politicians, despite their votes for legalized abortion, are still allowed to receive Holy Communion, this being a policy to which John Paul II, like his two predecessors and his successor, consistently adhered, how can we expect the average person, including the average Catholic, to take seriously the Church's teaching on the right to be born?

Is it not the case that the hierarchy's refusal to invoke excommunication to protect the unborn is also a scandal that cries to heaven for redress?

13 years 11 months ago

May I recommend Fr Patrick Berquist's book: "The Long Dark Winter's Night, Reflections of a Priest in a time of Pain and Privilege" for a heart-felt commentary on what this all looks like from Fairbanks, Alaska. Worth reading and praying over what you might find there.

13 years 11 months ago
In all of this, what grates is that when the scandal first broke in the 80s, the CDF was busy firing Charles Curran from Catholic University for his public disagreement with Humanae Vitae, and when it flared up again in the early 2000s, the CDF was spending its time criticizing Roger Haight for his inclusive christology. Unnecessary quests for doctrinal purity when what was needed was an examination of conscience.
13 years 11 months ago
A quarter of a century ago James Garbarino and his associates wrote the book "The Psychologically Battered Child". Not only does he describe and distinguish between such abuse in the home, but also in those 'out of home' institutions for the care of children and youth. In addition, Garbarino distinguishes between the definition of 'abuse' as used by health care workers for healing the victim and 'treating' the perpetrator, and the definition used by law enforcement for the purpose of prosecution. And even though the church has its own definitions beyond these, the laity must understand that no organization can 'police' itself. Especially in the case of child abuse, it is law enforcement that should be contacted.
In a letter to then-cardinal William Lavada (circa 2004) I explained this to him when it appeared that the committee of Catholic bishops seemed to be unclear on how 'child abuse' is defined. It turns out there's a definition unique to the church.
The laity have now been moved from the state of child-like 'innocence' to the state of 'experience', and must assume the responsibilities of adulthood. No adult who is 'innocent'/naive should ever be entrusted with the care of those who are vulnerable. It's time we grow up.
13 years 11 months ago

To expect the Institutional Church to reform itself is as realistic as has been the Fed's expectations that the Detroit Police Department will somehow reform itself via the monitoring and urgings of Uncle Sam! The Institutional Church has already spent 50 years taking the mojo out of its last ill-fated reform, namely Vatican II!  Detroit had to first jail its Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and later replace him with Mayor Dave Bing, who has much greater qualifications for the top job.  Pope  "Ratzinger'" Benedict XVI needs first to be convicted of obstructing justice. Then, the Institutional Church must do something as radical as impeaching Pope Benedict XVI and then replacing him with a newbie pope such as the Daiai Lama! Fat chance of actions like those ever happening!

Jim Lein
13 years 11 months ago

Two parts of the problem are the church's being behind the times and being run by people with no families, no children of their own.  The news of the wider-than-previously-thought extent of child abuse (including incest) broke in the late 1960s- early 70s, and adults who were abused as children seeking psychotherapy increased sharply in the late 70s. The church's scandal broke in, what, 2002? 

The problem is not just celebacy but not having children of your own.  An aspect of you never really grows up until you have children to raise and care for.  Without this you are limited, at least and especially, when it comes to dealing with children. Of course parents abuse their own children, but abuse is more likely by step-parents or mom or dad's partners.

As a clinical social worker the past 40 years who has worked with many victims, and some perpetrators, of abuse, I saw clearly in 2002 how clueless the church was and how far behind their thinking was when its abuse became more widely known.

With my usual good timing I returned to the church, after being away for some years, in May 2001, just in time for the US scandal.  I got involved in efforts to effect positive change, but being more a passive listening clinical type and not a go-getter leader administrative type, I was disappointed in the lack of a structure to work within.  Maybe I didn't look hard enough for such a structure.  Maybe there are many of us in this boat.  We need to be more assertive.   

13 years 11 months ago

Thank you for an intelligent and clear editorial focusing on what is necessary to move forward.  I certainly hope that every bishop in the world and every Vatican employee reads it.

Frank Stella
13 years 11 months ago
Dear Editors
Your words express the uneasiness of us, the Members of the Church who have been relegated to "Sunday Pews", as Meek Mindless Mammals, by the callous and willful mismanagemnent of our Leaders.
I am not falling in the trap of commenting on the Events of the Day, because the problem is much wider and running deep in our church history.
The awareness of the situation is indeed widespread as the many grass root voices are now loudly stating, with increassing boldness. Consider for instance the German movement Wir sind Kirche.
As a solution, just call the Members in Assembly, to elect their delegates, as was the prctice of the erlier Church in the 4th century: Vox Populi vox Dei.
I have been suggesting this to the deaf ears of the Bishop of Toronto, for long time!
God bless you and grant wisdom and strenght
Frank Stella
Denis Quinlan
13 years 11 months ago

Yes, sin abounds and there is much evil in the world.  But abusing children is a sin unlike any other.  It is one of those sins that we described in moral theology as crying out to heaven for vengeance. The vulnerability of the victims and the lingering damage that it does makes it so.  As to the abusers and those who managed the cover ups the time is long past for a plea for forgiveness.  But there can be no forgiveness without repentence, and no repentence without an open acknowledgement of personal guilt.  "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned."  The evil, therefore, continues on and on and so does the scandal of it all. God help us.

13 years 11 months ago

The condoning of the "intramural" abuse of power (pedophilia) is paralleled by the condoning of the international abuse of power (war). Until the Church utterly forsakes this kind of dominative, violative power and turns again to follow the nonviolent Jesus, The Church will alwys find itself participating in abuse.

It seems to me that the structural problem that has yet to be specifcally addressed is that of dominative, violative power. This is exactly the opposite kind of power that Jesus exercised, and the opposite kind of power that he told his followers to exercise. It is characterized interpersonally by pedophilia, which is an abuse of power at least as much as it is an abuse of sexuality.

In a more global sense, we see it in the Church's (especially the American church's) acceptance and support of war.  Which of course is ALSO against the teaching of Jesus. Look especially at the recent wars of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan (and now Pakistan). The most militarily (read: dominative, violative) powerful country beating up on countries that are essentially defenseless.

And in the same way that all wars are based upon deceptions (hence the phrase, "a bodyguard of lies"), the lying and deception that characterize war (and most especially the aforementioned three wars) are parallel to the lying and deception that charactize the pedophila scandal in the Church.

And tho I do see an analogy to abortion (strong vs. defenseless), the analogy suffers real-world deficiency because the Chruch DOES preach against abortion constantly. It has an automatic excommunication for abortion (woman and doctor). There is no such official stance against the slaughter that is warfare - especially modern warfare (And the last sermon you heard against the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan was ....?). In fact, quite the reverse! The Church CELEBRATES and SERVES the military. We send them chaplains who splint up their souls when they've grown soul-sick of killing, so that they can go out and kill more. We have parades for them, Catholic veterans awards, medals for them.  There may be individual churchmen who speak out against a particular action, but overall, the Church subscribes to the dominative, violative power that is war (and so, I say, to pedophilia).

Case in point: Bishop Raymond Leo Burke of LaCrosse, WI. Just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq (you remember: "shock and awe" 24/7 bombing of the civilian population, announced beforehand), Burke said that we didn't have to listen to the Pope (an indivdual Churchman, tho admittedly a significant one) when the Pope spoke against the upcoming war. Imagine! And what was the "punishment" for that? To make him Archbishop of St. Louis. Why? It should be noted that Bishop Burke strongly spoke out constantly against abortion, said that politicians who are pro-choice should not receive communion, and established "oratories" that supported the Latin Mass. I majored in Latin! But almost no one understands it! So it further separates priest from people and places the priest (who "knows") above them. In Burke's case, anti-abortion (with a smattering of Latin) trumps pro-war / anti-Gospel / anti-Pope.

So, in sum: The condoning of the "intramural" abuse of power (pedophilia) is paralleled by the condoning of the international abuse of power (war). Until the Church utterly forsakes this kind of dominative, violative power and turns again to follow the nonviolent Jesus, The Church will alwys find itself participating in abuse.

13 years 11 months ago
It was very very very difficult for me to make and express the allegations I made about the priest who abused me. I am 51 now and felt again as though I were 17 and lost. The lay Review Panel for Abuse of Children at the Diocese was open and positive and helped enormously. It is not like that in other Dioceses. But I can not be more grateful for the response of this particular Review Panel of lay persons. The allegations were found credible and the priest held accountable. I have finally sought out, on my own, spiritual guidance and conversation with a local nun. She is wonderful.

If the price of the abuse I experienced comes with the changes you suggest I will be gratified, and take again, as I want to, my place in the pew of my church. Thank you America Magazine. Don't give up.
Fernán Jaramillo
13 years 11 months ago

The cries for reform can be heard by everybody except, it seems, the hierarchy.  Here is a blunt Jesuit's voice:


13 years 11 months ago
The Editor's wrote, "A handful of bishops have resigned... for genuine conversion in this matter, a searching examination of conscience over the sins of the institution will be needed."

In other words, the very same bishops who covered up for priests who sexually molested unsuspecting children should meditate upon what punitive action should be taken against them for wrecking the lives of tens of thousands of children.

America's editors fear the bishops. They just can't bring themselves to say what needs to be said.

It is apparent that America's editors lack the courage to demand that bishops who endangered children's lives should be fired immediately. In fact, these bishops should be ousted from any employment in the Church and should not be allowed to receive any pay or benefits. The word "bishop" does not mean "exempt" from accountability.

If it was discovered that a Superintendent of Schools covered up for abuser teachers and transferred teachers who had already abused kids from one school to the other, their would be such public outrage that the Superintendent would be fired immediately.
13 years 11 months ago
Congratulations to the editors of America for re-discovering their courage and their honesty. As a reader of America for over 4 decades, I have considered dropping my subscription because of the failure of the editors to address important issues during the last few years. I am glad that you have found your voice once again. Please continue to show courage and honesty. We need thoughtful and intelligent discourse within the church.
Winifred Holloway
13 years 11 months ago

A very thoughtful, fine editorial.  I concur on the need for humility.  I agree with more significant lay involvement and oversight.  However, a note of reality:  As a former parish council member, among many other volunteer positions in the Church, parish and diocesan councils have NO POWER. They are advisory.  I regret all those evenings I gave up in "service to my parish."  Lay people have no power in the Church, unless they are wealthy, way, way right of center and slavishly loyal to the hierarchy.  The Bishops and cardinals currently in charge (most of them) have been hand-picked for their loyalty to the Vatican and the Curia.  Infallibility , it seems, now includes just about every office in the Vatican.  We have to live in our own time.  The churchmen in Rome are quite comfortable in Medieval time.  It works for them.  It's killing the rest of us who love the best traditions and the deep insights into human nature that our Church possesses.  No doubt the gentlemen in Rome are distressed about the current mess.  Given their frame of reference and their world view, I find it unlikely that they can overcome any of this.  They are almost innocently arrogant and certainly clueless.  My background has been Catholic since, well, the Druids.  It pains me that my children may just walk away.  The hierarchy does not want to join the rest of us pilgrims in this century.  I hope the Holy Spirit is working overtime.

Michael Olson
13 years 11 months ago

A couple of points:

If in the Church there is a mind-set of clerical exceptionalism, i.e. that they are above the law, here I mean civil law, that should clearly be dealt with. Society needs to protect itself from criminal activity. The fact that people can be forgiven their sins on the spiritual level and even on the personal level, the fact remains that civil society must deal with criminal activity.  The short story is that God loves everyone, but some of them God loves in prison.

The second point is that, in the big picture, these matters of abuse of children are getting a whole lot of publicity in the media.  I don't in any way say this should be silenced.  However it should be noted that there are other grave matters that affect us all that are completely ignorned in the main stream media such as what really happened on 9/11 and who really is responsible and what is happening on daily basis both to civilians and soldiers on both sides in our wars.  We should not kid ourselves; we Americans are living on major lies that go unquestioned. 

John Feehily
13 years 11 months ago

I couldn't agree more with America in calling for a laity that asserts its baptismal rights in the form of more active roles in the very governance of the church. This will require a change in the culture for most Catholics have long since accepted the dominant role of the clergy as a more or less unchangeable element in church life at every level. Whether such a change would prevent abuses of power is another matter entirely.

I couldn't disagree more with America in that portion of the article which makes it appear that priests are still abusing minors on a regular basis and that bishops are covering them up as often as they occur. I'm unaware of more than a handful of reports from around the world of alleged abuse of minors by clergy in the last eight years or so. All of the reports which have been occurring in the media concern events which happened at least a decade ago or in some cases decades. This is not at all to minimize what actually happened. Some priests and some bishops-however small a fraction of the whole number- committed heinous, even criminal acts. Other priests and bishops abnegated responsibility and compounded these offenses by looking the other way or by even denying what was actually going on. But none of this rises to the level of justifying the present shameless attacks on the Bishop of Rome. How much clearer could it be that an enemy is at work here. One that would delight in destroying the one who symbolizes, like no other, the authority of the Church to proclaim the Way of Christ which stands for justice and truth and stands against immorality in all its forms.

I call upon America to publicize the vigorous actions taken especially here in the United States and more recently in Ireland to protect children. Perhaps it could also find some space to publish the statistics that would so clearly show that the sexual abuse of children is not a clerical or even a Catholic problem, but one that penetrates all of society and all its institutions.

13 years 11 months ago
As a cradle Catholic, educated in Catholic High School & College during and after Vatican II, I have been deeply saddened and disappointed by the coverup more than the abuse. Catholics are a representative sampling of the world of sinners and transgressions would be despised but also expected.

But I could never have imagined the secrecy and coverups by bishops, cardinals and the Vatican hierarchy. I am sorry but this has the smell of the Church's Watergate and Waterloo combined. The pope has decried the "heinous acts", but he somehow no "heinous sinners/criminals" have been named. Certainly none above the rank of parish priests!

Only when the hierarchy understands that their credibility, their honor and their magisterium have been LOST, will they respond appropriately with a long needed house cleaning of the episcopacy and the Curia. I just learned that Canon law says that "The First See is to be judged by no one." That sounds odd, because the Vatican has been judged by the church members in the pew and the Vatican's behavior has been found to be severely lacking.

I do not know where we will go from here, but the gathering of outraged members of the Body of Christ on October 31, 2010 at the Vatican sounds like a good start. In this Easter season, I pray for renewal and repentance from our leaders.

PS: It's too bad Canon Law does not allow impeachment.
13 years 11 months ago

I want to commend the Editors of America for not being afraid of sharing the immorality of this whole sexual abuse situation.  I had a cousin who was abused by his parish priest.  It was his ex-wife who revealed it to his mother.  The anguish he carried ended up destroying his marriage.  His ex-wife even said she would have accepted him back, because she still loved him.  However, he couldn't face her, as a partner in marriage.

Stephen O'Brien
13 years 11 months ago

Please tell me why canon law should not be urgently revised to establish the following policy for the universal Church: regardless of the number of victims or the amount of time which has passed, any priest who either admits that he sinned with a minor, or is shown in a fair and expedited ecclesiastical or civil trial to be guilty of this crime, should be laicized immediately - for the protection of potential victims, for the common good of the Church and society, and for his own good, including the salvation of his soul.

Stephen O'Brien
13 years 11 months ago

The Church encourages Catholics to express "their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 907), without saying that only lawyers have the right to advocate urgently needed changes in canon law. 

Craig McKee
13 years 11 months ago


We already have the power: the POWER OF BAPTISM and the POWER OF THE PURSE STRINGS.

It's time for the laity to FINANCIALLY bankrupt a MORALLY bankrupt hierarchy.

When every pastor, monsignor, bishop and cardinal have had to stand in line to file for unemployment benefits and food stamps or seek assistance at a job corps agency...

Then, they will listen! Then, they will understand!

13 years 10 months ago

Not only did the American Catholic Church do its best to disenfranchile a whole generation of young people by ingnoring means to keep them engaged but how on earth can Catholic parentls hope to bring their children back to the faith given the current conditions?  

Clearly we (all of us as Catholics) have failed to bring the church into the 21st century. Not only have we treated the matter of sexual abuse flippantly but our leadership (?) refuses to even entertain theological discussion on the subject of optional celibacy, womens ordination, how to address the issue of gay people - shall I go on?

Jim Lein
13 years 10 months ago

One way of breaking out of our dualistic, either/or, zero-sum thinking on the abuse issue is to hold both or all sides of the issue in our mind and heart and soul - to pray and meditate on it.  Fr. Andrew Hamilton, SJ of Australia has two short articles on doing this from an Ignatian meditation perspective:  "Hard Thinking for Lent" (03 Mar 10) http://www.express.org.au/article.aspx?aeid=19737 and "Easter's image of campassion for abused and abusers" (April 1, 2010) http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=20294 

Before reacting or responding on this crisis/tragedy we need a period of reflection and soul-searching, of honesty and humility before our loving God.           

Kate Smith
13 years 10 months ago

From the editorial:  "...Funds should be established for the psychological healing and social support, where needed, of victims aimed at making them as whole as possible. Acts of piety and even reparation will be insufficient, however, without church reform as the manifestation of institutional conversion. Deeper institutional conversion will entail transparency, accountability and lay empowerment."

I contacted Fr. Nicolas today to say I believe he should remove a Jesuit provincial he named last year, because the provincial does not understand any part of the "Seek out the victims" paragraph, which I carefully documented. The province allowed a known abusive Jesuit to return to public ministry in '06, which I discovered in '09, and the province still has not addressed.

I told Fr. Nicolas about the provincial not addressing it, and said he should name a new provincial. ( I'll let you know what happens.)  I also told Fr. Nicolas that this provincial recently assigned the last provincial to be the president of a Jesuit high school for disadvantaged young people  - even after that Jesuit allowed a known abusive Jesuit to return to ministry and teaching.   Clearly, that Jesuit should not be making decisions affecting young people.   He should work at a Jesuit nursing home, with Jesuits.

lLetha Chamberlain
13 years 10 months ago

Look!  No one is going to get anywhere by lambasting anyone!  To deal with these issues we need to quickly move into a "healing posture"... which does NOT mean large cash awards (except to see everyone gets the help they need to heal-NOT take a vacation, as happened with a clergy-abused friend of mine receiving monies)...

His brother, also clergy-abused but not bitter or damaged by it, said to this one, "why are you pursuing this; this is all part of growing up!" Of course, what he meant by that was NOT that this isn't a big issue for some-but that it is in dealing with our issues THAT we "grow up"!

The hysteria and titilation the public is gaining by all this (hence one saying, "let's have all the details!" on another blogsite.)  Why, oh why would anyone care to even think about the "details"!  This only plays into the kind of voyeurism shown by over-concern with the lives of actors and actresses-in all their gory splendor (not to mention the hacking into other's computers, etc... identity theft, etc.!)  No more privacy for anyone!  Our very intimate medical records now freely available for anyone who cares to seek-not knowing nor caring that "medical records" are often flawed observations and personal musings of a physician not knowing the patient whatever (I'm a veteran RN).  So much for the "science" in medicine...

One COULD say that "I have nothing to hide"... but when assumptions, prejudgment, and ignorance about many things play their part-one is victimized all too easily.  It is happening all the time to the best of people in this culture of "spying on our neighbors!"  I'm sorry, there are many good people working very hard to improve the world in which we live-but at the moment so much of it is a "drop in the bucket".  We have become a nation of experts on issues of which we have no real knowledge-and scientific inquiry has become a joke (all too often we rely on the research of tainted information-people with their minds already made up... or those with vested interest in the outcome!)  Scientific inquiry?  In the research on the complex human-being, it is not possible... there are simply too many factors complicating.  One does much better hearing case histories and stories.  The stories of each of those abused-and the outcome when given a chance to heal by exquisite listening from one who loves them... now THAT I want to hear!


Paul Leddy
13 years 10 months ago

A few years ago, I was invited over for coffee on a Sunday by one of my co-workers, a divorced woman with two kids. I only found out about the kids after arrived at her home. She said all she wanted to do was have a conversation with an adult; that work and taking care of her two boys was wearing her out and she needed to do something pleasant that didn’t involve her kids. I arrived shortly after noon; I commented on her lovely home, got the quick tour of the garden, and asked to use the bathroom. She waived her hand towards a hallway and said second door on the left. I go second door on the right, open the door and flick on the lights. I had entered her son’s bedroom. Her son was about 14 years old, severely retarded and strapped to a bunk-bed and wearing a helmet. Turning on the light disturbed him and he started thrashing about. I was immediately invited to leave, which I did, with apologies, as quickly as I could. It was about 3 weeks before I could summon up the courage to walk into her office and apologize. During our conversation, she related that she couldn’t place her son in institutional care because she cared for him too much. So, her life revolved around her two boys and not much else.

I ran into her again (I had since moved-on to another job) a short while ago and we talked some more. The priest child abuse scandal came up and she gave me her take on the issue. She’s angry. She said what helped her hold it together was her parish priest and the assistant priest. She’s not angry at them. She’s angry at this incessant public flogging under the guise of “saving the children.” But, she said, her severely retarded son, the exhaustion of taking care of him, the worry of what will become of him, etc, dwarfs 20, 30, 40 year old accusations against priests by predator lawyers. Who, she asked, will be watching out for her boys? She’s angry because they ones she could count on for unconditional loving and emotional support are her parish priests. She said she nearly slapped one of them, while he was speaking to a group of parishioners. He kept slipping his collar off because he wondered if he was corporately guilty of the child abuse cases; and perhaps he wasn’t a good priest. She said she needs her priests to be priests, without any doubt of their vocation, or else she could not have held on by herself as a single mother raising her sons.

The Church has responded, as best as one could reasonably expect, in her role in the scandal. The abuse is, as we’ve read over and over again, a horror. But, it’s time to stop having to explain ourselves each time an avarice lawyer dredges-up another case and an accommodating press, whose business is to sell newspapers, not to search for the truth, publishes half-truths. Now, the only claim to "accountability" is in the sense that the press and lawyers are looking to their accounts.

And they like what they see.

13 years 10 months ago
I agree substantially with Posts 39-40-41-42 and wish to add the following.Should the Church drown itself in the turbulent sea of its baptismal water, with the Millstone of despair wrapped around the necks of errant Bishops because of their entrapment in a human system so flawed, that sooner or later it was bound to implode, which it has? Or should the Church find hope, forgiveness and repentance,clinging to another "stone" a "tombstone" I mean "the Stone rolled back" that makes sinners dance for joy relishing the bouyancy of
repentance, secure in the Divine Life Jackets of the Father's merciful loving grace for all poor sinner?

No question about it - what has happen is more than terrible. But enough already! Let's support our Church, the Pope, its Bishops, all Clergy, Laity and help and pray for the Abused and the Accused. St. Paul assures us, "For those who love God all things work together unto good" And as St. Augustine adds "Even sin!"
Kate Smith
13 years 10 months ago

Just want to pass on some facts that it seems recent commentators don't know:

1.  Most survivors of clergy sexual abuse do not tell their stories publicly.

2.  Most survivors of clergy sexual abuse approach the church without lawyers.

3.  Most survivors of clergy sexual abuse seek non-economic reparation:  an apology, counseling, transparency.

4.  Quite often, the church asks for "a dollar figure".  That happened in my situation with Jesuits.  The church does not want to stay connected to victims:  "just give us a figure".

5.  Many survivors of clergy sexual abuse can report woeful treatment from parishioners when they tell their story publicly.   I have seen Catholics going into mass actually spit at people who were sexually assaulted by priests.  But I have also seen parishioners thank survivors for speaking up - all in the same parish.

6.  There are solid valid reasons for needing economic support.   When the Jesuits asked me for a figure, I asked medical professionals who knew me to provide the number.

7.  Someone commenting here found fault with a victim going on vacation after resolving their situation with the church.   That's what I was told to do too (but didn't).  The ordeal with the church, even when they find you credible, is very, very hard.

That's it for now, except to report that Fr. Nicolas has not been responsive, and I don't believe what Jesuits say about "lay empowerment" - the phrase used in this editorial.   Jesuits want lay empowerment when it is easy.  How dare I tell the Jesuit superior general and a Jesuit provincial that they made mistakes that I can easily prove.  I'm just a lay person and just a woman. 

13 years 10 months ago

Courageous and forthright come to mind in trying to describe this wonderful piece of writing, although it occurs to this reader that America's clear and concise suggestions could have been made some years ago.

Come clean, be accountable, seek out the victims and empower the laity have all been demanded before without any outward sign that the clerical church hears our plea or even wants to change.  Hopefully, the church will listen to this erudite challenge from America magazine.  However, I am reminded that your last editor, Fr. Tom Reese, was removed by Rome for similar challenging viewpoints.  Let us hope this reactionary approach will not be repeated.

As a long time member of what some Catholics think a dissident group, the Voice of the Faithful, we have insisted on all the points you've made in this editorial, with not much concrete results.  Pray God this piece will start Rome in reforming itself.   Thanks for your attempt.

13 years 10 months ago

If the present hierarchs who coverered -up resign, can the next tier of bishops who are not part of the cover-up take charge? This seems remote but  there does not appear to be another way?

Kate Smith
13 years 10 months ago

To update what I said at comment #27 above, I still have not heard anything from Fr. Nicolas.  I had contacted Fr. Nicolas last May, to tell him about a Jesuit provincial allowing a known Jesuit abuser to return to public ministry, and Fr. Nicolas contacted me then to say he asked the provincial who was leaving and the provincial who was arriving to address it.  No one addressed it.

I hired a lawyer, because all of my efforts were ignored.  My lawyer wrote to the Jesuit provincial last week on Good Friday, and I wrote to Fr. Nicolas and said the provincial should be removed.  I told him the provincial assigned the prior provincial to be the president of a high school for disadvantaged young people, when clearly this is the wrong position for someone who allows a perp Jesuit to return to public ministry.   I haven't heard from Fr. Nicolas.

But I talked to my lawyer today and learned something very interesting.  If I have to sue the Jesuits about allowing the perp to return to ministry, it will be the first lawsuit of its kind.  My legal agreement has a provision that the Jesuit perp cannot engage in public ministry.    It's very clear.

I didn't set out to be a trailbalzer, but here's to

lay empowerment

!  Thank you, Jesuits!

Greta Green
13 years 10 months ago

The anti Catholic bias now going on is a result of stances the Catholic Church is taking on issues like abortion.  If the world was really interested in protecting those under 18 frm abuse, it would not be focused on the Catholic Church, but on everyone and every organization or group that fostered or stayed silent on the abuse of the young.  One might suspect they would start with the homosexuals who have strong attraction to "twinks" and the porn sites that foster this grave and evil attraction.  They would label this attraction as gravely evil and make sure that those who fell into that attraction, no matter their profession, were gone after with the same level of noise and anger that is now focused on priests.  If the homosexual works for a company, that company should be investigated to determine why they continue to allow these type of people to work there and to see if there was any coverup by anyone there that did not report the crimes to the police.  If not, the company should be sued out of existence or at least into bankruptcy. 

another example that has been outed many times is the abortion mills that take in under age girls for abortion and those that help them go for abortions.  It is obvious that a crime has occured and someone should be prosecuted.  But many of the same people screaming for priests for touching a boy of the same age cannot seem to support going after the abortion mill for killing a child, damaging the girl probably for life, and preventing the parents from knowing, or calling the police and providing all the details so they rapist is put away.  Wonder why that is?  could it simply be a anti Catholic bias in going after the priest? 

So if the world is ready to really protect the kids, I think millions of Catholics would line up with them and we could really go after all forms of abuse.  if not, then please just shut up about the priests as if you really cared about the victims.

Kate Smith
13 years 10 months ago

This will be my last update on my effort to contact Fr. Nicolas about the problems with the Jesuit provincial he told me would address this problem of a perp Jesuit returning to public ministry.   Another day has passed, and Fr. Nicolas has had no response. I will assume that he does not give a damn.

For the record, I am dealing with the Missouri province of Jesuits, because that is where the Jesuit is from.  I have no ties to anything in the Missouri province.  The abuse happened somewhere else.   The Missouri provincial in 2003 found me credible, and was a very pastoral person to deal with.  The next provincial is the one who allowed the abusive Jesuit to return to public ministry.  The current provincial is the one who is not addressing it. I found some words to describe the current provincial from his former students:  "extremely arrogant, a jerk, mean, belittles people".   So, I think I see the problem.   I would never use those words for the provincial I dealt with in 2003.

I am now assuming I have to go to court, so I will focus my time on questions to ask the Jesuits in depositions. I have so many questions.

13 years 10 months ago

Re:  The Millstone

Yes, you are right that the sex-abuse scandal calls out for public repentance.  When the American bishops met in Dallas in 2002, a Byzantine bishop from Pittsburgh made a similar suggestion.  The Byzantine rite has special devotion to the Feast of the Holy Cross on September 14.  On that day, petitioners repeat "Lord, have mercy" over and over and over again.  It would be fitting, the Pittsburgh bishop said, for bishops to use that day to atone for the institutional sins of the sex-abuse scandal.  But he was ignored.  What an idea though.  And it is not too late for all of us who make up the Body of Christ (and that includes the bishops) to adopt that suggestion, and to ask God's mercy for this millstone.  It could be the beginning of necessary repentance.      

Dan Hannula
13 years 10 months ago

Empower the laity?  Thanks for the sentiment, but, the Church is the living community of people.  That is, we are the church.  To paraphrase a statement from only a slightly different context; the rights of the people come from the hand of God not the generosity of the hierarchy.  Our station is as equal children of God. The hierarchy has it's authority on good behavior. They deserve their institutional authority so long as it it exercised on behalf of the people (the church). So, to paraphrase a statement again from only a slightly different context; when, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the bands which have connected them with another (because those bands were so badly abused), and to assume the separate and equal station which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them.

The issue is; are we at a point of justified institutional revolution?  Is this the time to take the reins of authority from those who have abused them?  One note above spoke of impeaching the Pope-is that so outrageous?  It is a nice sentiment to "empower the laity."

But, maybe its too little and too late.  Maybe we the people (the church) should overturn the tables in the temple.  WWJD? 

Kate Smith
13 years 10 months ago

SNAP confirmed what my attorney and I thought:    when I file suit against the Jesuits this week, it will be the very FIRST lawsuit in the United States about a perp priest returning to public ministry after a legal agreement that he would not.

My attorney said she sees God's hand in this.   So do I.

13 years 10 months ago

That this flame is flaring so greatly during this "Year of Priests" is notable. We all learn about our gifts, our charisms, in part from the reflections of others in our community that reinforce our gifts. Conversely our ego driven actions are not reinforced for long. This crisis calls all of us "the church" to reflect and discern on the charism the church thinks it has that it doesn't really have. It's almost certainly in the power structure but as the article states, it will take work to discern and act. Do we want to do the work?

Joe Right
13 years 10 months ago

Instead of citing how the heinous crimes that were committed and their cover up go against Church teaching and structures, self-proclaimed theologian-journalists allege that Church teaching and structures are the causes of the crimes! Instead of showing how unrestrained sexuality is part of the problem, commentators put forth ending the “sexual repression” as part of the solution.

Moreover, we might mention a curious comparison. From 1995 up to the present, there have been 210,000 sexual abuse cases with minors in Germany. Of these, only 94 cases involved the clergy – only 0.044% of the total cases. We are led to ask why Der Spiegel and so many other publications only talk about clerical sexual scandals as if the clergy was the only, or principal cause of the sexual abuse of minors.

With such inconsistencies, we are compelled to ask if the international media uproar over the clerical sexual scandals is being done for the good of the Church and the faithful or if there is some other agenda being promoted, again, aiming at reforming the institution as it is today and has been for 2000 years, i.e. "empower the laity". 

The Church has “Weathered Other Storms”
Yes, the Church has “weathered other storms.” In the midst of the present crisis, we must follow the counsel of St. Paul: “Put you on the armor of God that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)

john fitzmorris
13 years 10 months ago
While I am in general agreement with your editorial, I feel it does not really touch what is the heart of the problem. It is not fundamentally about healing the wounded, though that is, of course, what we are called to do. It is not about personal sin. At the core of this tragedy is the hierarchial institution.
It is the problem. It is corrupt and in desperate need of reform. I know the judgment sounds and is harsh, but the facts are clear. The clerical culture marked by celibacy is the guiding spirit that brought on this crisis in credibility. If it had merely been the sins of a few sexual deviants or flawed human beings and it had been handled responsibly, we would not be where we are today. The demonic insistence on a false Orthodoxy and the arrogant triumphalism imbuing the hierarchy that created this travesty needs to be purged from the institution NOW. We need a Council that will return the institution to its scriptural roots. What we really need is a prophet, who will have the courage to speak to power.
13 years 10 months ago
A very thoughtful editorial. I concur on the need for humility. I agree with more significant involvement of all the baptized. More space and thought must be given to secrecy.

Not all secrecy is bad. Obviously the secrecy of the Confessional must be kept. But secrecy is a weapon of the war system. "That's classified" is more often abused than not. Secrecy is a tool of corporations. Secrecy can't be abused in the Church. If the actions of the Church are not transparent, there are no checks and balances. We are a church of sinners, a pilgrim church. We need one another. Is slavish obeisance in accord with our dignity as children of God? I doubt blind acceptance of every utterance and practice of authority is the way forward for the people of God. Canon law must be reformed and all the baptized given the empowerment that can only enrich the Church.

Of course, all the baptized need to listen and respect one another and be obedient to authority. It will take time for the baptized to be proficient in discerning the function of transparency and to find the middle ground in working with authority. But it seems to me that more openness and effective participation of the whole people of God is the direction God is indicating we must take.
Michael Kearney
13 years 10 months ago

Being a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, I can remember thinking, "it just has to get better... it cannot continue to go one and on forever".  But now I find myself caught in the thick of the abuse scandel once again.  It never really went away, our leadership just like making believe that it did.  And after 26 years of priesthood, I find myself asking how much longer do I really want to want to put up with a hierarchy that just doesn't get it.  How much longer do I want to put up with a hierarchy who chooses not to get it?


I can remember being one of the priest in the early days of this decade standing in the ballroom of the Park Plaza Hotel and applauding Cardinal Law for his resolve to stay with us in Boston and 'fix the problem'.  I really believed in those early days that the problem was 'just a few sick indiviiduals' and I could trust my hierarchy to address and fix the problem.  History has proven how misguided my 'blind trust' was.  I plan no longer to be duped.


About all that has happened, at least in Boston, is that we have watched a very ineffective hierarchy continue to blunder their way through making believe that as long as money was paid out, criminal offence checks of all our volunteers made, and innefective programs put into place, we could continue on with the status quo.   But the problem just seems to get wider and wider.  And now seems to be systemic up to and including Rome.


I find myself questioning whether or not I wish to continue ministry in the RC Church.  I firmly believe I have a vocation, but I find myself looking at our 'sister' expressions of Christianity and wondering if I'm not being called to continue my ministry in one of the other Christian Churches.  And I don't think I'm alone in this vocational crisis.


As mentioned above, 26 years ago I promised obedience to my Bishop and his successors.  But I never promised my admiration, respect or blind trust.  And they no longer have any of those three.  In fact, they have my disdain if anything, for they have pushed me down a road of thinking I never thought I would ever entertain.  I am angry that those who were supposed to be my shepherds have led to into dark valleys of questioning and a real fear of loss of my home in the Catholic Church.  And I am not alone. 


This comment does not seem very intellectual or well thought out.  That is because it is my gut reaction to all that is swirling around me.  It's full of emotion, for I'm feeling cuckoled and cheated.  And I'm tired...







Mona Villarrubia
13 years 10 months ago

Fr. Mike, as a Catholic religious educator I supported and defended my church for 27 years. I believed that despite some evil men in the priesthood, the Church was itself a good place to live and work, and that once the issue became understood more fully we would move to a better place as a community of faith, ultimately stronger in our resolve to continue the ministry of Jesus especially to children, women, the poor, and the oppressed. I was wrong. The church structures are corrupted at the very core by misguided priorities and (apparently) financially motivated decisions by many of its highest officials. Like you, I stand on a precipice of doubt, wondering if it is possible to remain in any way Catholic. I have already removed myself from ministry as a Catholic educator and have found an emotionally and spiritually safe place working in a Reform Jewish Synagogue.

I feel your anguish. I was a childhood victim as were my brothers. But I don't hate all priests; I don't blame all priests. My heart goes out to you.

I hope you read this and I want to direct you to a posting I found very encouraging: 
"A Church Mary Can Love."

I also have a blog at www.fromhurttohealing.wordpress.com where I share my struggles.

Peace and blessing...Mona

13 years 10 months ago
Dear Editor:

Thank you for calling for accountability in the clerical sex abuse crisis and for an institutional role for the laity in its resolution.

The number of sex abuse cases in the United States may have declined significantly but the cover-up by the hierarchy remains a problem. Last year, Philadelphia Inquirer reporter David O’Reilly (5-21-09) wrote an article on the appointment of Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop, Joseph Cistone, to be the Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan. He reported that a 2005 Philadelphia grand-jury, looking into clergy sex abuse, concluded that Cistone in 1996 had silenced a nun who had tried to inform a parish about an abusive priest. The reporter also wrote that the jury found that, “among other things, Cistone in 2002 took no action to warn a suburban school district that one of its teachers was a former priest known to abuse children.”

While Bishop Cistone in 2005 wrote the Inquirer expressing “sorrow” for “any mistakes in judgment made by those of us …with responsibility for these matters,” the institutional church did not see the inappropriateness of his serving on the U.S. Bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, or his later appointment to the diocese of Saginaw. Where is the accountability? Should he have been promoted to a higher office in the Church? In light of the Grand Jury Report, was the laity, at least, entitled to an explanation?

Richard O’Malley
5101 Overbrook Avenue
Phila. PA 19131
rfomalley35@aol.com (new)
Katie Meg
13 years 10 months ago

Wonderful article.  If only these conditions could be met and enforced. As a survivor of clergy abuse as a child and young adult, I have seen the worst of the Church.  I've seen so much darkness in the Church.  I think priests and church officials should be mandatory reporters of abuse (outside of the confessional at least).  When they hear about abuse, they should help the victim report it and get justice.  The Church can't keep treating this as an issue from the past.  Victims continue to suffer.  Many, in silence.  It's awful.  I tried to report abuse but didn't get help. 

Lay empowerment would be wonderful, but sometimes (even in my Jesuit parish) it seems to be a buzz-word with little bite.  Money talks.  Donors get the ear of the leadership- and by donors I mean monetary donors, not those who donate many, many hours of time and talent.  It's discouraging. 

Richard T Rodriguez
13 years 9 months ago

Sad to say, the laity are worse at sexual child abuse than the clergy.   As we are told, 75% of child sxual abuse  are perpetrated by married men.   But, as with clergy, I don't think a legal solution really goes to the heart of the matter.  Look, rather, to meetings between the victim and perpetrators. No exchage of funds.  Simply meetings and dining; meetings and dining; meetings and dining. 

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