Ahead of the Story

Nobody likes reading about clerical sexual abuse. Yet for well over a decade now, in diocese after diocese, the actions of abusive priests and negligent diocesan officials have been brought to light—and appropriately so. Unfortunately, these revelations have come not from church leaders but from grand jury filings, government reports and press exposés. Almost without exception, the official response has lagged well behind reportage. Chanceries have reacted as though stunned by accusations that they have in some cases known about for decades, appearing combative and defensive while struggling to answer lurid allegations.

Recent weeks have proved no different, as the Irish church has been rocked yet again by a government report on clerical abuse. An investigation of the Diocese of Cloyne found that between 1996 and 2009—after national standards were set for dealing with abuse allegations—such reports were ignored, handled improperly or never reported to civil authorities. Fallout in Ireland, traditionally one of the world’s most Catholic countries, has been severe. In a rare public rebuke, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, chided his fellow bishops for withholding reports on sexual abuse of minors, telling them, “Hiding isn’t helping.” Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny, a Catholic, accused the Vatican of covering up the “rape and torture of children.” The Vatican recalled its ambassador, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza, to Rome for consultation and to assist in formulating the Vatican’s official response before moving to his next post in the Czech Republic.


The sexual abuse crisis has devastated many, beginning with individual victims and their families. The morale of laity and clergy alike has been severely undermined, as has the moral authority of many bishops. Impressions of coverups and malfeasance have tainted the highest levels of church governance, triggering frequent and justified calls for mass resignations of bishops and, more recently, indictments of chancery officials. Lagging behind the story has made matters worse, fueling the impression that the church is hiding something, shielding abusers to protect “the institution” instead of vulnerable children.

As Ireland smolders in the report’s wake, a hopeful yet far less noted development has emerged in Germany—a nation also weighed down by abuse allegations. Germany’s Catholic bishops have begun taking steps to rebuild the trust that has been lost in recent years. In July they voted unanimously to grant independent investigators access to their files on sexual abuse by clergy—some cases as far back as 1945. No doubt their findings will raise serious questions about how allegations were handled and will reveal systemic failures in protecting children. Though prior damage cannot be undone, the country’s bishops are acknowledging that they need outside help to combat this problem. In so doing, they are also being proactive, not reactive.

Bishops around the world should follow their example. If the church’s own claims about abuse are true—that it is damnable yet distressingly widespread, infecting families and schools as often as churches—then there are certainly allegations against priests and religious that have yet to come to light. To date, the crisis has hit hardest in North America and Western Europe. Far fewer allegations have surfaced in other regions, including Central and South America, India, Africa and Asia. But all of these have enormous Catholic populations, and it would be foolish to presume that these locales have been free of abuse and mishandled allegations. Indeed, this is one instance in which the catholicity of the church will likely prove a liability, not an asset.

Recent years have shown that as a topic in the news, sexual abuse by clerics is resilient. Once in the headlines, it remains there indefinitely. Unless the church begins to respond differently, as the German bishops are trying to do, sexual abuse will continue to be the main story about the Catholic Church for years, even decades, as accusations surface around the world.

Countless bishops, including Pope Benedict XVI, have spoken of the crisis as an opening for repentance, conversion and purification in the church. We continue to hope that it will be so and pray that the many victims of abuse will be healed in the same measure that they have been harmed. For this hope to be well founded, however, church leaders must stop playing defense around the issue of abuse. Rebuilding relationships of trust between the hierarchy and the faithful will take more than promises from church leaders that they are trustworthy. They must prove it. This will require resignations in cases of mendacity and negligence. In more cases, it will demand that bishops be the bearers of their own bad news about abuse. This will be an act of humility, even a painful one. But there is no alternative.

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7 years 2 months ago
The honorable conclusions of this Editorial seem 15-20 years too late. I wish the Editors at America would be bolder and not just comment on what is evidently clear-or on that which has been clear for some time. A better analysis and comment would might include why many of the bishops and priests do not trust each other, why their ranks are so divided, and why the laity are left to be the best representatives of Christ's Church and His loving mercy.
Nicholas Clifford
7 years 2 months ago
Besides coming clean, after all these years of hiding immoral and criminal behavior, church leaders are going to have to come to terms with the question of what it is about the institutions of church governance that have contributed to the abuse scandal. How far - to take one example - is canon law implicated in a system that sees accountability as due only to superiors, and that plays up the alleged superiority of the ordained to "simple layfolk," to use Rome's infelicitious phrase? What happens when the obedience demanded by one's superiors stands in the way of obedience to Christian ethics (such as charity)? What happens when "the gift of hierarchy" (Pope Benedict's term) turns out to be less of a gift and more of an impediment to faith (as well as hope and charity)?

Thus Archbishop Chaput has recently been moved to Philadelphia (o felix Philadelphia!) apparently in part to clean up the mess left by his predecessors. But what went wrong that made it possible for Bevilacqua and Rigali to leave such an Augean stable behind? Will anyone in a position of ecclesiastical authority be willing to face such questions? The track record, thus far, is not inspiring.

Professor John Beal (of the Catholic University) provides a useful primer to some of the problems with canon law in Chap. V of Lacey and Oakley. eds., The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2011); no doubt there are more exhaustive treatments elsewhere.
Clare McGrath-Merkle
7 years 2 months ago
The editors are too quick to laud the German bishops. American bishops also supposedly gave free access to independent investigators - the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The outcome was tainted because the investigators found only what the bishops had allowed to be left in the files. The German bishops also took on American norms that activists here know full well involve smoke screen tactics, leaving a lot of room for further obfuscation. The Germans are learning from American clerical legal experts who have had 20 years to figure out how best to delay, waffle, parse, and sidestep.

We don't need editorials but real investigative journalism - it will take decades to connect all the dots.

For example, I have counted 3 members of diocesan panels charged with child protection oversight and one chief of child protection this year alone (internationally) who have all been exposed, unbelievably, as being child molesters or users of child porn themselves -most already known to be such and put in place by bishops. In one case, Cardinal Levada, (now in charge of abuse guidelines at the Vatican) testified that he knew the man he put in charge of abuse policy and guidelines in his diocese was a molester when he gave him the position.

We not only have bishops and cardinals covering up by ignoring complaints, they are having abusers in control of monitoring and responding to the rape of children. The questions lurking behind these facts are no less than horrific.
Amy Cavender
7 years 2 months ago
Full names, please, per our comments policy.
7 years 2 months ago
The sad thing about all these scandals is how it affects the very faith of most people - and how we all have a tendency to pull away from ANY group that has prominent figures caught up in horrific evil. Throwing the baby out with the bath water is always the first and strongest urge we have and it's the blazing hot furnance behind much of what passes for calls of reform today.

So we have calls for getting rid of celibacy as well as calls for direct lay voting for bishops (as though celibacy and not the lack thereof was the cause of sex perversion and papal selection not local political passions were the cause of local bishops being too concerned with how bad news played locally....)

Let a priest sin through sex and the hue and cry is "a married clergy would preclude this sort of thing" even though married clergy the world over have similar if not higher rates of the same sort of abuse!

Let a bishop cover up his clergy for years and then do a 180 and drop the hammer on anyone on the very whiff of an accusation and we get cries for no hierarchy - as though it's the hierarchical structure and not lack of the use of authority itself to blame!

Everyone wants to gore their favorite ox - and use the heat and passion of the titanic evil of child abuse as fuel for self-righteous condemnation.... as though so long as we are reacting in disgust it makes ANY of our prejudices correct and ANY of our shoot from the hip sweeping institutional changes are declared "superior" to the status quo ante...even though it was the lack of applying Catholic norms and using the power of the bishop that led to coverups and the like.

But I continue to ask.... why is it that crimes of public school teachers or government officials don't result in a sweeping, passionate hue and cry for the dismantling of the public school system? Or cries for reforming the ability of citizens to sue their federal government out of existence?

If we are not supposed to treat the Church differently than civil society and the problem is a double standard, then why do we protect the public school system or government on any level while calling for bankruptcy of orders, dioceses, parishes, etc. to pay for the crimes of the few?

Yes let us drop the hammer on the guilty. Yes, let us protect and treat the victims and preclude as best we can a repeat in the future.... but we must take care to avoid lumping the innocent with the guilty (equivalent to carpet bombing a city to 'take out' a factory), or focusing our hatred and ire on the institution that allowed cowards to be cowards rather than focusing our anger on the cowards!

Institutions of any nature can always be misused - you'll never legislate away crime or abuse because the system of government or control is always neutral - what matters are the individuals' integrity.

This is why it's insanity to declare that a politicians sex life is off limits to his public actions.... when it says everything about his public actions! It's insane to put all our hope on government (or church) efficiency because we've added a layer of regulatory oversight (like an Inquisition perhaps?) while we continue to blame the institution and not the individuals.

James Moran
7 years 2 months ago

As a priest AND a vicitm of clergy sexual abuse, I consider myself a VICTIM and NOT a "survivor." I can only become a survivor when the hierarchy of the church which has been so much a part of this scandal faces up to their wrongdoings and face the music.

An "apostle" is one who is sent - and is more than a mere messenger - the apostle actually "becomes" the sender. In this case, when I was ordained I was "sent" by the ordaining prelate (Humberto Cardinial Medeiros) to preach the Good Word etc. In doing so I stand "in place of the bishop" as his apostle.

I was raped in August 1970 while stationed as a Deacon at Sacred Heart Parish, Roslindale, MA and was ordained in May 1971. The nine months between rape and ordination saw a LOT of soul searching and questionning. All the doubts and fears of the previous seven years of seminary training were revisited. Now it was more Can I be a priest, Should I be a priest, Are they all like that? Of course, having no idea that the bishops for decades had been covering up all these abuse cases did not enter into my decision. In my naivete I reasoned that the little good that I could do as a priest would offset the evil that I had encountered.

Shortly after Ordination the American Psychiatric Association made the statement that "those who were abused COULD become abusers." I heard, however, that I WOULD become an abuser. I then started building thick walls around me to keep others out so I would not be hurt again - and that I would not be able to hurt others.

I ministered until 2001 when I had a flashback. I continued in ministry until 2006 but by that time was so overwhelmed with the betrayal and immoral actions of the hierarchy that I could no long in conscience be an "apostle." I could no long stand for all that they were saying and doing.

In sort, the only way I can find healing is for ALL the hierarchyi who were in place prior to 2002 and had ANY input into the cover up to have them all step down and let the church pick up the pieces and begin again.
David Clohessy
7 years 2 months ago
"...fueling the impression that the church is hiding something, shielding abusers to protect “the institution” instead of vulnerable children."

The reality is that the church hierarchy IS protecting the institution instead of vulnerable children. That's NOT an "impression," it's the truth.

One can dispute why this is true, how widespread this is, and what bishops' motives may be. But one cannot deny this reality.

We're accustomed to church officials mischaracterizing this crisis. But if Catholic lay people can't correctly characterize this crisis, there's little hope for real reform.

David Clohessy
National Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal St
St. Louis, MO 63143

7 years 2 months ago
We should all (clergy and laity) kneel and ask Almighty God's forgiveness and the Holy Spirit's guidance to right the wrong.  We are all in this together.   Sin affects everyone!  This is demonstrated in the current mess of clergy sexual abuse. 
Aline Frybarger
7 years 2 months ago
 "We continue to hope that it will be so and pray that the many victims of abuse will be healed in the same measure that they have been harmed."

What is the measure that will be used to heal?  Hope is not enough, action is what is needed.  What action is needed?  The victims need to be recognized in their communities/parishes and warmly encouraged to come and speak before memebers of the parish who could handle listening.  Then the parishes must do what it takes to help victims.  The victims need to lead the process of healiing.  Presently there are only words like the above for victims.  They are just nice words.  I was abused from 1952 - 1964 by thirteen priests at my parish.  The faith hid this abuse just like Jaycee Dugard was hidden from the world for 18 years as no one dared to look at what was going on in the back yard.  No one ever looked at what was going on with me.  So the wishful words will echo and nothing will be done in a concrete, grass roots way. 
Patrick Clarke
7 years 2 months ago
Patrick Clarke
7 years 2 months ago
The Catholic Church as the Church establised by Christ must admit, condemn and allow civil authority access to their filed of piestly misconduct, In addition they must confort, console and assist the abused in dealing with this unacceptable and unchristian act of abusers and enablers, The Church is Christ not the bureaucrats. Respect can only be earned, and it shallbe, if and when the bishops tell the truth. The victims are truly Christ like for they suffer and are reabused by denial and non acceptance. The Church and its so called leaders must be more CHRISTIAN IN THEIR ACTIONS> By their actions we will know them.
7 years 2 months ago

If you’ve ever had extended contact with the hierarchy, it’s hard to imagine the lack of pastoral compassion and dedication to the Gospel that many (of course not all, there are many good clerics and bishops who do their best in the face of adversity) of the hierarchy reflect.  Too many are more interested in moving up the Church’s “corporate ladder” for promotions and accolades from their superiors, than in following what Jesus taught and remembering like Jesus, they are called to be servants, not princes.  Until they are forced to take responsibility for their actions (or lack thereof) things will unfortunately remain unchanged.  The clergy sex-abuse scandal would seem to be the tip of the iceberg.  All in ministry are and should be called to accountability.  Instead, the actions of many are done in an autocratic, tyrannical way in order to preserve their status quo.  Our fervent prayer is that those who lead be guided by the Holy Spirit and not by any other considerations.

Joan Niehoff
7 years 2 months ago
Whenever I think about this crisis, I wonder what the victims need to help healing, and how our church can contribute to that process. It's such a deep wound. And I wonder what changes need to be made to resolve this. It definitely will require engagement of the church leaders. Right now they are hiding, fearful and secretive. There is no sign that they are listening to the voice of Jesus.
Gloria Sullivan
7 years 2 months ago
Sadly the Roman Catholic Church is not what it has claimed to be. It needs to end it's evil reign! Nothing in God's name can give it another chance, other than the devil himself. And that seems to be the people who have been "generationally brain washed" for millenium[s]by the devil, to do his work and not God'sWork. End it now, before all souls who still attend ar lost. It's called being an "Assesory to the Crimes". Maybe you are still driving the"'get-a-way" CAR too! If you choose to stay , will you accept your punishment? I don't think you'll want it.
Kay Goodnow
7 years 2 months ago
I am a female who was abused in 1952.  I am a survivor because in 1996, i found SNAP, I found my voice.  In the interim, it took a lifetime for me to understand what had happened to me and why I was/am so wierd (crazy).  This editorial is well written but is about 75 years too late.  We all know that abuse has existed since the dawn of time.  What we did not know, or fully comprehend, was the magnitude of deceit inherent to the highest authorities in the church who consipred to silence the victims.  We NOW know that this epidemic is global and most are agreed that it has to stop.  I personally am not much interested in saving the church.  Why would I want to save it?  I founght hard to protect my kids from this evil known as church and my grandkids as well.  I shut myself out and, with time and education, knew that I had made the right decision.  Now, if the bishops were to resign and go to jail along with the King (Pope) and all of his entourage I would have no interest in coming back.  My emphasis is now, and always will be, on protecting the children who are our future.  Yes, diocesan leadership went astray, as did the orders and all of these include males and females. It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that what we are taught to believe is not what the "teachers" believe.  Rather, it is a form of brainwashing.  So I will speak only for myself as a victim, but I will tell you that we do not ever heal.  What we do learn is to use what has been done to us to educate others as to the dangers of believing what is taught without questioning.
Mary Keane
7 years 2 months ago
Agree with the first comment. This has all been said before.  When will there be the day of pentitential prayer so long bandied about?  We have eternity, fair enough, but has there been no spot on the calendar for such a gathering in ten years? 

The church 'leadership' has no crediblity left at all, given that every time there we turn around there is a new "eruption."  The laity are left holding the bag, and it is not a nice bag at all. 

Why is the clergy victim permitted anonymity here but not others? 
Anthony Perrett
7 years 2 months ago

Dear Sir,

I found your article quietly balanced and sensible. The Archbishop of Dublin, I understand, symbolically did penance, though himself un-embroiled.

Cardinal Brady, admitted forcing two youngsters to remain quiet. It seems to me that this was a breach of trust. He demeaned the youngsters, denying them the right of justice and comfort. Cardinal Brady has not resigned, repented or done penance publicly so far as I am aware. It is this arrogance which does the Roman Church no good.

In Christian countries the Roman Church should look to the state authorities to stamp out crime, and provide aid to the victims. Just as other institutions do, schools, churches etc. There should be no protection from the law of the state, so that all are treated the same.

Generally, so far as I understand, these matters have come to the notice of the bishops other than through confessions or breach of confessional secrecy. Hence to mount an argument that secrecy must be maintained to protect the secrecy of the confessional is misleading and misguided. It is better, as the article argues, to be open to the state authorities in Christian countries, and countries which uphold human rights.

Recalling the Vatican’s ambassador from Dublin gave a negative impression. What official response can there be other than hailing a just application of Irish law?
Michael Barberi
7 years 2 months ago
Yes, all of this has been said before. What we have come to know is only a symtom of the problem, not the cause. I don't mean the cause of the sex abuse crisis. I mean the larger problem. It is the protestion of the institutional Church at all costs...its teachings, policies, heirarchical structure and culture. 

IMO, the "cause" is rooted in the worldview that the Church has had for centuries. Tradition is the abolute moral truth, no exceptions. The Church is never wrong, will not admit to any fault or weakness, any sense of guilt. All of their judgments are the good and the truth. Forget about the pain and suffering of policies, decisions and teachings. It does not matter if 34 million people have AIDS. Serodiscordant couples must practice celibacy, end of discussion. If a pregnancy would threathen the life of a married spouse, she must remain celibate or practice risky natural family planning. Don't take the pill or get sterilized even after having 3 children and your life is threatened by imminent death if you get pregnant. After all, what is more important to God...that every marital act have a procreative meaning or safeguarding one's life?  According to the Church, it is the former. Coverup scandal, disregard pain and suffering. Just keep repeating doctrine and blame everything on the ills of the secular age and individualism. Defend, defend, defend the institution. Close all debate on every past papal teaching. After all, we cannot learn from the collective and evolving wisdom of Christianlity.

There is indeed a crisis of truth in the Church. It is a cancer that has been growing for a long time. What we need is not the resignation of a few bishops, we need a fundamental restructuring of authority.
Theo Verbeek
7 years 2 months ago
Hear! Hear! How long do we still have to wait?
Norman Costa
7 years 2 months ago
@ Mary Keane:

 "Why is the clergy victim permitted anonymity here but not others?"

Obviously, I don't make the rules and I have to abide by them. My personal view is that we can be generous with our patience and indulgent with this rule for those who identify themselves as victim or survivor or whatever.

Having worked with and known any number of victims, one of the consequences of abuse is a strong disinclination to trust others. I have heard well meaning but obtuse people say to them "Well, you have to learn to trust people." As for so many people, this demonstrates a near total lack of understanding of what it means to be a victim of sexual abuse.

@ Clergy Victim:

Regarding the likelihood of an abuse victim becoming an abuser, I can say this: I have seen the research and spoke to professionals on this matter.


One psycholotherapist who specializes in sexual abuse commented that it could, in fact, be the other way around. Some victims become like lionesses in the way they protect and watch out for their own children.
Norman Costa
7 years 2 months ago

@ The Editors:

There are times when I feel the same exasperation as others in this thread that this has all been said before. However, I believe it has to be said again and again. For those of us who have made the effort to understand the issues and speak out, it becomes repetitive, and we wonder why so little progress. 

There are still too many people who do not understand what clergy sex abuse of minors is all about, how the victims have been terribly, terribly wounded, and how the church hierarchy has to be dragged kicking and screaming to move one inch in the direction of doing the right thing. Then the Church congratulates itself on voluntarily making such great progress. So, say it again and again, even when some of us are sick and tired of hearing the same old thing.
William McGovern
7 years 2 months ago
A couple of observations:

Recognizing the gravity of the crisis in the Church, we should also realize that the vast, vast majority of priests are honorable, decent servants who do their best each and every day to serve the Lord.   We thank them and Our Lord for their extraordinary efforts.

At this point in time, Church leaders need to understand fully the harm this crisis has done not only to the direct victims of abuse but to all Catholics.   How many have left the Church and perhaps any faith community because of the disillusionment this has caused?   How many Catholics are more doubtful of their faith?   I think the growing number of empty pews gives you an answer.

The emptiness in the pews cannot be blamed on this crisis alone.  it has many causes.  However, it should be recognized the crisis has been a signifcant factor. Church leaders should also acknowledge two truths:  First, there needs to be a new series of on-going actions to restore the credibility of priestly vocations. These actions should be developed not just by clergy but in cooperation with all the faithful.  Second and most important, we need to put our trust and confidence in Our Lord and Savior.  We cannot solve this crisis and restore the credibility of His Church without His help.   We should openly and prayerfully seek it.
Norman Costa
7 years 2 months ago
@ T. Parnum:

Very good. This too has to be said again and again.

I want to extend one of your important ideas. No, I mean VERY IMPORTANT idea. "...[A]ctions should be developed not just by clergy but in cooperation with all the faithful." My focus is on "all the faithful."

For example, let's take the issue of priestly celibacy. My personal view, coming from the research of Andrew Greeley, is that celibacy, per se, is not the issue. I won't argue that point here. What I offer for consideration is that priestly celibacy should be a matter for the faithful to decide, along with the hierarchy. What kind of priests do the non-clergy faithful want? Is it important to them that celibacy should be optional? Would they prefer married priests, or not put road blocks to the ordination of married men? Would the faithful approve of women priests?

I have heard so many times from the hierarchy that the lay faithful need to participate a lot more in the workings of the Church. Take Catholic Schools for example. Nobody in the Church is giving lay faithful (not to mention parents) any meaningful discretion over policy, programs, personnel, and finance. When was the last time that the lay faithful were consulted on school closings and consolidations?

QUESTION: What decision making authority was delegated to or shared with lay faithful?

ANSWER. You have to ask the question?

Charle Reisz
7 years 2 months ago

The article was well written and there are many good comments from your readers. I particularly liked the comment above by Anthony Perrett.

Why are we all beating our heads against the wall of the Vatican. It is certain that they are not going to change. The organizational structure of the church prevents change from anywhere except the top so they are self perpetuating. Forceful overthrow is unlawful so that is not an option. Our only option is to walk. A weaker option is to stay in but withhold financial support and hope to starve them out.

I was born into a deeply Catholic family, attended daily mass, I had 15 years of formal Catholic training. Our family had religious members for centuries. They were revered at family gatherings. I came from a large catholic family and had two brothers who joined the religious both to later leave. An older cousin who was a priest died this past year and for the first time in centuries we have no one in the clergy. Half of my siblings are practicing catholics and the other half have walked. I walked but it was an agonizing decision. I have a son who is very religious and contributes much of his talents and his wealth to his church. It is a Christian church but not catholic.

There is a parish named after my great great grandfather. In that church and others I visit occasionally, I can see stained windows, alters, baptism fonts and other church artifacts that were donated by or in the name of my relatives. I even contributed to a couple of items that were dedicated to very close relatives. I still attend weddings and funerals in catholic churchs. There seem to be more church funerals than weddings in my extended family today.

Why do I even follow the happenings of the church and why do I even care, if I do care? It is hard to stand by and watch a person or an institution that you grew up with and that you were a part of die a slow death. It is even harder when that death is from self inflicted wounds. I feel certain that I am watching the RCC die a slow death. As has been pointed out from time to time, change comes slowly to the RCC. I think death also comes slowly to the RCC. But self inflected death is surely coming.
Joe Edmonds
7 years 2 months ago
Though far less important than the suffering and injustice caused to the victims of clerical sexual abuse, readers may nonetheless be interested at what has  been proposed by Gerry O'Hanlon S J in his recent book "A New Vision for the Catholic Church: A View from Ireland"  by way of reform of the Church in Ireland. His analysis and proposals have uniform application to other parts of the world wracked by this crisis.
Molly Roach
7 years 2 months ago
7 years 2 months ago
I attended the National Conference of Catechetical Leaders in Atlanta last May.  The Morning Prayer Service on the first day was a celebration of all that Catechetical leaders had done over the past 75 years.  I can't remember the readings or the music but at some point during the Prayer Service I found myself 'sobbing quietly' for all that has been lost and destroyed in our Church over the last twenty or so years as a result of this abuse scandal.  We have lost people, money, diocesan and parish staff and so much more.  When will this all end?  We are destroying ourselves!
Dennnis MacDonald
7 years 2 months ago

This is a clear and forthright editorial. AMERICA is to be lauded. Two items seem to be missing however. While AMERICA is not the mouthpiece for the order, never the less, the Society of Jesus must demonstrate its compliance with its advice. The Jesuits have not been immune from the many dimensions of the scandal.

Secondly, the editorial fails to identify institutional governance, ie the patriarchical totalitarianism or "clericalism", as a causal factor in and preservative of the sexual abuse and the abuse of authority and trust in the cover up and "response".


Mary Wells
7 years 2 months ago
For true reform that will prevent abuse there must be a re-alignment of power in the Church. Sexual abuse is always about abuse of power. The authors of this editorial have looked in the wrong place in Europe for an example of meaninigful change. Don't look to Germany, where as one commentator points out the Bishops' "independent" investigation has all the frailties of the John Jay investigation in the U.S., (i.e.the investigators were limited to reviewing only those documents the bishops had purged). Look rather to Austria where over 300 of Austria’s 4,200 priests have pledged to take part in Aufruf zum Ungehorsam (Call to Disobedience), an initiative launched in June.

The Call to Disobedience document cites “the Roman refusal of a long-overdue Church reform and the inaction of bishops.” Priests who support the document pledge
  • to pray for Church reform at every liturgy, since “in the presence of God there is freedom of speech”
  • not to deny the Holy Eucharist to “believers of good will,” including non-Catholic Christians and those who have remarried outside the Church

  • to avoid offering Mass more than once on Sundays and holy days and to avoid making use of visiting priests–instead holding a “self-designed” Liturgy of the Word

  • to describe such a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion as a “priestless Eucharistic celebration”; “thus we fulfill the Sunday obligation in a time of priest shortage”

  • to “ignore” canonical norms that restrict the preaching of the homily to clergy

  • to oppose parish mergers, insisting instead that each parish have its own individual leader, “whether man or woman”

  • to “use every opportunity to speak out openly in favor of the admission of the married and of women to the priests.

    These structures make abuse much more difficult to commit or coverup abuse. The call of teh Austrian priests may be as pivotal in restoring the Church as Martin Luther 39 theses.
7 years 2 months ago
The hierarchy of the Church is neutral - as is any form of government. It's the individuals who make a system or government evil or good. So reforming the "system", adding layers of lay oversight, adding an investigative arm with teeth (like the Inquisition) and adding immediate firing squad summary judgments on accused priests and their bishops "who should have known" won't change anything.

Read that again.

Get all the structural, systemic reforms you desire and it won't solve a bit of problems.

Because men and women, lay and clergy are all human and human beings are all of us equally prone to evil and sin.

Baby and bath water people. Baby and bathwater.

Just because you were victimized by a priest does not mean "priesthood" is wrong. Nor does it mean celibacy is the problem (obviously not since had the abuser actually LIVED his vows of celibacy, you'd not have been abused!)

Just because a bishop or a dozen (of the 5000 on earth) covered up their scandals or were in on the abuse themselves and got away with it thanks to the "system" does not mean the system itself invariably and always only leads to abuse.

Just because you're angry and a victim does not mean ANY idea, any proposal, any suggestion of a change is automatically and necessarily, axiomatically, "the right solution".

Why the insistance that we blame the innocent for the crimes of the guilty? Why have we as Catholics and we as Americans so easily and quickly taken our eyes off the individual priests and bishops and rectors and actual actors..... and focused on "the institution" and those who just so happen to be in the same time zone or zip code? Why the hue and cry to gut and replace "the system" - that has grown through 2,000 years of reaction to persecution and schism, heresy and division to the form it has now and not out of wholecloth in the past 40 years.... while at the same time we don't call for similar revolutions of the Public schools and civil government when THEY are found to have the same abuse and abusers?

It's because while we call the Church to obey the civil law and demand civil penalties to accrue.... we don't treat the state the same way.

It's because for whatever reason we can't bring ourselves to blame the actual guilty party and need to vent our wrath on people and organizations we don't know and understand in the first place.

To call the Catholic hierarchy a totalitarian patriarchy oppressing women is to be utterly uninformed about human history and what real totalitarian government is and what real oppressive patriarchy is.

Dennnis MacDonald
7 years 2 months ago

I firmly disagree with John Lyons' contention that the institution structure and institution imbedded culture is not a causal factor. Granted, there is individual responsibility, volition and culpability for each act of sexual abuse as for each case of denial, obfuscation, lateral arabesque hiding of abusers, humiliation of victims, etc. When an organization tolerates those characteristics, add abject obedience and absolute control as conditions of membership, that is "institutional". If the individuals - hierarchy and superiors as well as members do not take a stand, yes, it will continue. Call it institutional clericalism, habituation, culture, whatever but "company", "organization", "institution", "cadre", "band of brothers", whatever, the organizational structure, rules constitute an incremental element which is related to but beyond the individual.

Regardless of Lyons' obstreperous rant: the abuse was/is systematic and systemic. Whoever said it was right: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unless the system of governence is changed to a more transparant, accountable, inclusive and representative mode the abuse will fester and constitute an enviroment condusive to and attractive to individually responsible abusers.

Noone is "let off the hook" here. The toleration and facilitation as well as the failure of the so-called "good" priests and hierarchy to root out abuse and institute change is arguabely equally culpable as the sick and deranged who would rape a child.

Dennnis MacDonald
7 years 2 months ago
PS: "The hierarchy of the church is neutral-as is any form of government" - Balderdash!
Richard T Rodriguez
7 years 2 months ago
A good doctor will see one problem in the context of the person's general health.  It is posssible to be so facinated (horrified) by a symptom  to not seek a solution for  the  cause. Can the problem of abuse by clergy be understood if not seen in the context of abuse of youth by all adults?
7 years 2 months ago
Dear Mr. MacDonald, when you say "rant" I suppose it is because you disagree with my arguments and rather than pointing out my errors it's just easier to dismiss as unworthy of your time - while anonymously breathing fire at bishops and the very concept of church authority is much more economical.

 Well, while I will not call your reply a 'rant' I do challenge you to prove that the Catholic Church's hierachical structure of clergy and laity, dioceses and parishes necessarily and in all places and times leads to corruption of the youth. We're a big church and for the most part have existed under regimes of bloody persecution from without and the constant threat of schism, heresy and apostasy from within. 

The development of the rights and duties of bishops (and pastors, and religious superiors) in the current iteration of canon law can be traced to historical experience outside the USA and well before the modern era. That "transparency" can be lacking and that evil-doers can corrupt local churches is a given due to human nature, not due to some unique governmental structure. 

Unless you're willing to crack open a serious argument on governmental theory across the centuries and church history I don't think you want to wade into an argument with me about this. 

It's not enough to be angry. You've also got to be right about where the cause of evil comes from. And it's not IMHO "obviously" due to a male clergy or the code of canon law.  

Speaking of righteous anger taking the place of argument.... I continue to note that while abortion is quietly put aside as a "painful" issue not worth of much public wrath....children who are abused sexually by clergy (and only clergy) are victims on whose behalf we are all empowered to let loose the reins of our righteous anger and allow ANY calls for revolution to be heard with a sympathetic ear.

But what's our Church (and civil society's) emotional response to abortion? Do we level rage against the mothers and their useless boyfriends? No. For the most part we focus on the abortionist and perhaps a politician or party. But unless mothers and their useless boyfriends voluntarily sought the private killing of their offspring, it wouldn't happen. But we as a people level no wrath and anger at them at all. Even though they, and they primarily, are personally, individually responsible for the death of their unborn children.

No, far better to get angry at other people. or "the system made them do it". Safer, psychologically more effortless to assault with righteous anger 'the system'. The wrath makes it OK - just ask any lynch mob. And much of what passes for wisdom on this thread is essentially the call for mob rule.

I challenge any of you, dear readers to show me how the structure of dioceses and orders as currently established in Canon law is necessarily the cause and not merely the occasion for child sexual abuse.

Yes, power corrupts. Yes, lack of oversight is a temptation for wrong doing. I write from Detroit and no one knows better what local government corruption is like than a Detroiter who has watched the great city implode decade after decade.

But despite the repeated corrupt Mayors and city officials, despite the 'institutional' corruption in city hall and city services, in public schools and public administration, in Unions and businesses..... there is no hue and cry to overthrow "the system" and blame "the system" for the failure of individuals to obey the law. Indeed, the law itself is not blamed for criminals' misbehavior.

So why the difference when it comes to the Church? An occasion of sin is not necessarily the 'cause' of the sin! Otherwise healthy and sincere individuals do not become raving monsters simply because they have power and no oversight.

It was not celibacy but the lack thereof that led priests and bishops to abuse children. It was not "tradition" but the lack thereof (in moral theology, in ecclesiology, in sacramental theology, in social sciences, pedagogy, seminary training and disciplines, spirituality, etc.) that led to priests and bishops abusing minors as well as assuming the secular field of psychology to be correct in the recidivism of abusers or the secular world's wishful thinking about how resilient victims where (remember all the ballyhooing about how tough kids are in divorce? So do I!).

It wasn't too much orthodoxy, too much efforts to obey Rome or Catholic moral teaching or too much concern for "the mission of the Church" but TOO LITTLE!

You all seem to believe that wrath is the coin of righteousness. That being angry gives you carte blanche infallibility to level sweeping generalized condemnations on groups of people with whom you disagree with (for perhaps lots of other reasons beyond their role in sex abuse and coverups).

Thus, the baby is tossed out with the bath water.

You want an Inquisition? 500 years of black legend and secular world pooh poohing the 4 Inquisitions (Portugal, Spanish, French and Roman) has brought us to the place where SNAP and allies are essentially demanding for the re-birth of an agency of Investigation empowered by them I suppose to ferret out enemies, level charges, haul off to jail, frog march before courts and then mete out capital or other harsh punishments.

Now, who gets to be the Inquisitors?
Michael Barberi
7 years 2 months ago

The Church hierarchy has always been the seat of power in the Catholic Church, in particular the Vatican hierarchy. However, since the later part of the 19th century, it has been the papal magisterium that has taken the lead role of power. This power was significantly strengthened by John Paul II. JP2 did some great things and was a good pope, but not a perfect pope. His extreme orthodoxy and theology was sternly enforced. Priests were serverly reprimanded  that did not abide by all Church teachings, especially sexual ethical teachings. No priest would be made a bishop unless they fit the popes' profile. Bishops that spoke out were sometimes removed from office or an auxillary bishop was given his responsibilities. If a clegyman or theologian disagreed with the pope, he was a "dissenter". This created a "us against them" attitude and a crisis of truth. The sexual abuse scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. It is only a "symtom" of the larger problem.

if we think of the Church as made up of three equal parts: the common laity, theologians and priests, and the Church hierarchy. The only part with any voice is the latter and those that agree with the latter. The vast majority have no real voice.

The Church hierarchy, expecially the Vatican, is in need of reform. "Reform" does not mean to disgard all of our current processes, but to improve these processes that will guide us closer to the truth and the good. At the moment, we have an authoritatively dominent Vatican with an worldview where the truth is already known, has been taught and will never change. This does not simply mean the desposit of faith but every teaching and every papal utterance. We have a Church that will never admit to any error, any fault, or any sense of guilt. 

If the Church is not working for the majority of Catholics, does not Catholics have a right to make our voices known without being a "dissenter"? 

C Walter Mattingly
7 years 2 months ago
@ John et al,
While almost all of the commentators above are likely familiar with the million or so American infants exterminated by abortion annually, many of them are largely silent on the abortion issue for at least two reasons. First, they realize that the general culture has rejected the idea of sexual relations as an exclusive, sacred, familial act of love and re-creation, central to the family and the community, basically the Christian idea of sexuality, for the idea that it is a form of recreation not exclusive, sacred, or intrinsicly related to family, with any ensuing nascent person an unwanted side-effect to be tolerated or discarded at the whim of the individual, not the business of the family or the community. Although they recognize that abortion involves the death of a nascent person, or as Fr Kavanaugh insightfully puts it, "an embodied human career," the problem in a culture of such frenzied, unrestricted, and randomly directed sexuality as ours seems to them so overwhelming that they throw in the towel and acquiesce to the carnage. Secondly, while most Catholics don't have a member of their family or immediate circle of friends who has been sexually abused by a priest, they often do know of such a person who has had an abortion, perhaps themselves. So unlike the priest abuse issue, the sinners are not those sinners over there, but right at home. So like the priests and bishops they condemn, they tolerate it, turn their backs on the carnage, even support it.
None of which takes away the sting of the succinct summation of the problem presented in the editorial. Why hasn't there been more progress in reforming the Church's response to this disaster? It's as if the Church must go throught the 12-Step program, and has taken a generation to get to step 6. As Norman Costa states, it must be stated again and again until this changes. The enormity of the problem extends even to our own editors at America, who while addressing the failures of the bishops and papal hierarchy did not mention the Jesuit scandals until immediately before the scandals and the hundred-million-dollar settlements were about to be broken in the media. Our editors might benefit from a dose of their own medicine.
A final note. For those who consider moving their children from the parochial school system to the public school system, the change is not promising: major studies indicate the problem is 20, 50, 100 times worse there. If you object to the sexual abuse of children and limit your outrage to the Church, ignoring the far greater problem in the public schools, are you living up to your obligation to social justice?
Norman Costa
7 years 2 months ago

@ Walter:

"For those who consider moving their children from the parochial school system to the public school system, the change is not promising: major studies indicate the problem [of sexual abuse of minors] is 20, 50, 100 times worse there."


I had read the Shankshaft report a while ago and have a copy on my computer. I also have the John Jay reports, and published articles authored by some of the John Jay faculty. I have a lot of other research, reviews, and commentary from many authors and sources. 

I have been a research psychologist for forty years. My expertise is in advanced social science statistics, research methods, experimental design, testing, and surveys. I was sceptical of the claim of a 100 fold greater incidence of sexual abuse of minors for teachers in non-Catholic schools when compared with Catholic priests. For argument sake, let's say that three percent of priests are abusers. Then 300 percent of teachers are abusers. This is an impossibility. There cannot be more abusers than there are teachers. 

After seeing many others pick it up and run with it, I decided to dig in and see if I can find the source of the claim. I thought that I might find a misreading of the numbers; or a confusion between the idea of 100 fold increase and a 100 percent increase; or perhaps a biased acceptance of the most extreme statistics. After going through the Shankshaft report, and others, I could not find any support for the claim. 

Then I started thinking about how I would design a study, or analyze data, to make a proper comparison between priests and teachers. First there would have to be a commonality of definitions so that abuse of various kinds would be tallied in a meaningful way. Then there would have to be a way to standardize time frames, and lengths of time of time of exposure to potential abusers in order to make apples to apples comparisons.

I decided to write a paper on the subject using various stats from the Shankshaft and John Jay reports. The paper will come, but I have other writing projects to do before that. 

However, I did some mental projections for various kinds of stats for priests and teachers. The key in making these projections is to establish a consistent time frame. I chose to use the 12 years of education from first grade through high school graduation. Probably the best of the reviewed reports in the Shankshaft paper covered this period of time.

A minor will go through the complete 12 years, for the most part. From this you estimate the number of hours in a year a minor is exposed to a potential abuser - the number of hours at school. For victims of clergy sex abuse of minors, I have to make some estimates of hours in a year of exposure. Not all minors go to Catholic schools for 12 years. But, there are other times and events where Catholic children are exposed to potential abusers. Also, I would have to control for gender of the abuser and victim to make a proper comparison of priest to teachers.

My professional opinion is that I am going to find that the exposure of a minor to a potential abuser, on a comparable unit of time [for example, hours per year] will show that the exposure time to a potential priest abuser is a fraction of the time of exposure to a teacher. If the units of time are made comparable between priests and teachers, the probability of being abused by a priest will skyrocket past the probability of being abused by a teacher.

Let's put this in a different way. You have a minor child that you must leave at home for three hours while you attend to responsibilities outside the home. You need a baby sitter. Two people offer to baby sit, and you have no choice but to pick one. One is a priest and the other a teacher. You know nothing else about them except that they are both men. Whom do you select? The answer is that if you choose the priest, you would be out of your friggin' mind. The probability of abuse for that three hour period is far greater with the priest. 

I did not write about this earlier because I did not want another researcher to scoop me on the analysis before I had a chance to write it and submit it for peer review. Now, I give permission for anyone to use my ideas in this comment and publish an analysis of the issues.
john fitzmorris
7 years 2 months ago
What is most disturbing about the hierarchy's cover-up is the way that the victims, children and the vulnerable were routinely and deliberately disregarded. Invariably, the bishops opted to protect "their own." Their own! The words are chilling. Obviously, the rationale of the cover-up was to protect the priestly caste: their own. Those who were their own, well too bad!
The cover-up sends the unmistakable message as to who is actually important and who isn't in the institutional church. Jesua had harsh words to say about those who mistreated his little ones. He suggested that it would better for them to have millstones humg around their necks and be thrown into the sea. But his most searing words he reserved for the wicked tenants who mismanaged his Father's vinyard. I would sugges that the bishops re-acquaint themselves with the Masters' words before they have irreparably damaged the vinyard. Thanks to America for confronting the issue again.
Michael Cassidy
7 years 2 months ago
    A good editorial, so far as it goes; but it does not go far enough.  Yes, our bishops need to be more forthright, to get ahead of the curve instead of behind it.  However, one thing (among many) which the sexual abuse crisis and its cover-ups have unveiled (oddly enough) is that we belong to a church with a serious problem of corruption.  The sexual abuse is by far the worst part, but there are also the inconvenient facts of bribery at the very top of the Vatican, money laundering for organized crime, misuse of donated funds, lack of transparency and accountability, and a number of other things.  
         Like it or not, we all have been made part of an international criminal enterprise.  Personally, I am among those who most emphatically do NOT like it, and I want it stopped.  But there is scant evidence that any such thing is likely to happen in my lifetime (I'm 68).  
    The liturgy debacle which is about to be unleashed upon us is simply more of the same:  Arrogant, top-down shenanigans emanating from the conservative wing of the Curia and the hierarchy. (The liberal wing, if ever there was one, has fallen on hard times.)  It is a solution to a non-existent problem, one made up out of whole cloth for purely political and ideological reasons.  Further, it is in direct opposition to formal texts of an ecumenical council, and so can have no force of law.  (See remarks about Nicea, above.)  It amounts to a raw exercise of power,  with no justification.   
    Could a different structure and different policies and procedures ensure that this sort of corruption would not happen again?  Not with a 100% guarantee; but new structures and processes could and would improve the likelihood of better results, and result in quicker error-correction.  As noted by others,  humans are marvelously inventive when it comes to bad behavior.  Nonetheless, history has shown that "checks and balances" do work; never infallibly, but mostly reliably.  We need to institute some of them in our church.  Right now, we are perilously close to "L'Etat c'est Moi."  That needs to change, and rapidly.  
    My personal stance is that I will not contribute in any way to the Vatican until such time as they can prove (e.g., by truly independent audits) that they no longer engage in criminal activity or behavior as a matter of course or policy, and that at least the most notorious among them (e.g., the Secretary of State) have been removed from office.  My local and national giving will also be far more selective.  I am not amused by the bishops' recent 'deal' with the Catholic Biblical Association to reduce CBA's share of royalties for the New American Bible from 25% to 15%, AND the bishops get to make 50% of the grants from that fund (which supports biblical archeology and other research).  Nor am I amused by the bishops' insistence upon implementing patently faulty liturgical translations (both legally, theologically and linguistically), and planning to profit from the sale of books and other materials including those faulty translations.  Corruption is not in Rome alone - another lesson taught all too clearly by the sexual abuse crisis.  
       We are in deep trouble as a church.  It is time for the Catherines of Siena, the Dominics and Francises, and the Charles Borromeos to show themselves in great numbers.  Or rather, it is time for the whole People of God (bishops included) to rise up and work justice, probity, and peace in our church. 
7 years 2 months ago
Michael, the liberal wing of the Church not only did exist, it DOES EXIST and is the same 'wing' that pooh poohed traditional sexual morality in the 1950s through present, the same people who promoted openly gay *(and heterosexually active) seminarians in the 1960s through at least the 1990s.

it's the same wing that turned a blind eye to abortion and contraception before it.

it's the same wing that prides itself on being "for the poor" and yet has spent 50 years in the same inner cities helping the same group of people (the poor) with no progress either for social justice or conversion to Catholicism to show for all their huffing and puffing about how wonderful they are.

it's the same wing who claims theologians have some sort of teaching authority - while these same theologians rarely if EVER risk peer review before rebelling from Church teaching. They preach to hapless, undereducated Catholics and echo the secular zeitgheist to general applause while taking pot shots at the Pope and "conservatives" as though they even know individuals on our side. Most are stuffed shirts - Mcbrien and Curran couldn't fight their way out of a wet paper bag when it comes to theology - so predictably they don't do theology, they do rhetorical sleight of hands *(using equivocal definitions and jumping from analogies to claims of metaphysical identity).

Also news flash... Catholics in the pew don't contribute to the Vatican anyway! The USCCB has a bigger budget than the Vatican. Georgetown University has a bigger budget than the Vatican. The Archdiocese of New York has a bigger operating budget than the Vatican. So withholding money from the collection plate isn't going to do squat to the Vatican.

Also news flash... calling for mob "justice" and acting like a bully to shout down the Pope or bishops in union with him has a long history of failure. go ahead and think of yourself as a modern day Catherine of Sienna or Dominic, but they weren't anti-Pope, they weren't against the very nature of apostolic succession and they didn't believe lay Catholics ought to elect either by vote. Those who have thought such things throughout history have always restorted to brute force all while claiming moral righteousness.
7 years 2 months ago
Uh also, Norman.... your anaylsis of clergy vs. public school teacher abusers is amazingly untethered to mathematics and analysis.

There were 100,000 priests from 1950 until 2005. Of those, some 11,000 were accused and 7,000 or so proven guilty. They served a population of Catholics that went from 30 million to 65 million (and lapsed Catholics that went from 5 million to 30 million)....so perhaps a total of 100 million souls. 

The chances of a kid being groomed much less actually raped by the % of priests accused of abuse is a function of mathematical probabilities. It was fairly low.

How much "time" they had per person per day is immaterial - inasmuch as abusers groom their victims over a time period of relatively short encounters. Ditto with school teachers. The only fact we need is total number of population, total number of accused and proven guilty. You provide neither.

How many public school teachers have there been in 50 years? Surely we could arrive at the number as well as the number of total school children over the same time period. And we could also get the number of accused and convicted. It would be a cool research project. Gee, I wonder why no one has done it yet?

7 years 2 months ago
Who has the bigger sin, or is the bigger criminal, the priest-abuser, or the Bishop-enabler? The two share in the sin and crime of the other! This finds root in the sin/crime potential latent in all of us flawed humans. And we laity are certainly no better than clergy when it comes to the potential of the sin/crime scenario - that’s precisely why priests and Bishops fail - they fail because they are chosen from “us” from the human gene pool subject to the potential of sin and crime from birth. But thanks be to God, there is also the potential for heroic virtue, for holiness, simply a matter of choice, an up, or down, personal decision to do good and avoid evil. Sinners and criminals can become saints exempting none including the priest-abuser and the Bishop-enabler. But to focus on the obvious, let me say when it comes to “sin” that’s the business of the Church. When it comes to “crime” that’s the business of the State. So, the priest-abuser, Bishop-enabler situation is a matter of Church and State and that’s what it has become and should be. But let it always be administered with mercy and in a spirit enlightened by righteous justice devoid of malice, or greed. True, let‘s face it, priests are presumed to be guilty based on accusation only. There’s a long list of hundreds of accused priest listed on the internet, along with a few who have been convicted, all of then presumed to be “criminal.” Is that right? Did you ever see an 88 year old, infirm, priest weep? I did and it was wrenching! He’s now deceased but shortly before he died I visited him and our conversation touched on the clergy sex-abuse scandals. Weeping he said to me, “I was once falsely accused!” He was a Religious priest who helped as a hospital chaplain, who used to hang his religious habit in a closet when he left. Suddenly he was accused of improperly touching a young girl, a patient at the hospital and was dismissed. Following a long wait he was brought before the accusing child with appropriate officials and when the child saw him she said, “He’s not the one!” Exonerated, my priest friend was told by the Bishop, “Forget about it, Father!” The priest told me he suspects that some male hospital employee found his habit in the closet, put it on and improperly touched the girl as he made his “visits.” He never did find out what really happened. The Church is truly in a mess, which I believe in God’s own way and in God’s own time will clear up with a Church stronger than before, mindful of St. Paul’s reminder, that “when we are weak, then we are strong” because, “grace is perfected in weakness.“ This is our Faith. Our Church has survived a lot worse and as painful as it now is, truly a horror story, a hundred years from now it will be a footnote along with many others and the Church and humanity better because of it.
Mary Keane
7 years 2 months ago

I ought to have been more clear.  My discontent was directed at the protection of the writer as a member of the clergy (sound familiar?) with anonymity not permitted to others,  rather than to the protection of a victim, which argues for some lenity with the rules.  Thank you for pointing this out to me.
Michael Barberi
7 years 2 months ago
Mr. Lyons plays into the type of divisive rhetoric that pits traditionalists against revisionists. He fails to understand the Fr. Charles Curran is one of the brightest theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries. One does not have to agree with his theology and philosophy, but to dismiss this prominent theologian as doing "slight of hand theology" reveals a lack of knowlege about his work and the history of moral theology.  

Painting theologians, bishops and priests into categories like "liberal" and "conservative", "assenters" and "dissenters" does an injustice to the discourse that is so vitally important to our understanding of truth. Our knowledge of the truth is progressive, not our desposit of faith, but in relation to complex ethical and religious doctrine on sexual ethical issues and other complex cases. All papal encyclicals are not part of the desposit of faith as some traditionalist assert. They are not all infallible doctrine. The right to challenge our understanding of the truth based on scholarship and the collective and evolving wisdom of humanity is a gift of the spirit. The Church has made many errors in its history. Much of our understanding of the truth was based on hypotheses that over-time have been proven erroneous or have been abandoned. Consider the following:

1. The Inquistion
2. The Syllabus of Errors
3. The Doctrine on Usury
4. From ancient times to at least the 14th century coitus interruptus was akin to quasi homicide.
5. Sex had one licit position and sex during mentual periods was a mortal sin.
6. The ends of marrage changed significantly since the time of Augustine and most dramatically in the 20th century. Thus, there was no "constant" teaching on marriage.
7. Captial punishment was permitted for centuries, but now is being re-thought and only permitted under the most grave of circumstances.
8. Slavery was tolerated and never formally condemned, but is now fobidden.
9. Abortion has always been illicit, but "indirect abortion" is permitted. There is disagreement over "indirect" and the application of the ethics of Aquinas to complex ethical cases, such as the Phoenix Disaster. Who among the readers of America would agree with the decision of the bishop of Phoenix? Even the most prminent of traditionalists, Germain Grisez, disagreed with this decision.
10. JP2 asserted that deportation is intrinscially evil. Who among Catholics would disagree that illegal aliens who commit a felony should not be deported?  

You can disagree based on an informed conscience and still be a faithful Catholic.
Norman Costa
7 years 2 months ago
@ John  Lyons:

Thanks for taking time to address my earlier comment.

Not a single person or institution who made the false statement about the manyfold greater incidence (20 - 100 times more) of child sex abuse in public schools, compared to clergy sex abuse in the Church, has shown any data or analysis in support. Some have referenced the Shankshaft report but there is nothing there.

I defy anyone who says the incidence rate is 20 to 100 time greater to produce the data and research analysis that could pass peer review for publication.

Saying that the rate of clergy sexual abuse of minors is only one to five percent of that in public schools is WITHOUT FOUNDATION.

Norman Costa
7 years 2 months ago
What Micheal J. Barbieri said.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 2 months ago
I don't have your professional qualifications in the field, but I have read sections of the Shakeshaft report as well as other materials and believe you seriously mischaracterize it.
In the first instance, the report is not issued by the bishops or any third party. It is issued by the US Department of Education as it considered itself required to do by a 2002 law. Additionally, there is far from "nothing there." The most extensive study was done by one of the oldest and largest professional university women's organizations in the country, the American Association of University Women, present in over 500 institutions in the US. It consisted of two extesive surveys a decade apart, with statistically valid numbers and procedures. The AAUW turned the process of validation and even used the trained interviewers of a major entity specializing in the interview process. The data was from the two studies were collated and analyzed, with summaries and supporting documentation made available. It is from this that Dr Charol Shakeshaft, the experienced authority controlling the study, drew her basic conclusions. Extrapolating primarily from the AAUW decade long study involving thousands of university women across the country, augmented by other studies, she concluded that roughly 290,000 students experienced sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991-2000. She nowhere stated, as you suggest, that the percentage of teachers who abuse is 100 times greater than in the Catholic school system-that would have been nonsensical-but rather that the studies indicated that the number of children abused in the public school system is likely 100 times greater than in the parochial school system. From the studies she projected the percentage of school children subjected to sexual abuse in the US public school system is 6-10%, somewhat higher than the percentages of priests similarly involved.
You mention that constructing a full-blown report should take into account the number of hours exposed, etc, and you hint at a very important factor, how many hours alone does the priest or teacher spend with the student. In my reading I noted that those public school teachers who spend more time alone with students, such as the coaches and the choir/music directors, are more common offenders. Passing on teachers suspected of sexual abuse is so common that it even has developed its own jargon among principals and teachers, "passing the trash." Simply put, this study concludes that they acted not that differently than some bishops did.
It is important to note, however, that though teachers were the largest group, the study included other school employees such as principals, counselors, maintenence personel, etc.
I don't think you will find anyone who will take you up on your offer to discredit the Dept of Education report. Typically, the teachers' unions and their legal juggernaut, faced with such a devastating report by the federal government, would attempt to discredit it. If they are unable to do so, as seems the case here by their failure to do so, they will attempt to ignore it, sweep it under the rug. Sound familiar? Would you expect anything else from a union which successfully prevented its teachers from being  evaluated according to whether or not their students learned for almost half a century? The NEA is no worse than any other greedy, self-interested corporate monopoly which has gone unchecked for decades. It looks out for itself, not the children. Want proof? Al Shankar, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and one of the most powerful and respected union education leaders over a span of 30 plus years, actually stated: "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."
The core of the problem in the nutshell, including covering up/neglecting sexual abuse of public school children.
Bottom line: there are likely more Catholic children being sexually abused in the public school system than the parochial schools. Ignoring their plight, along with all the other children, here or elsewhere would be a failure of social justice.
Shakeshaft herself complained that the studies available "do not provide information at a level of reliability and validity appropriate to the gravity of the offenses." I think we are familiar with the reasons why. But the studies cited in the report are not insubstantial. And to call the Dept of Education's conclusions a "monstrous lie" appears to me overstated and unsupported. 

Norman Costa
7 years 2 months ago
@ Walter:

I think this is a very good start to a much better understanding of the statistics and research done on the subject. And this is how it should be, with a close and critical analysis of the data and the interpretation. Perhaps others should do as you have done, and dig into the reports and try to figure out what is going on.

As I mentioned, earlier, I cannot devote time right now to the writing and analysis for a publication on this, but I will and share and discuss it as I go along. Suffice it to say that there are many problems in trying to extrapolate anything from Shankshaft's review of sparce sources on the subject.

7 years 2 months ago

The history of thought is not automatically 'progressive' - simply because one school of thought takes over the cultures' positions of power does not make that school of thought superior to any that came before.

While we'd like to imagine philosophy and theology to be like physics or cosmology where trial and error results in everyone agreeing to certain new discoveries and accepting new laws or algorthyms as valid.... it doesn't work that way.

Duns Scotus and William of Oakham's theories were advanced only because Thomas Aquinas' summa was for a time held under suspicion of heresy by the bishop of Paris - thus his great synthesis was not 'disproven' it was just set aside and not looked into until after the fideists and rationalists got rolling.

Ditto with theories of economics (or government). The Austrian school vs. Keynesians is epic but it never comes down to one side admitting defeat because both schools coincide with political power ideologies and groups.

The French Revolutionaries came after our own revolution but their theories did not include our own except in name. Subsequent European revolutions took up the French model not ours with similar disastrous results - even though our government and theory and actual results have always been available for study and immitation.

So it happens with schools of thought in philosophy and theology. Charlie Curran didn't get where he got thanks to winning some theological debate but because he hopped on the zeitgheist and told the world what it wanted to hear: sex was a-OK outside of marriage and vows, the Church has no ultimate teaching authority in these issues but HE does, that grace can be disproved by SOME evidence of humanity living without it. (as in, since some Catholics can't live chastely and their secular counterparts insist chastity is impossible or unnature, by golly, insisting on grace to be monogamous or celibate is pie in the sky ridiculous and it'd be better to hop on the secular bandwagon than resist.

These 'theologians' never, EVER face the music with the hierarchy. No one will debate B16 on these issues....because once they do it becomes quickly apparent where their criteria and presumptions lie and it's outside the Church's world view.

William Bendzick
7 years 2 months ago
It is interesting that so much of the commentary has gotten around to discussion of theology.  There is a core issue here, because Catholics view theology across a rather wide spectrum of definitions/approaches.  At the extremes good Catholics sometimes appear ready to believe that their opponents of the other end are monsters of some sort.
May I use some memories and ideas from studying Catholic theology for 40 years to do some bridge building?  First, one key definition of theology that is perennial is the one from St. Anselm:  Theology is faith seeking understanding.  This definition has much to commend it.  For example, children obviously exhibit faith, but can be quite simple and even tongue-tied in explaining it.  As we grow up, we may naturally seek to delve into just what key elements of our faith, such as the abiding love of God, Jesus true God and true man, the hope of our resurrection and salvation, mean to us in adult terms.  In other words, faith does seek understanding, and we are at least preliminary theologians-all of us-if our faith wants to grow in us by understanding.

But there is another more contemporary definition of theology that goes like this:  Theology is understanding seeking faith.   This is to say that persons of good will, but self confessed as non-Christian, perhaps even non-religious, nonetheless study our faith.   In doing so, they bring what they understand, for example mathematics and natural science, sociology and anthropology, and use these to pose questions to us believers.  I personally welcome their questions.   I like the most challenging things that they can hit me with.  I am comfortable when they nail me with some inconsistency in my professed faith, and force me to rework my understanding.

HERE IS THE UNFORTUNATE KICKER:  I get unfairly accused of trafficing with the enemy when I let non-believers get a shot at me and make me work at my faith.  I get some heavy out-of-context scripture quoted at me, as when Paul said "I preach Christ and only him crucified." Or  Jesus said, "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters."    Sayings like this-out of the Jewish and Greco-Roman context is which they were uttered, are like hand grenades in the laps of toddlers.  The child is capable of pulling the pin, while totally incapable of understanding what will happen.

This leads me to state my core fear for the Church in the present crisis.  As far as I can see, we have a pope and a set of worldwide bishops who are too much like this toddler with a hand grenade.   Maybe even worse,  because I see signs that the childishness of the hierarchs is also mixed up with serious defensiveness leading to anger.   Mr Lyons above is scary to me not in what he says, but the hints of anger that seem to come out here and there.

My Latin teacher priest would warn us to do our homework.  He would end his words by saying in Latin, "Verbum sapientibus sat est."   A word to the wise is sufficient.

Peace to you all.


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