The news regarding the Catholic Church this week has been almost unbearable, and the reactions — and lack of action thus far — from the institution and hierarchical power of the Church have been discouraging, and we must demand more action.
On Monday, a grand jury released a nearly 900-page report regarding the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 children by more than 300 predatory priests in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses. (The other two dioceses — Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnston — had been earlier investigated by grand juries).
The details are horrific, but we owe it to the victims to listen to their stories — and to take steps to ensure this cannot happen again.
According to the report:
- One predatory priest, Thomas Skotek, allegedly impregnated one female victim and arranged an abortion — and the diocese’s then-bishop, James Timlin, was “fully aware.” Timlin wrote a 1986 letter consoling the priest, in which he states “this is a very difficult time in your life, and I realize how upset you are. I too share your grief.” Skotek was later re-assigned to another Pennsylvania church in 1987, while in 1989 Timlin acknowledged the arranged abortion in a letter to the Vatican. Skotek did not leave active ministry until 2002.
- A “ring of predatory priests” created child pornography, used “whips, violence, and sadism in raping their victims,” and shared information about victims to exchange them among themselves. The victims were given gold cross necklaces as a “signal to other predators that the children had been desensitized to sexual abuse and were optimal targets for further victimization.”
- Church officials claimed one predatory priest’s 15-year-old victim had “pursued” him and “literally seduced” him. When the priest was arrested, “the church submitted an evaluation on his behalf to the court” in which it claimed his self-described “sado-masochistic” tendencies were “mild.”
- One predatory priest raped a seven-year-old in the hospital while she was recovering from having her tonsils removed.
- One predatory priest abused five sisters in the same family and collected personal samples from them. One girl was 18 months old when the abuse first started.
- One predatory priest quit and asked for a letter of recommendation for a job at Walt Disney World, which he received — despite “years of child abuse complaints” about him.
- Even after victims came forward about predatory priests, they were simply reassigned and continued in active ministry.
However, what is noteworthy is the response to, and effects of, the report.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely the grand jury report will result in significant criminal charges, due to the statute of limitation. The church has fought changes to statutes of limitations and still continues to do so, while some politicians argue a retroactive change would be unconstitutional. The Vatican was silent for two days then issued a lackluster condemnation. And, although federal authorities investigated recent sexual abuse such as Larry Nassar, no federal investigation has yet been announced, even though predatory priests were transferred between states in order to hide the abuse.
So, in summary: Predatory priests were sexually abusing and raping children, and church officials enabled these priests to continue their abuse by helping to cover up any complaints and/or quietly transferring them elsewhere; the Church is, even now, continuing to trivialize the situation and treat it as a public relations problem and not a moral and spiritual failure; the Church is lobbying against the elimination of statutes of limitations; and federal authorities may not investigate such a powerful and historic religious organization.
I am Catholic, and my faith is in God and Christ, not in men — but it is beyond devastating and monstrous when men of the cloth abuse their positions to hurt children and when other men of the cloth develop and coordinate strategies to conceal the abuse.
The Catholic Church is not a criminal organization or a brand that must be protected at any costs at the expense of children.
The Catholic laity know this, which makes it more frustrating that so many members of the hierarchy seemingly do not.
Public image rehabilitation should, and will, only occur when there is true repentance, not these cowardly attempts by the Church to dodge, minimize, or dismiss these accusations and abuses.
It is difficult to put outrage and heart-break into words, though two RedState front-page contributors have done so. Kimberly Ross wrote about the dangers of staying silent, while Joe Cunningham mentioned a verse pointing out the importance of public reprimand of “those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid.”
There are several “public reprimands” and steps the Church must take now:
The Church should remove Cardinal Wuerl, who moved at least one predatory priest around at least four separate times and who earlier this week trivialized the abuse by stating, “I do not think this is some massive, massive crisis. It was a terrible disappointment.”
The Church needs to willingly and proactively turn over priests and other church officials who have either sexually abused children or covered up the sexual abuse of children but that have not yet been uncovered by law enforcement.
The Church should be the loudest voice calling for independent investigations into its leaders. The Church should encourage — really, demand — every single state to announce and complete its own independent investigation. The Church should wholeheartedly assist these investigations in any way it can, rather than continuing to protect predatory priests and to reward those who help in the cover-ups.
The Church should considering issuing interdicts, which would prohibit affected people from participating in Catholic rites; for Catholics, this is one of the worst punishments, second only to excommunication.
The Church should be transparent in the future regarding how it monitors and punishes abuses of power. The Catholic Church is an enormous global entity, and there is simply nothing like it — which is why the Church must publicly demonstrate that it is holding itself to the highest standards.
The Church must take these, or similar, actions to show it takes this enormous moral failure seriously and that it has implemented a zero-tolerance policy and will no longer tolerate such evil. This is how the Church can reduce future abuse and show more concern for the victims than for its own reputations or those of its leadership.
Otherwise, the “remorse” that we’re seeing is obviously inauthentic, and there is a risk that the abuse will continue. We cannot wait any longer for true reform.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.