An opportunity for repair and rectification
Father Roger J. Landry
While the 20th anniversary is certainly no cause for celebration, it is an occasion for gratitude and redoubled commitment: to protect children, to care for victims and to reform the Church in the virtues opposed to the sinful and criminal vices which brought the Church to one of the lowest points in its history.
Father Roger J.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the toxic avalanche of revelations about decades of clergy sexual abuse of minors in Boston and beyond, both headlines are clear.
The first is the unfathomable magnitude of what had happened and had remained hidden before this apocalypse: tens of thousands of victims, thousands of clerical attackers, hundreds of bishops and senior chancellery officials who had concealed the abuses and transferred the abusers, and entrenched the culture of corruption that enabled all of this.
Prior to 2002, American Catholics knew of the notorious cases of Father Gilbert Gauthe, who admitted to molesting 37 boys in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Father James Porter, who pleaded guilty to abusing 28 children in the diocese of Fall. River, but they were, according to most, isolated psychopathic priests. Instead, they were just the tip of the satanic iceberg.
I will never forget sitting in the parsonage kitchen on Sunday, January 6, 2002, reading the Boston Globe Spotlight team’s first report on its investigations into clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. I couldn’t finish breakfast. I could barely breathe. Numbers. The names and faces of the accused priests, including several I knew and some who had been assigned to my home parish. Questions. The Volcano of Emotions. The prayers to guide me as I made my way to church to celebrate Sunday Mass and to receive honest questions for which I knew I would not have satisfactory answers.
A few weeks later I was preaching a homily trying to make sense of it all from a faith perspective. I emailed a handful of friends, who passed it on to others, until I received it dozens of times from strangers, it was printed in hundreds of newspapers and magazines and translated into seven languages. This viral sermon put me, without asking, at the heart of the Church’s response, as hundreds of victims began calling me from everywhere and I listened for hours with my heart pierced and tears , which they had endured, trying at last to give them the priestly hearing that many had been denied and others had been too afraid to seek.
As a young confessor, I was no stranger to hearing about bad things that people, mostly out of weakness, occasionally do. Learning about the torture some victims had endured, and the wickedness and lies with which they had been met by some Church officials, was like a second seminary experience, preparing me for a priesthood that I knew would be very different from what I had imagined, and filling me with just indignation at what they suffered and which has never dissipated.
There is a temptation, especially with things that shame us, to try to put them behind us, to turn the page, to change the channel. This temptation is Himalayan when it comes to clergy sex abuse scandals. But just as Germans must wrestle with the difficult, even sickening history of the rise of Hitler, the dehumanization of the Jews and their industrialized annihilation by one of the most advanced and educated societies in the world, the he Church must face up and never forget that while we were living before our eyes the fulfillment of the parable of Christ of the mustard seed – with the foundation and building up of so many Catholic parishes, schools, universities , chancelleries and other institutions, and even the election of the first Catholic president – – something truly sinister was going on in these same institutions, in the nurseries (seminaries) and among the sowers.
This is the first title of the 20th anniversary, as it should be for the 50th, 100th and all anniversaries.
The second is much more optimistic. This is because the evils exposed in 2002 proved reserved, for the most part, long before 2002. The reforms of the seminary of Saint John Paul II in the early 1990s, the rigorous measures taken by the American bishops in Dallas in 2002 , the sanitizing spotlight of the media, the civil lawsuits that have cost the Church billions in assets and more in reputation, the “special attention” given by district attorneys and attorneys general, the demand for accountability from lay, faithful and reformed groups an attentive clergy, the prayers of saints on earth and in heaven, the scourging and the merciful grace of God all played a part.
It is safe to say that since 2002, the cancer of child sexual abuse in the Church in the United States is in remission. New cases have been extremely rare. Although it is an exaggeration to say that Church institutions are now the “safest places in the world for children”, it is demonstrably true to say that in Catholic parishes, schools and programs – due of all the now-standard background checks, anti-abuse training, recognition of grooming techniques, mandatory reporting mechanisms and more – are indeed safe places for children and teens to be, as they must to stay.
This is the second title. While the 20th anniversary is certainly no cause for celebration, it is an occasion for gratitude and redoubled commitment: to protect children, to care for victims and to reform the Church in the virtues opposed to the sinful and criminal vices which brought the Church to one of the lowest points in its history.
Twenty years after the rebuilding process began, it is also time to address its now obvious shortcomings. When the U.S. bishops met in Dallas in 2002 to draft their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth” and accompanying “Standards,” they did so under panic and press pressure, lawsuits and furious worshippers. They have achieved most of the important things by holding offenders accountable, responding quickly to allegations, cooperating with civil authorities, engaging in healing and reconciliation for victims, and ensuring that the priesthood – and the parish staff and volunteer teams more broadly – – was no place for those who would harm young people.
But it became clear that in the atmosphere of rushed constraint, some things were thrown out of balance. It is time for the Church to rectify these shortcomings.
One was the failure of bishops to hold themselves accountable to the “Charter” and “Norms,” which was thankfully corrected by Pope Francis’ 2019 apostolic letter “Vos Estis,” precipitated by the outrageous revelations about the abuses committed by the former Cardinal Theodore. McCarrick.
The biggest issue concerns justice for the accused priests, to ensure that they do not become scapegoats for false accusations. The original understanding of the indefinite term “credible allegations” was absurdly low: it meant that the accusation was not patently “impossible”, that the priest was not already dead when the abuse took place, and that the allegation involved who, what, when and where. If the priest had a solid alibi and a solid character with the youth, if the accuser had a reputation for chronic dishonesty, if the details were inconsistent and contradictory, it didn’t matter. The priest was removed from his position pending an inexcusably cold investigation, a press release published, the presumption of innocence paid lip service and his reputation effectively ruined.
The bishops have been reluctant to deviate from what they committed to in Dallas for fear of appearing soft on child sexual abuse, but as every first-year catechist knows , two wrongs do not make a right. Some bishops and review boards have tried to invent an indefinite term “substantiated” to get past concerns with the word “credible,” but after too many false accusations, now is the time to make sure the proceedings are fair to the accuser and the accused. and rightly favor a quick and fair result.
The classic principle of the Golden Rule would seem to apply: Bishops would do well to treat their priests, Church employees, and volunteers according to the same principles that they not only want to be treated, but actually are, healthily and fairly.
It is also time to bravely address the real causes of the crisis, the most important of which was a widespread episcopal culture towards priestly sexual sins with adults in an even wider tolerance among the faithful towards the vices of the sexual revolution. . If the clergy are not held accountable for keeping the 10 commandments, then no one should be surprised if the forces of hell lead them to transgress other boundaries and commit sins that cry out to heaven.
This 20th anniversary is a time of ongoing repair and conversion in which the Church builds on what we have done well and corrects what still needs to be rectified.
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