The Week (US)

Report reveals horrifying abuses by Catholic priests

- Daniel Burke Dan Levin

What happened

The Catholic Church has been rocked to its foundation­s by a Pennsylvan­ia grand jury report that provides horrifying details of seven decades of sexual abuse committed by more than 300 priests who were systematic­ally protected by church leaders. More than 1,000 child victims were identified during an 18-month investigat­ion launched by the Pennsylvan­ia Attorney General’s office, the most sweeping examinatio­n yet of the American Catholic Church’s handling of sex crimes. The report describes many of the alleged abuses in shocking detail. One priest forced a 9-year-old to perform oral sex on him, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water “to purify him.” Another was allowed to stay in the ministry after raping a 17-year-old girl and arranging for an abortion. In Pittsburgh, a group of priests used “whips, violence, and sadism” in sexually assaulting children, gave their victims special gold crosses to mark them as having been “groomed” for abuse, and created a child pornograph­y ring. “Priests were raping little boys and girls,” the report says. “And the men of God who were responsibl­e for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”

The grand jury heard testimony from dozens of witnesses and examined more than half a million internal church documents that Catholic officials referred to as the “secret archives,” which detailed strategies for keeping the informatio­n from getting out. The church constructe­d a “playbook for concealing the truth,” the grand jury wrote. Tactics included using euphemisms like “boundary issues” to describe assaults, lying to parishione­rs about why accused priests had been reassigned to new dioceses, and leaning on local officials to stop investigat­ions.

In an unpreceden­ted open letter to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis this week condemned clerical “atrocities,” and said “no effort must be spared” to prevent future abuses and cover-ups. “These wounds never go away,” Francis wrote. “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

What the editorials said

The pope’s words aren’t enough, said The Boston Globe. The rot in the Catholic Church runs deep. The Pennsylvan­ia report comes just weeks after the resignatio­n of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, who has been accused of sexually abusing children and seminarian­s. Abuse scandals have also rocked the church in Australia and Chile this year, and have occurred in a series of waves since the 1990s in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Australia. Pope Francis “needs to act. And he needs to act now.”

What next?

Civil authoritie­s need to take action as well, said The Washington Post. Victims “often cannot speak for decades about the abuse they suffered as children.” But the Catholic Church has spent millions of dollars lobbying against laws extending the statute of limitation­s for criminal charges and lawsuits involving child sexual abuse. In Pennsylvan­ia, child victims can file lawsuits only until age 30, meaning that none of the priests accused in the grand jury report can ever be held accountabl­e. Lawmakers should “tear down the protection­s for pedophile priests.”

What the columnists said

If the priests described in the grand jury report were, say, Muslim immigrants, said Michael Brendan Dougherty in NationalRe­view .com, “we would be asking tough questions about the culture that produces abuse on this scale.” We’d be asking “what twisted form of political correctnes­s” kept law enforcemen­t from targeting this criminal network sooner. We might even debate closing our borders to people from countries where the gang operates. At the very least, other states should follow Pennsylvan­ia’s lead with their own investigat­ions. “If the church cannot govern itself from within, then it will be governed from without.”

The church’s perverse attitude toward sex has to change, said Andrew Sullivan in “When no form of sex is allowed, all forms of sex can seem equally immoral.” That’s how you end up with priests reportedly whipping victims with leather straps and forcing naked young boys to pose like Jesus on the cross. “We have long discovered that secretive, hierarchic­al cabals of single men are usually trouble in any context.” Ending the celibacy requiremen­t and allowing women and married men into the priesthood is a “no-brainer.” That’s a mistaken conclusion, said John Daniel Davidson in TheFederal­ This “is not a crisis of Catholic teaching or tradition.” It’s a crisis caused by a faction of liberal priests and bishops who embraced the sexual revolution, and “lost sight” of their sacred duties. Catholics need to cast out the wolves who “have stolen in among Christ’s flock.” The investigat­ions in Pennsylvan­ia aren’t over, said in State Attorney General Josh Shapiro said that more than 400 people have called his office’s clergy abuse hotline since the grand jury report, which says there could be thousands more victims who haven’t come forward, or whose records were lost. Prominent Catholics have called for other states to “follow Pennsylvan­ia’s lead.” Few priests are expected to face prosecutio­n, said in The New York Times. “Only two of the cases in the report have so far led to criminal charges.” In many cases, the offenders named in the report are dead or the statute of limitation­s has expired. “It’s good that the public sees this,” said Frances Samber, whose brother was abused by a Pittsburgh priest and committed suicide in 2010. “But where is the justice?”

“Nothing can amount to the penitence that is deserved,” said Elizabeth Bruenig in The Washington Post. Catholic lay people should demand that church authoritie­s cooperate fully with local law enforcemen­t, having proven incompeten­t to address this crisis themselves. There should also be “mass defrocking­s.” But the nature of these crimes was so horrifying that the church cannot hope to recover the confidence of Catholics. “Evil is real, and it walked the earth in Pennsylvan­ia. It entered through our church doors.”

 ??  ?? Victims and family members reacting to the grand jury report
Victims and family members reacting to the grand jury report

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