August 22, 2018
Sadness, shock, shame, outrage. I am at a loss for the words to describe my feelings at the scandals which have affected the Church these past few weeks. I have read only some of the report from Pennsylvania but it fills me with revulsion. The harm done to victims is unspeakable.
One can rightly ask: Wasn’t this handled in 2002 when the US bishops committed ourselves to a plan of action (the Charter) to address sexual misconduct with minors by priests and deacons? The Charter did address this issue and since 2002 the Church in the US has implemented procedures and policies to protect minors when involved in Church ministries.
The background checks, child protection training, annual retraining for all employees and for all volunteers ministering to minors, cooperation with civil authorities, all called for by the Charter, are implemented in the Archdiocese of Mobile. In our archdiocese, accusations of misconduct go before an independent review board, composed mostly of lay persons, for consideration. I have been faithful to the zero tolerance called for in the 2002 Charter. Priests and deacons who have credible accusations of abuse of minors are not reassigned elsewhere and are not allowed to exercise any ministry.
These efforts have had a positive effect. Below is a graph of accusations in the U.S. since 2004 of misconduct with minors by priests, not by the date of reporting the accusations, but by date that the alleged incident occurred. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the number of occurrences peaked in the 1970s. It is noticeable that since the Charter the accusations have been few. According to CARA, in the United States there were seven credible accusations against priests which occurred in 2016, and four in 2017, as opposed to many during the peak years.
Media Credit: CARA
In addition, prospective seminarians for our Archdiocese are carefully selected. We seek good and wholesome guys to be our future priests. We also carefully select our seminaries. It is my impression that seminary training today is more attentive to human formation of seminarians than was seminarian training prior to the Second Vatican Council and in the years soon after the Council. (From what has been reported, of the 300+ cases in the Pennsylvania report only two occurred in the past 10 years and both were reported to authorities. It needs to be remembered, even though most accusations in the report were 30 or more years ago, the damage caused by abuse lasts for many years.)
At the same time I would like to make two points: First, four credible accusations against priests in 2017 is four too many. Each act of sexual abuse of a minor is immoral and devastating. Second, these statistics, however encouraging, excuse nothing.
The questions about the accusations regarding Archbishop McCarrick, the Pennsylvania report, and other scandals in various places in our country are many and justifiable. How could this be covered up for so long? Why didn’t someone say something? Why were people involved in misconduct left in positions of authority and even promoted? Why were known acts of misconduct not addressed and reported to civil authorities? The Charter addressed misconduct against minors but what about misconduct with adults? How can accusations against bishops be reported and to whom?
These and other questions must be addressed and done so with honesty, completeness and integrity.
The bishops who form leadership of the United States Catholic Conference have already requested of the Pope that an impartial and independent investigation be made into the matter of the accusations against Archbishop McCarrick. This is needed and as soon as possible.
The US bishops also need to address the matter that bishops were not included in the Charter. This needs to be amended. In addition, there is the need to make clear how accusations against bishops may be made and who will investigate the accusation. Proposals are already being considered and I am confident this will be the focus of the bishops’ annual November meeting, where with humility and contrition, we must confront our failures.
In the meantime, what can the average Catholic do? In recent days I have met twice with the priests of our archdiocese, spoken with the deacons of our archdiocese, and attended the annual retreat of our seminarians. At each we discussed the recent scandals. These meetings were most helpful to me in hearing them and the pain that they are feeling. Their comments were very valuable for, in particular, they spoke to the need for a renewal of holiness among the clergy and all the people of the Church and of the need to change any culture of secrecy among the clergy.
As they pointed out, these scandals call upon all of us to remember that we are called to holiness. We can at times hesitate to call sin a sin. We need to confront sin and to seek holiness and to rightly expect our clergy to lead us in this. This is not to say that our clergy will be perfect. We have many wonderful deacons, priests, and bishops, but none of us are perfect. I know that I am not. I am a sinner and have done wrong in many ways. I beg God for forgiveness. But I also believe that God wishes to work through us, despite our flaws, frailties and sins. He uses us, each one of us, to accomplish His plan. We seek after holiness knowing we are weak sinners. It is when we realize that we need God that God’s power can work in us and in our weakness, as St. Paul says, we are strong.
We are also called by the Lord to courage. It is the courage that comes from trust in the Lord. Jesus calls us to “Fear not.” “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” When I was young there was a popular expression that “you don’t burn down the barn to get rid of the rats.” I understand the anger and feel it too. This is not a time for anger to cause us to attack and seek to destroy the Church. Instead, righteous anger asks God to bring forth people of good judgment and holiness to guide us in a purification. Purification is consistently painful but necessary. We cannot allow ourselves to become discouraged. The Evil One would love for us to lose hope. It is for us to encourage one another to trust that the Lord can lead us out of even the darkest of moments.
So let us keep one another in prayer that the action which is taken, and action must be taken, will address the sin in our midst which has so deeply harmed its victims and all of us. In our need for prayer I am asking all of us in the Archdiocese of Mobile pray together for the victims of abuse and for forgiveness and reparation for our failings.
At all Masses the weekend of September 8-9, 2018 prayer will be included for the victims of abuse and for forgiveness and reparation for our failings as a Church.
(Archdiocesan child protection policy and information is available on the archdiocesan website: mobarch.org)