Some things can’t be — mustn’t be – hidden.
Fortunately, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke are initiating actions to disclose facts about sexual abuse of children, facts apparently covered up by high officials in the Catholic Church. Madigan has demanded that the Church must open its “secret files” for independent review. Burke, who served on the investigative board of laypeople appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is calling for its renewal.
The latest: a Pennsylvania grand jury said more than 1,000 child victims were abused by more than 300 priests over 70 years in six dioceses, which concealed the truth.
This column is no defense of pedophilia, abuse of authority or institutional cover up. But it’s difficult to weigh in on such wickedness without being so accused.
Evil has occurred and suspects should be tried and those convicted punished, according to prosecutors and news reports, not just from the Boston Globe’s 2002 stories but decades of investigations by National Catholic Reporter. Oddly, some people who wouldn’t condemn an entire group of people based on crimes by individuals, neighborhoods or a class feel comfortable stereotyping Catholics.
What of similar charges against Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, Michigan State sports doctor Larry Nassar, Ohio State team doctor Richard Strauss and Syracuse coach Bernie Fine? Are all coaches condemned? Also, hundreds of other victims of abuse were students at mosques and madrassas in Britain, in Orthodox Judaism, and by police officers supervising Boy Scouts for some 40 years, and such charges have been made against former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and evangelical pastor Heather Larson of the Willow Creek megachurch in suburban Chicago.
Protestant preacher Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian, runs GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), and he reminds people that such tragic sexual abuse isn’t rare. (In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually victimized before the age of 18, but “many of these cases are never reported.”)
Tchividjian adds that data compiled by insurance investigators working on behalf of Protestant churches showed “260 reports a year” by Protestant leaders or members compared with “228 credible accusations” against Catholic parishes found in the Church’s John Jay Report.
“I really believe churches need to enter into a season of lament, acknowledging decades of failure to understand, address and confront these horrors,” Tchividjian said.
Indeed, a report this year by three scholars studying “characteristics of accused child sex offenders” summarized that adult caregivers “take advantage of the disparity of their age, power, authority or strength to impose their desires and interests,” and such violence against the innocents is more often found in families than outside the home.
Gregg Erlandson of Catholic News Service commented, “The crisis is amplified by divisions in the church that some are trying to exploit.”
The best example of that is disgruntled Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who’s long criticized the Pope’s and progressives’ focus on social justice, especially serving the poor and marginalized. The former Vatican diplomat — who lost a power struggle with Pope Benedict and who in 2016 was recalled from his post for participating in insurgents’ efforts to weaken Pope Francis — leveled unsubstantiated accusations about the Pontiff’s complicity, a long diatribe more to undermine Francis’ papacy than protect victims.
It’s a reprehensible abuse of power to commit such atrocities, and Pope Francis in part echoes the psychological research, blaming the exploitation on positions of authority, saying “the thirst for power and possessions are so often the root of those evils.”
Meanwhile, the seeming atmosphere of secrecy means no accountability for assailants or bishops, who are no longer trusted to be shepherds of their flocks.
Most Catholics, conservative and progressive, feel profoundly betrayed by bishops, but still adhere to teachings and examples from Catholic voices such as Dorothy Day, Michael Leach, Thomas Merton and Garry Wills, and still believe in the Church and its meaningful sacraments about the Mystery of God.
It’s time for people in pews to reassert that “we are the Church,” not the hierarchy.
St. Paul warned humanity that we fight not against flesh and blood, but against “powers and principalities.”
In 2 Corinthians, he wrote, “We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.”