Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington and former Bishop of Pittsburgh, responded like a politician to the Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses: by covering his ass.
“I acted with diligence, with concern for the victims and to prevent future acts of abuse,” His Eminence insisted.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro responded, “Cardinal Wuerl is not telling the truth. Many of his statements in response to the Grand Jury Report are directly contradicted by the Church’s own documents and records from their Secret Archives. Offering misleading statements now only furthers the cover up.” Yes.
Reading a fraction of the report leaves you numb. 300 priests sexually abused 1,000 victims. The catalog of outrages runs 900 pages. Here I will cite just one case, that of Father Ernest Paone of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
“In … another confidential memorandum sent … to Wuerl, Paone’s various assignments and sexual abuse complaints were again listed in detail. The Grand Jury noted that this process showed no concern for public safety or the victims of child sexual abuse.” “Approximately 41 years after the Diocese learned that Paone was sexually assaulting children, he was finally retired from active ministry. In spite of Wuerl’s statements to the Vatican, the clear and present threat that Paone posed to children was hidden and kept secret from parishioners in three states.”
The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s largest religious organization, and is used to holding itself above the law. The abuses described in the grand jury report persisted for decades, shielded by evasions that would not be accepted from a child. Our public order substantially relies on norms of behavior. It is a deep irony that one such norm is respect for the very moral authority misused by the Church in betraying its position of trust.
The pull that the Church exerts on those weaned at her breast, and the customary assumption that priests are above reproach, provides cover, however unintended, for corruption.
Christ said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to fall away—it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Drowning is a bit drastic. But until there is real accountability, and public relations campaigns are no longer the first response to scandal, the Church will face continued distrust from congregations and potential converts due to its facilitation and coverup of child sexual abuse. In my own historically Catholic family, my youngest sister suggested boycotting churches or putting condolence letters to the victims in the collection basket.
An article in LGBTQ Nation is headlined, “American Catholic leaders blame the Pennsylvania sex abuse scandal on gays.” This is perhaps overbroad. The article quotes only two people with the views described: Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, and Cardinal Raymond Burke, whom Pope Francis removed as prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the Vatican supreme court) in 2014 and reappointed as a cardinal-member in 2017.
Church leaders have often deflected criticism regarding sexual abuse by scapegoating gay clergy. But the creaky libel of gays as child molesters does not withstand scrutiny. Instead of assuming a defensive crouch, LGBT Catholics and their allies are encouraging Church leaders to end the treachery of the closet and offer gay people a healthier option than lifelong celibacy. Rev. James Martin, S.J. wrote a book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.
New abuse cases decreased after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in 2002. The new grand jury report will boost continued reform efforts by clergy and laity. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious has persevered despite persecution from bishops. New Ways Ministry educates and advocates for LGBT Catholics.
His Holiness says he is on the side of the abuse victims. Let him then accept resignations from Wuerl and others who covered up sexual crimes by priests against children, and stop the silencing of victims. Let the Church be shaken to its foundations; for were they not strongly laid?
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.