A newly issued report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would have Americans believe that the so-called lax cultural mores of the 1960s and 1970s are largely to blame for the sexual abuse of thousands of children and teens at the hands of priests.
In page after page, the report also accuses the news media of misrepresenting the crisis, dismisses church-mandated celibacy for priests as a cause for the criminal behavior and splits hairs over the definition of pedophilia (in order to claim that most child-molesting priests weren’t pedophiles).
Church leaders couldn’t have weeded out the deviants, the report claims, because of unforeseeable factors arising from society, including the sexual revolution. Don’t believe it. The “findings” reflect the same carefully crafted public-relations spin used by the bishops when the American scandals erupted in 2002.
Instead of looking to the culture outside the church to minimize egregious crimes and leadership failures, the report should have focused on the culture within. At the heart of the crisis was clericalism, the mind-set of ecclesiastical privilege in which leaders behave as an anointed class accountable to no one except those above them in the church hierarchy.
Not only priests but even bishops were outed as sex offenders by thousands of victims at the height of the 2002 scandals. The breadth and degree of offenses rightly shocked and outraged faithful Catholics as well as the general public. This wasn’t simply a church crisis, but a public-safety crisis for which bishops and the Vatican downplayed responsibility.
What also was lacking from the bishops was moral outrage, common sense and the backbone to throw the abusers out of ministry. Instead, the bishops focused on protecting their own reputations and that of their priests.
Rather than out of moral conviction, the U.S. bishops adopted their so-called zero-tolerance policy toward child abuse in 2002 under public pressure and an avalanche of lawsuits from victims who demanded that the truth be told.
Even so, buried in the new report are some significant, albeit heavily nuanced, concessions: Child-molesting priests were transferred from parish to parish. Parishioners were not warned or were misled about sexually deviant clergy. Church leaders didn’t report the priests to police and cleared their files of incriminating evidence.
These same church leaders “attempted to deflect personal liability for retaining abusers by relying on therapists’ recommendations or by employing legalistic arguments about the status of priests,” said the report, prepared by researchers at John Jay College.
The researchers didn’t rely on criminal reports or court documents from the lawsuits, which tell a different story and provide a truer picture of both the horrific crimes and the bishops’ complicity.
Instead, the report relies on data provided by church leaders which, of course, is flawed and incomplete, in part because they haven’t always been fully cooperative.
Between 1950 and 2002, nearly 11,000 people said they were abused as children by nearly 5,000 priests, according to the church. The bishops and John Jay researchers want you to see the crimes as an “historic” event; that is, a thing of the past.
They claim this despite significant post-2002 revelations in Chicago, Philadelphia and other cities that showed that the hierarchy’s penchant for protecting abusive priests continues.
Don’t be fooled.