Friday, November 9, 2018

Why I Spoke With A Reporter About The Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

Several weeks ago, an investigative journalist reached out to a friend and me about our involvement with a protest and prayer vigil led by local laity. He noted that journalists always interview the victims, they try to interview the bishops, and usually, we hear the voices of disillusioned Catholics who will never go back. But no one talks to the Catholics who choose to stay.

As a faithful Catholic who continues to tithe and stay involved with our local parish, who still wants her sons to be altar servers and priests, who still believes there is beauty and truth and salvation in the Church, but who's also mad as hell that sexual abuse is happening and still being covered up with payouts and bureaucracy in the hierarchy, I feel somewhat isolated. 

On the one side are those who have left the Church, suggesting that staying enables the abuse: our tithes are funding lawyers and payouts, our presence provides a flock to abuse. 

On the other side are fellow faithful Catholics with insistent whispers to just be quiet and let the pope and bishops take care of it. These admonishments often come in the form of, "Our most important job right now is to pray," with the implication that anything more makes the Church look bad, is unbecoming of laity, and undermines God-given spiritual authority.

I believe there's a place for faithful Catholics to stand up and say, "Enough." We love our Church. We love our good and holy priests. Here, we find Jesus, the source and summit of our faith, and we will not leave. But we also won't stand for those gifted with authority in our Church to abuse it. 

(The reporting team assured us that post-production would take only the best of our words, magic away the awkwardness that's revealed any time I hold a mic, and remove every physical imperfection. My hope is that our love for the Church and honesty about the current crisis are both communicated clearly. We'll find out sometime next week.)

Do the bishops have it covered? Are they capable of establishing an effective system of oversight for themselves? 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] is meeting next week. They're slated to talk about the clerical sex abuse scandal, among other issues, on day two of three.

Bishop Christopher Coyne, the USCCB Chairman of Communications, doesn't even seem to recognize there's a legitimate, present-day problem:

"Many people still believe that the abuse of children and the cover-up by church authorities is an ongoing issue and that the bishops haven't done enough to address the issue. That's contrary to the evidence in contrast to the number of reported abuses since 2002. We have to continually say the charter is working and doing its job."

I can't deny sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in America has greatly decreased since the Dallas Charter went into effect in 2002. Any layperson who's been subject to a full background check and mandatory sexual abuse training with biennial refresher courses just so they can hold the door open before Mass can attest to increased oversight of laity as a result of the Charter. We're all more aware. We're all watching. And as mandatory reporters, we're all ready to report. 

However, if the Dallas Charter were fully effective to address sexual abuse in our Church, why are priests who were credibly accused of abuse still shifted around their diocese in active ministry? Why are civil authorities saying they did not receive reports of sexual abuse while the diocese claims they were filed? Why were seminarians sexually harassed and abused by a bishop for decades with no reports and no consequences, except the bishop getting promoted to cardinal

As the bishops meet to address sexual abuse once again, it seems a valid critique to recognize that the men who wrote the Dallas Charter 15 years ago -- the same men who intentionally wrote themselves out of its oversight and accountability -- are claiming they can get it right this time around. 

I know, I know, I KNOW that we have good and holy bishops in the USCCB. 

But asking a community of people, among whom are potentially guilty abusers, to write their own protocols for oversight is just bad practice.

Many bishops have attempted to placate the public outcry with promises to release the names of credibly-accused clergy. Bishops releasing self-compiled lists of credibly accused clergy only perpetuate the sexual abuse cover-up, yet this time, under the guise of transparency. 

It took a courageous whistleblower in the Diocese of Buffalo to uncover the problem: where do bishops draw the line for who's on their list and who isn't? In Buffalo, there are communication documents that prove the line wasn't drawn at whether abuse allegations were credible; it was drawn at whether the diocese had done anything about the abuse. Priests with credible accusations against them -- who were still in active ministry -- were left off the list.

So even in their Pre-General-Assembly good faith gesture, our bishops prove their inability to self-police. 

This is not innately a church problem, a religious problem, a male problem, or a 21st Century problem. This is human nature. It's why corporations and non-profits have boards of directors. However, this problem is exacerbated through secrecy and enabled by spiritual abuse and clericalism

I'm not an expert in theology, canon law, civil law, ecclesial management, or sexual abuse. But I'm a baptized Catholic, and that's enough. (St. Catherine of Siena -- a doctor of the Church, renowned for calling out the pope with scathing letters to quit being a political puppet -- dictated her letters until she learned to write at age 30.) 

Lay Catholics have always inspired change in the Church. I'm not exactly sure what change is needed today, but others are offering suggestions for consideration, which is at least a starting point. 

I spoke to a reporter because I agree that the world needs to hear the voices of faithful lay Catholics: we love our Church, we see what's happening, we're angry, we will clean house, we will speak out and take action toward true and lasting change.


  1. The plague of homosexual clergy including bishops and cardinals is the heart of the problem.These are the sins that cry out to Heaven for judgment and every Church member must insist that no homosexual clerics be allowed to maintain priestly faculties. Unfortunately, we live in a society that expects us to accept, condone, and elevate sodomy as normal.The latest study estimates at least 30% of the clergy is gay.

    1. The root of this scandal in our Church is not homosexuality. And relatedly, it is also not unmarried priests. The root of this scandal is abuse of power.

      I'm as upset by the heterosexual clergy who covered up abuse as I am by the clergy (both gay and straight) who abused.

      The fact that many victims are male is representative of accessibility within Catholicism as an organization (easier access to altar boys, seminarians, male mentoring programs, etc.), in the same way that sexual abuse in prison is usually male-on-male, simply due to limited options.

      The travesty here is not that gay people exist and have vocations within the Church; it's that innocent victims were hurt, and repeatedly hurt, within a power structure that had no effective protocols for accountability to make it stop.

      A complete ban on gay people receiving the sacrament of holy orders would not have stopped the abuse or the cover-ups (and creates a new list of issues associated with closeted or denied sexual identity among priests).

      If reporting procedures were followed, and offending priests were immediately removed from ministry and turned over to civil authorities for investigation -- laicized, if convicted -- most of the abuse would have ended without multiple victims.

      Instead, those in authority -- both gay and straight -- kept credibly accused priests in ministry, chose not to report abuse, made financial payouts to buy silence, and perpetuated a culture of sexual abuse within the Church.

      I'm going to keep the comment above posted as representative of one viewpoint on the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. However, I will delete any additional comments that attempt to pin the entire sexual abuse crisis on gay people.

      Responding To:

      "The plague of homosexual clergy including bishops and cardinals is the heart of the problem.These are the sins that cry out to Heaven for judgment and every Church member must insist that no homosexual clerics be allowed to maintain priestly faculties. Unfortunately, we live in a society that expects us to accept, condone, and elevate sodomy as normal.The latest study estimates at least 30% of the clergy is gay."