The never-ending scandal

The Associated Press has written a courageous series on the rates of abuse in U.S. schools (see my column in the Nov. 4 issue of OSV). It is a frightening series of stories, and it has been greeted by a collective yawn by America's brave newspaper editors.

While a Pulitzer was awarded to the Boston Globe for its coverage of the clergy abuse scandal in Boston, the newspaper has not seen fit to publish The Associated Press report, much less conduct its own investigation of Boston schools. Perhaps it is too much work.

Bill Donohue, the swashbuckling president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for good reason called the U.S. news media to task for ignoring this story. Even as the prurient press breathlessly reports on the latest young female teacher to make off with an underage student, it ignores the greater significance of such abuse. Apparently, sexual abuse only inspires outrage when it doesn't titillate adults.

And despite the fact that any school district that had to pay punitive damages on the order of those levied on Catholic dioceses would quickly be bankrupted, the schools remain protected by law, no matter the number of times teachers have been transferred, or quietly dismissed, or passed off on another school district.

The challenge of being Catholic, however, means that none of these complaints should minimize the horrors of the abuse that has occurred on the Church's watch. After the AP stories had been released and I had written my Nov. 4 column on them, I found myself sitting in my car listening to a detailed radio report about a Chicago Jesuit named Father Donald McGuire. It left me feeling as nauseated as I did back in 2002 when the first Boston scandals were reported.

Father McGuire was well-known in some circles. He ministered to the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity and he was affiliated with a number of the most conservative institutions in the U.S. Church.

Father McGuire has also been convicted of abusing teenage boys, using the confessional as a venue for seduction. And the Jesuits of the Chicago province were the recipients of complaints about him going back to 1969, yet apparently did little to get him off the street or out of the confessional.

Indeed, the details are shocking and depraved, and he is now being investigated by federal authorities for transporting minors across state lines and even overseas while abusing them.

More troubling than the abuse, however, is the response of his superiors. Even when keeping young men in his room with only a single bed to share, Father McGuire went apparently unchallenged. It seems beyond belief, yet after two decades of such stories, it is unfortunately quite believable.

Despite behavior that in retrospect was clearly abnormal, Father McGuire somehow did not attract attention -- from many parents, most fellow priests, or the sincere, practicing Catholics in his company -- apparently because he was perceived as pious and orthodox and beyond reproach.

I still do not understand how the schools are let off the hook. I still want to see as rigorous an investigation of doctors and counselors and teachers as the Church has submitted herself to. But the Church must never give herself a pass on this matter, not if we truly wish her well.

This must be a time of purification and renewal. The diocesan priesthood in the long run will emerge stronger from this terrible purgation. For that very reason, it may now be time for the religious orders to undergo the same.

Greg Erlandson is the president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.