After the devastating revelations in Philadelphia this past month, Catholic leaders and Catholic laity are asking, “Will it ever end?” Will there be a time when we won’t be blindsided by new revelations of abuse and new revelations of allegations mishandled?
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, a man who knows a thing or two about the scandal, having had to deal with it in St. Louis, Milwaukee and now New York, spoke to the issue during a recent interview on “60 Minutes.”
Asked if he feared the impact of the scandal would go on forever, the archbishop said: “In some ways, I don’t want it to be over, because ... this was such a crisis in the Catholic Church that in a way, we don’t want to get over it too easily. This needs to haunt us.”
The crisis needs to haunt us because of the great wrongs that were done, wrongs that have cost people their faith and done incalculable damage to their families. The crisis needs to haunt us also because we are not done with it.
If the allegations being made in Philadelphia by two grand juries and the district attorney are true, there is still much work to do. The head of the U.S. bishops’ office of child protection, Teresa M. Kettelkamp, told OSV Newsweekly last week that “the Charter [for the Protection of Children and Young People] is a good document, but its success depends on Church leaders adhering to the letter and spirit of the document.” It seems hard to believe that nine years after the Charter was implemented, this still needs to be said.
Going forward, it looks like another threshold may have been crossed, with Church leaders facing the prospect of jail time not for sexual crimes, but for failing to fulfill their responsibility to deal with such crimes.
The Catholic Church in the United States has been dealing with the sexual abuse scandals since 1985. Perhaps one can call it scandal fatigue, but there is a growing resentment in some quarters over the amount of time, money and energy that has been focused on the abuse crisis. Child abuse is not just a Catholic crisis; it is a societal crisis. Unlike any other institution in society, the Church has been vilified and spent billions of dollars in settlements, in programs, in self-investigations. In some cases the rights of priests have been abused by false accusations, and forever the crimes of the few are used to mock and intimidate the many.
All of these responses are true, but they are also, to an extent, irrelevant. The Church needs to be haunted by this crisis because the actions of some priests, religious, and lay employees, and the response of some Church leaders, so contradict what we profess to be. And the Church needs to be haunted by it so that it does not let its guard down again, or ignore its own teaching, or think that we have somehow become immune to such crises.
As we have editorialized repeatedly, at heart this remains a spiritual crisis that demands not just charters and overseers, but a spiritual response on the part of all of us. Pope Benedict XVI has made this clear, most particularly in his letter to Catholics of Ireland one year ago. We are called to respond with penance and humility at every level of the Church.
We can take heart in the new vocations that are arising from young men and women determined to make a difference and who are undeterred by the scandals. We can take heart in the massive mobilization of resources to train all those work with children for the Church. We can take heart in those leaders who speak plainly and act with conviction.
Every Lent, lived with purpose, leads to resurrection.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.