Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests
2018: A Grand Jury report indicates over 300
priests sexually abused over 1,000 minors
over the last seven decades.
Part 2 of eight parts:
Reaction by the U.S. Catholic Hierarchy to the abuse of minors in PA:
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, chair of the bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, issued a statement. They noted that the PA Grand Jury's report covers an interval of seven decades. The rate of alleged incidents of abuse dropped significantly circa 2002 after the U.S. bishops adopted their Dallas Charter. This created new policies concerning abuse allegations. It requires the church hierarchy to now:
"... respond promptly and compassionately to victims, report the abuse of minors, remove offenders, and take ongoing action to prevent [further] abuse."
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is the former Bishop of Pittsburgh where 99 of the 301 abusive priests were/are located. He now heads the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. On AUG-13, the day before the report was issued to the public, he said that the report:
"... will be a reminder of the grave failings that the church must acknowledge and for which it must seek forgiveness. We are now in the midst of a new era where our communal bonds of trust are once again being tested by the sin of abuse."
On JUL-25, about three weeks before the report was issued, Josh Shapiro, the PA Attorney General, sent a letter to Pope Francis. 1 In the letter, he noted that:
"A comprehensive investigation by the Office of Attorney General [in Pennsylvania] found widespread sexual abuse of children and a systematic cover up by leaders of the Catholic Church."
He referred to an earlier World Meeting of Families during 2015-SEP at Wynnewood PA, which the Pope and he had both attended. In the letter, Shapiro asked that the Pope:
"... direct church leaders to follow the path you charted at the Seminary in 2015 and abandon their destructive efforts to silence the survivors. Instead, please call on them to 'follow the path of truth' you laid out and permit the healing process to begin." 1
Daniel Burke, CNN's Religion Editor, reports that Attorney General Shapiro never received a response from the Pope. Burke said:
"The idea that the Vatican was caught flat-footed by the explosive report or needs more time to process it is increasingly difficult to understand. So is the Pope's silence on the matter. This is a pontiff, after all, who has chastised the media for ignoring the deaths of homeless people.
Are accusations that [more than] 1,000 children were abused at the hands of Catholic clergy [in Pennsylvania] not enough to warrant a comment from their Holy Father?
Hemant Menta prepared a report describing "... the worst abuses by Catholic priests from the PA Grand Jury's Report" on the Friendly Atheist web site. Don't read it unless you have a strong stomach.
2018-AUG-15: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops responds to the Grand Jury report:
The day after the massive PA Grand Jury report was issued, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), joined with Bishop Doherty, the Chairperson for the USCCB's Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People. They issued a statement in response to the report.
Their statement begins:
"The report of the Pennsylvania grand jury again illustrates the pain of those who have been victims of the crime of sexual abuse by individual members of our clergy, and by those who shielded abusers and so facilitated an evil that continued for years or even decades. We are grateful for the courage of the people who aided the investigation by sharing their personal stories of abuse. As a body of bishops, we are shamed by and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic bishops."
Bishop DiNardo is also hosting a series of meetings the week of AUG-20 to respond to the broader issue of safe environments within the Church. 3
2018-AUG-16: The Vatican responds to the Grand Jury abuse report:
Two days after the PA Grand Jury report was issued, Greg Burke, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, issued a statement saying:
"... there are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow. The Holy See treats with great seriousness the work of the Investigating Grand Jury of Pennsylvania and the lengthy Interim Report it has produced. The Holy See condemns unequivocally the sexual abuse of minors."
The abuses described in the report are criminal and morally reprehensible. Those acts were betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith. The Church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur. ..."
The Holy See also wants to underscore the need to comply with the civil law, including mandatory child abuse reporting requirements.
"The Holy Father understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the Church and in all of society.
Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent." 4
Deleted from the above statement, in order to meet copyright requirements, were sentences that referred to the years in which various sexual abuses occurred. The rate of new cases included in the Grand Jury report dropped after the year 2002. This was the year in which the U.S. Church implemented reforms to its abuse detection and reporting requirements. The drastic reduction in the number of cases after that year shows the effectiveness of the reforms. The Vatican urges that more reforms be made in the future.
2018-AUG-17: Archbishop Charles J Chaput responds to the Pennsylvania report:
In an article titled " 'Ugly week' wrought by grand jury report," Archbishop Chaput wrote:
"... the substance of the report is brutally graphic and profoundly disturbing as a chronicle of evil inflicted on hundreds of innocents. The only acceptable responses are grief and support for the victims, and comprehensive efforts to ensure that such things never recur. And anger. Anger is also a righteous and necessary response – but it needs to be an anger that bears good fruit; an anger guided by clear thinking, prudence, and a desire for real justice. That kind of anger all of us should feel this week and carry with us into the days ahead." 5
2019-AUG-17: Statement by Roman Catholic theologians, parishioners, and lay leaders on Clergy sexual abuse in the U.S.:
Dr. Susan Reynolds, Assistant Professor of Catholic Studies at Emory University Candler School of Theology wrote a statement on sexual abuse in the church which, by the end of August, received over 5,000 signatures in agreement. Quoting the Grand Jury report, she wrote:
"Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades."
Dr. Reynolds added:
"We are brought to our knees in revulsion and shame by the abominations that these priests committed against innocent children. We are sickened in equal measure by the conspiracy of silence among bishops who exploited victims’ wounds as collateral in self-protection and the preservation of power. It is clear that it was the complicity of the powerful that allowed this radical evil to flourish with impunity."
Her letter called on all of the Catholic bishops in the U.S. to:
"... prayerfully and genuinely consider submitting to Pope Francis their collective resignation as a public act of repentance and lamentation before God and God’s People."
By doing so, they would:
"... follow the example of Chile’s thirty-four bishops, who resigned collectively in May of this year after revelations of widespread sexual abuse and corruption were brought to light. ..."
"We stand in solidarity with the thousands of victims, named and unnamed, whom predatory priests, protected by the willing silence of many bishops, have raped, abused, brainwashed, traumatized, and dehumanized. We stand with those driven to alcoholism and drug addiction, to mental illness and suicide. We grieve with their families and communities." 7
2018-AUG-20: Pope Francis issued a worldwide letter to fellow Catholics:
Responding further to the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania, Pope Francis issued a three page letter in seven languages, condemning the priestly sexual abuse -- which he called a crime. He also condemned the cover up and demanding accountability.
Nicole Winfield, writing for The Associated Press, said:
"Francis begged forgiveness for the pain suffered by victims and said lay Catholics must be involved in any effort to root out abuse and cover up. He blasted the clerical culture that has been blamed for the crisis, with church leaders more concerned for their reputation than the safety of children."
His letter said, in part:
"With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesiastic community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. ..."
"... no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. ..."
"“Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion."
Natalia Imperatori-Lee is an associate professor of religious studies at Manhattan College. She noted that Pope Francis linked abuse to clericalism -- elevating the clergy above other church members. The Pope pointed to clericalism as a root cause of abuse.
"He talks about the sex abuse crisis as an abuse of power and a failure of church culture, not individual failures of chastity which for so long has dominated the way the crisis is discussed in the US, with our longing to point out that there are still ‘good priests’ and ‘good bishops." 6
Thomas Groome is the director of the "Church in the 21st Century Center" at Boston College. He noted that the Pope's called the abuse a crime — a departure from previous statements — and noted the failure of church leadership to address it. He said:
"Now Francis has clearly cranked it up to a new level and that is the bishops themselves clearly must be investigated." 6
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement asking that concerned people demand that every state’s attorney general launch an investigation similar to that seen in Pennsylvania. 6
Candida Moss, a professor of theology at the University of Birmingham in the U.K., said that the Pope's letter was "too little, too late."
Kathleen Sprows Cummings is the director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. She said:
"I have hope and I‘m optimistic because this feels different to me. There are actions being planned. There are many people who stood up in churches yesterday and disrupted services, particularly if the priest did not preach about the crisis in his homily." 6
Unfortunately, Pope Francis did not give any description of specific measures the church will take in the future against priestly abuse and the cover ups by more senior members of the hierarchy.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Letter: Attorney General Josh Shapiro to Pope Francis, Attorney General's office, 2018-JUL-25, at: https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/
- Daniel Burke, "Why is the Pope still silent about damning sex abuse report? ," CNN U.S., 2018-AUG-16, at: https://www.cnn.com/
- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo & Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, "Official reactions to Pennsylvania report on clerical sex abuse," Vatican News, 2018-AUG-15, at: https://www.vaticannews.va/
- Greg Burke, "Vatican responds to Pennsylvania Grand Jury abuse report," Vatican News, 2018-AUG-16, at: https://www.vaticannews.va/
- Archbishop Charles J Chaput, " 'Ugly week' wrought by grand jury report ," Philly Voice, 2018-AUG-17, at: https://www.phillyvoice.com/
- Emily McFarlan Miller, "Critics say pope’s comments are both ‘bold’ and ‘too little, too late’," Religion News Service, 2018-AUG-20, at: https://religionnews.com/
- Susan Reynolds, "Statement of Catholic Theologians, Educators, Parishioners, and Lay Leaders On Clergy Sexual Abuse in the United States," Daily Theology, 2018-AUG-17, at: https://dailytheology.org/
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Copyright © 2018 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2018-AUG-21
Latest update: 2018-SEP-01