During this holiest of Christian seasons who could ignore the latest statements of Pope Francis speaking about the festering child sex abuse scandal within his church? In a Christmas address he spoke of priests who “prey like wolves on their flock,” and a clergy “ready to devour innocent souls.”
“To those who abuse minors, I would say this,” the Pope declared. “Convert and hand yourself over to human justice and prepare for divine justice.”
Some saw the Pope’s words as stern and definitive. I saw them as a public relations move and a mealy-mouthed response to criminals who have been protected by the Catholic Church for way too long. Does the Pope truly think offending priests are going to suddenly march themselves down to the closest cop-shop and confess everything? Get real.
As Anne Doyle, of BishopAccountablilty.org (a group that tracks clergy sex abuse cases) put it, “In commanding child molesters to turn themselves in, Francis is pretending. He’s pretending that sick men can suddenly see the light.”
Priestly sex crimes against children are documented to have occurred for countless decades. Prosecutors in the U.S. and countries around the world have unmasked the felonious behavior of innumerable of these so-called “shepherds of Christ.” Yet, still, there are victims who are disbelieved or simply ignored by the very church in which they had worshipped.
Naturally, the Vatican isn’t asking for suggestions, but I’ve got some for the Pope if he’s interested in slowing America’s sixty year slide in Catholic church attendance.
Instead of shipping off predatory pedophilic priests to far-flung retreats in, say, New Mexico or Michigan (only to shuffle them off to other unsuspecting parishes after their “self-reflection”) how about the Pope order his Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops to gather up all the known clergy sinners and turn them in to authorities? That would finally put the imprimatur of the church on the right side of this tragedy.
Or instead of leaving it up to church officials, who over the years have proven to be more loyal to the Vatican than to the flock, the Pope could extend an open invitation to state prosecutors to visit their local diocese for a look-see inside those secret files the church keeps.
The latest shocker came this month when the Attorney General of Illinois issued a scandalous report concluding the Church systematically hid the extent of child sex abuse allegations there. The Church had publicly identified only 185 accused priests when, in fact, there were credible allegations against 690. Who reading this believes the names of nearly 500 other priests were accidentally omitted? That right, no one believes that. It follows a centuries-long pattern of secrecy surrounding this horrendous violation of faith.
A few months ago the depth of church duplicity was revealed in Pennsylvania after a Grand Jury’s scandalous discovery of credible allegations against over 300 predator priests who left over 1,000 identifiable child victims — and those figures came from the church’s own records! And, that Grand Jury believed many thousands more child victims had their records lost or were simply afraid to come forward.
We should be perpetually outraged.
I am not a practicing Catholic, although I dabbled in the religion and sent my daughter to Catholic schools. I shudder to think what happened to the dollars I dropped into the collection plate. Among the humongous settlements the church has entered into just here in the U.S.: more than $900 million paid out by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of San Diego; $85 million paid by the Archdiocese of Boston; $45 million from the Diocese of Spokane, Washington; $22 million from the Diocese of Tucson and the list goes on and on, from Alaska to South Carolina. There have been about a dozen bankruptcy filings, the latest being the Archdiocese of Santa Fe which followed the bankruptcy lead of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico which was first ordered to pay out $21 million to child sex abuse victims.
Close to a dozen top U.S. clergy, including Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops have resigned. And still the Pope seems paralyzed to clean up his defiled house.
The credibility of the Catholic Church, perhaps even its continued existence, depends on what Pope Francis does next. If the church is to survive in any meaningful way Pope Francis needs to forego speeches and show the faithful by his actions that he is serious about disinfecting the disease within. If parishes flounder for a while without their criminal priest the faithful will understand. Laypersons among the more than 50 million Catholic Americans will surely fill the gap if only the Pope asks for help while he eliminates predators.
2019 is the year to slay the demon that thrives within this church once and for all.