From the Editor's Desk
A Look into a Hidden Culture

By Tom Roberts
National Catholic Reporter
April 28, 2006

Spend enough time in and around this church at just about any level and one consistent and striking reality that becomes apparent is how confoundingly complex an organism it is.

That point is certainly clear in the story on the Philadelphia sex abuse cover-up (see story). Why another story on this distressing subject?

We have said repeatedly in our editorials that the story of the sex abuse cover-up persists because it is, in the end, the story of the activity of those engaged in a largely hidden culture, one that exists, at least in the United States, far from the kinds of accountability to which much of the rest of society is subjected.

We were able to peer briefly behind the walls that shield certain levels of the clergy culture in Philadelphia thanks to the willingness of a former assistant district attorney to recount his role in the investigation and because of the frank disclosures of a priest, whose untimely death occurred just weeks before this story was ready for publication, about how the archdiocesan officials handled the scandal.

Disturbing as it may be, it is also a compelling and fairly detailed look at how business was conducted at the highest levels of one of the most important sees in this country. It is the kind of accounting that Catholics rarely receive but have a right to -- about what was done by leaders of our community who, by virtue of their station and by virtue of our membership in the community, do these things in our name.

It is a haunting story of humans caught up in, as writer Michael Newall puts it, “the murky grayness of the crosscurrents of anger and pain, betrayal and forgiveness, hope and dismay, atonement and denial that flow through the heart of the Catholic church’s sex scandal.”

You’ll see that atonement and forgiveness, even conversion, occur in the most unlikely circumstances.

Newall, who spent months researching details and countless hours interviewing the principals for this week’s cover story on the scandal in Philadelphia, is a 1999 graduate of The Catholic University of America, where he majored in history. In 1998 he attended the Institute of Public Administration in Dublin, Ireland, during a study abroad program, and served as an intern speechwriter for a member of the Irish Parliament.

Michael Newall. Photo by Michael T. Regan.

Since 2002, he has worked at various times for the Philadelphia Weekly and the Philadelphia City Paper and has won numerous awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association for sports, feature writing and profiles and for stories on the sex abuse crisis.

* * *

In light of the persistent scandal, most of us, I’m sure, have at some point answered the question from friends who aren’t Catholic: “Why do you stay?”

Perhaps you said because of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Or because it’s my family, or it’s my faith. Most of us, I’ll bet, could go on at length about why we stay, much of it having to do with a sense of belonging and community. What, however, if you’re black and have often felt the outsider? More to the point, what if you’re a black man? “Why stay?” can be a stinging question, as Daryl Grigsby describes. (See story)

Grigsby illustrates the unique challenges faced by black men in a church that is largely Anglo and ultimately gives an eloquent answer to the question, an answer that would serve anyone who, at times, feels alienated from the community.



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