Vatican Cannot See the Light by Turning Blind Eye to Abuse

By Joseph A. Gallagher
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
October 26, 2003

Every month or so, the Vatican needs to remind the world of its total state of disconnect as it relates to the burgeoning clergy sex-abuse scandal. The offering this month was brought to us by Reuters, which reported the comments of Angelo Cardinal Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state and second only to the pope in the Vatican hierarchy.

"The scandals in the United States received disproportionate attention from the media," he said. "The vast majority are generous pastors.

"Why should there be so much aggressiveness toward them, and so many unjust generalizations?" he added.

Though many U.S. Catholics are willing to accept the notion that there are many good priests working courageously, doing God's work, we continue to insist on deeper scrutiny of church files and full disclosure. Well-informed victims' advocacy groups in the United States estimate there are between 2,000 and 4,000 abusive priests in America at this time, or a number between 4 percent and 8 percent of the 48,000 U.S. priests.

If true, that would reflect an incidence of abuse alarmingly above that of the general population and should lead to an agonizing inquiry by the Vatican as to the reasons why. Unfortunately, no such honest and penetrating inquiry is ongoing or planned at this time.

In June 2002, the Dallas Morning News published an exhaustive study of some 300 dioceses in the United States and found that nearly 200 bishops had moved known sexual abusers from parish to parish without alerting the public.

Given that, we reflect on the fact that until this year, no one is aware of a single case anywhere in the world in which a bishop has reported a priest to civil authorities after a credible allegation of sexual abuse occurred.

The reason why may be found in canon law, the archaic set of laws that govern the church worldwide and which is in mortal conflict with civil law. It states that the highest priority a bishop has is to keep scandal from attaching itself to the church. Taking this literally, we begin to fathom the reasons abuse has gone unchecked.

When the Vatican complains about unfair media coverage, we are left to wonder whether it really understands the psychic damage done on its watch. Our own attorney general, after an exhaustive study of the abuse in Boston, called it "the worst tragedy to befall the children of Massachusetts, ever."

What would it take to bring our church to its senses so that at a gut level it finally recognized the damage done?

Finally, there is a passive sense that because the crisis at the epicenter of this scandal appears to be waning, order is emerging from chaos. Not so. Human rights organizations report clerical sexual abuse in all corners of the world, suggesting it may be most pervasive in Third World countries where the church is all powerful and where there is neither a strong judicial system nor an aggressive free press.

In fact, the media has not exaggerated the abuse scandal. Instead it has vastly underreported it. And as time goes by, without a seismic change in Vatican mind-set, it will get worse. Could any of us have imagined the United Nations considering a sanction against the Vatican for human rights violations because of clerical sexual abuse? Such ignominy in the past has been reserved for outlaw nations such as Libya, Uganda, Iraq and North Korea. Meanwhile the world watches.


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