Actions Speak Louder

By Mark Serrano
USA Today
Downloaded November 21, 2003

Last week, the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that the Roman Catholic Church has "turned the corner" on its child sexual abuse crisis. Unfortunately, the bishops left behind children and victims as they were making the turn.

Court records and grand jury reports show that for years most bishops enabled priests who were perpetrators to evade prosecution. Even now as bishops decide the fate of these perpetrators, they continue to apply a dangerously low standard to their fellow clerics. In some dioceses, sex-offending priests are being kept in ministry around children. Others have been released into society with no monitoring or public notice. Already some bishops want to lower the official basis for removing perpetrators from ministry when their child abuse policy is up for renewal next year.

Victims continue to be emotionally damaged by the church review process. Recently, some have fallen to suicide; others remain in painful silence, with little incentive to report their abuse to the church.

A new Zogby International poll shows that a remarkable 82% of Catholics believe bishops who enabled sex offenders should "be forced to resign." As some bishops fight to keep documents secret and others deny victims a proper recourse to justice, the bishops will continue to be criticized for not demanding accountability from their own peers. Even with the anticipated release of so-called audits of compliance with new child-abuse policies, we will only see aggregate data and learn nothing new about the actions of individual bishops.

A few bishops have taken small, encouraging steps, but none has lived up to the letter and spirit of church sexual abuse policies. With children's lives at stake, the bishops must not be judged by their words of comfort, but by their own actions.

Real action will be evident when bishops voluntarily release church documents, follow grand jury report recommendations, endorse changes in statutes of limitations and aggressively seek out other victims to offer support in their healing. These are just some of the steps that are necessary and appropriate for the prevention of child rape in the church today, particularly with the turns that lie in the road ahead.

Mark Serrano is a board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.