Church Task Restoring Trust

WBRZ [Baton Rouge LA]
Downloaded March 3, 2004

"This is not a media crisis or a personnel crisis. It's the age-old question of right and wrong, good and evil." -- Robert Bennett, Washington lawyer and member of the church's lay National Review Board.

The Catholic Church hierarchy for decades protected criminal priests who preyed on minors. It will take years to restore the betrayed laity's trust.

This is not a media-spawned public relations problem, as some have suggested. It is a problem of appalling moral lapses and astonishing corruption in the highest echelons of the church.

The long-term potential of the 2-year-old scandal was underscored as it continued to unfold last week in the Archdiocese of New Orleans when revelations of five more abuse cases brought the total to 41 since 1950 for the Archdiocese.

The disclosures in New Orleans came just as the National Review Board, a lay watchdog group formed by U.S. bishops, released two reports outlining the dimensions of the national scandal and laying considerable blame at the feet of bishops, accusing some of being insensitive to victims and soft on molesters in the priesthood.

The National Review Board issued a survey conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The survey reported 10,667 abuse claims between 1950 and 2002, involving 4,392 U.S. clerics -- 4 percent of the 109,694 priests and others under church vows during that time.

The lay panel reported $572 million in abuse-related costs to the church, not counting at least $85 million in settlements during the past year.

Earlier, the Diocese of Baton Rouge issued a report saying it had informed the National Review Board about 23 diocesan priests and others accused of misconduct. The diocese said it and its insurer spent more than $2 million to compensate victims, cover legal fees and pay counselors and therapists.

At the heart of the national scandal is not only sexual abuse of minors by wayward priests but cynical cover-ups involving bishops who knowingly protected predator priests, shuffling them from parish to parish and failing to report the criminal actions to civil authorities. Only Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston, has stepped down because of such actions.

Robert Bennett, a Washington lawyer who served on the National Review Board, said Sunday, correctly, that some bishops should resign for their failures "as pastors and as shepherds of their flock."

Some bishops did not cooperate in the John Jay survey, but the college said it received survey responses from 97 percent of the nation's dioceses and 142 religious communities.

More than half of the alleged victims, upward of 80 percent of whom were male, said they were between 11 and 14 years old when they were abused.

Victims' advocates said the reported number of victims likely is low because many of them wait years to step forward, and researchers said dioceses looking into the scandal estimate that perhaps 3,000 victims have not filed claims.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said 700 accused priests and deacons have been removed from Catholic dioceses in the past two years.

Gregory promised that sex abusers within the priesthood no longer will enjoy the church hierarchy's protection.

Not everyone in the church is prepared to take such promises on faith, as reflected in demonstrations by protesters who continue to question the conduct of church leaders.

The church faithful have good cause for skepticism about some of their religious leaders after repeated revelations reflecting a scandalous pattern of long-term deception and duplicity within the church hierarchy.

Bennett has been most astute in framing his cogent analysis of this deep crisis in the Catholic Church. It is indeed "a question of right and wrong, good and evil."

Priests and bishops should be paragons of virtue, and most of them undoubtedly are. It will take time for those who are right and good to undo the long-term damage done by others who were not only wrong but truly evil.


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