Vatican Needs to Rethink Its Weak Response to Abuse Scandal

By Pete Waldmeir
The Detroit News [United States]
March 3, 2004

The only news that's more appalling than the recent report that some 11,000 youths under 18 may have been abused by some 4,400 Roman Catholic clergy in the United States alone over the last half-century is the Vatican's ambivalent response.

As far as the church's brass is concerned, it's a local problem to be dealt with locally. If the regional dioceses think they should install a zero-tolerance rule that will remove molesters and sexual predators immediately and permanently, so be it, although Rome still doesn't wholeheartedly agree with that solution. Or if some of the local bishops continue to shy away from confronting the problem and merely dole out a series of slaps on the wrist, that's OK, too.

The Vatican's reaction to the sad news released by the Catholic Church in the United States makes you wonder just what planet those leaders are living on. For many of us who grew up in the church - I spent seven of my first eight elementary years in Catholic schools - it harkens back to the incredible conduct in the Dark Ages.

Somebody ought to remind these guys (there are no women cardinals, bishops or even priests, you understand) that it's no longer acceptable to rape and pillage in the name of propagating the faith among the infidels, nor is stretching unbelievers on the rack until their limbs pop out a proper way to convince folks to think "the right way."

Open your eyes, guys. They don't call the world headquarters of your 1 billion-member worldwide religion the "Holy See" for nothing. Take a good, hard look and you'll find you have a serious crisis of confidence in the world's richest nation.

Sure, the U.S. may occupy only a small slice of the church's world membership pie chart. But this country always has been in the forefront on the equally important financial support roster; always, that is, until a couple of years ago, when reports of sexual abuse and molestation of minors here first began to surface in large numbers.

Not only have contributions slacked off, chronic abusers have taken a heavy toll on the church treasury. The report released last week revealed that out of 110,000 priests, 4,392 priests and other clergy in the U.S. have been accused of abusing 10,667 children between 1950 and 2002. Sixty-three of the clerics were from the Archdiocese of Detroit, which made its numbers public Feb. 5. In that report, the archdiocese said 116 victims were sexually abused.

So far, 195 dioceses and 140 orders have shelled out $572 million, including $38 million in legal fees, for compensation and treatment for victims. The Archdiocese of Detroit paid $1.4 million in settlement costs.

Curiously, about 14 percent of U.S. dioceses weren't counted, including Boston, which recently was hit for $85 million and saw a cardinal resign because of the scandal there.

The report cited many interesting points, for example: 80 percent of the clergy abuse cases involved men under 18. Only 19 percent of the victims were women; 81 percent were males. Of the children known to have been molested, 32 percent were 11 years old or younger and 41 percent were between the ages of 12 and 14.

Read anything you care to into those numbers. But don't just ignore them and hope they'll go away.


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