Demonstrate Penitence in Two Important Ways

San Antonio Express-News [United States]
March 7, 2004

The numbers don't come close to telling the story. Nonetheless, they do not fail to shock.

A recent national report shows that between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 of 109,694 Catholic priests were accused of sexual abuse.

Locally, 58 reports of abuse were lodged against 20 priests.

Given that most sexual abuse victims are reluctant to speak out and, instead, suffer in private, the number of victims who did come forward during these years seems extraordinarily high.

The real story is in the details. Every case is different, and every case touched not only the victim and the priest but a complex network of families, friends and society's most trusted institutions ? churches and the criminal justice system.

Where does the church, and its followers, go from here? How can children be protected from priests and pastors who have so much power over them?

How can parents be assured that the church, which in many cases knew about abuse but covered it up, will now reverse course and embrace new initiatives?

Locally, Archbishop Patrick Flores must take two actions.

First, he should release the names of all 20 priests who were accused. The archdiocese refuses to release the names of 12 of the priests because they are retired or dead. The failure to name names perpetuates the system of secrecy that has long held sway in these cases.

Second, he must move quickly to remove priests who are accused of sexual abuse. Zero-tolerance ? the philosophy adopted by the U.S. bishops ? demands that priests who have been accused be immediately removed from parish duties, pending an investigation.

Last August, the archdiocese received an allegation of abuse against Father Joe Aviles, pastor of St. Joseph's South San Parish. Flores left Aviles in place for six months before removing him last week. That's not good enough.

Last week, Flores requested that all parishes in the Archdiocese of San Antonio offer prayers of penitence on the first Sunday of Lent.

This was a welcome step in acknowledging that the church failed to protect children from sexual abuse by priests. Such candor must be continued.


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