Zero Tolerance for Lax Church Leaders

Valley Morning Star [United States]
Downloaded March 9, 2004

Perhaps now that the Roman Catholic Church's study from its own appointed review board has reiterated criticisms made by abuse victims and others outside the church, the current group of archbishops and bishops will begin to make substantive and heartfelt changes instead of responding to the accusations, in large measure, as a public relations concern.

The review board's national report, released Feb. 27 amid a flurry of media attention, explained that 4 percent of priests (a total of 4,392) in ministry over the past 50 years were accused of raping or molesting 10,667 minors. The numbers are based on the dioceses' self-reports, and the church did not provide the names of abusers or victims. Therefore, the numbers of predator-priests and victims could be much higher than the official figures.

For instance, the Diocese of Brownsville reported that seven priests abused 12 people since 1965, but the number of victims could be higher since abuse often goes unreported. Also, the failure to disclose the names of those priests or victims involved makes it difficult to verify cases or to determine whether all incidents have been disclosed.

Nevertheless, the independent study, produced by John Jay College, deserves careful attention.

"The number of incidents of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, at least over the past 50 years, is significant and disturbing," the report concluded. "This is a failing not simply on the part of the priests who sexually abused minors but also on the part of those bishops and other church leaders who did not act effectively to preclude that abuse in the first instance or respond appropriately when it occurred."

The report wonders why so many priests sexually abused minors. It concludes that the church did not screen candidates properly and did not prepare those entering the priesthood adequately. It also confronts the controversial issues of homosexuality and celibacy, arguing that "neither the presences of homosexually oriented priests nor the discipline of celibacy caused the crisis, (but) an understanding of the crisis is not possible without reference to these issues."

Interestingly, the report points to "a significant surge in acts of abuse beginning in the 1960s and continuing into the mid-1980s." That timeline coincides with the explanation offered by many traditional Catholics, and authors such as Michael Rose, who argue that the "progressives" who took over the church following the Vatican II council's reforms in the 1960s allowed into the priesthood men with lax attitudes about sexual activity.

The review board believes progress has been made, noting the passage of a zero-tolerance policy that promises to remove from ministry any priest who has abused a minor. The task now, for parishioners and lay people alike, is to be sure those policies are followed.

The review board agrees that more accountability is needed for the church hierarchy: "There is no equivalent policy of zero tolerance for bishops or provincials who allowed a predator priest to remain in or return to ministry despite knowledge of the risks."

Until bishops also are held accountable, the scandal will not go away. That's perhaps the best message from this remarkably forthright and admirable study.

Why has the Catholic Church attracted so many sexual predators to the priesthood?


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