Anguish over the 'Scandal, Tragedy'

By John J. Shaughnessy
Indianapolis Star [Indianapolis IN]
March 28, 2004

Anguish marks Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein's face when he talks about the sexual abuse scandal that has haunted the Catholic Church in the United States.

"It's been heartbreaking," Buechlein says. "We can't undo the violence that has been done to children."

The archbishop shared his thoughts after releasing a report in February that 20 priests in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis were credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors since 1950.

A recently released national study of the crisis noted that 10,667 children were allegedly abused by 4,392 priests, accounting for 4 percent of all priests who served between 1950 and 2002.

"I've had to deal with trying to figure out what we need to do," the archbishop says about his efforts since the scandal surfaced nationally two years ago.

"How do we reach out to the children and care for them?" he said.

"What else do we need to do to provide a safe environment for them? How do we support our very fine priests who have borne the disappointment and the pain that was caused by a small number of priests?"

Buechlein says the archdiocese, as well as the 194 other Catholic dioceses in the United States, has taken steps to prevent abuse, including regular criminal background checks.

Anguish also is evident when he talks about how he believes the Catholic Church and all priests have been portrayed in the media since the scandal surfaced.

"The complexity of the issue and scandal is very difficult to communicate," he says. "I think it is wrong that the general impression has been given that every diocese is like Boston, that all bishops are involved in a cover-up, that many priests are abusive -- which is simply not true -- and that it's all going on now, when from all appearances it was 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago."

There were seven civil lawsuits pending at press time in which the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis was named as a defendant. The abuse alleged reportedly took place from the early 1950s to the late '90s.

He notes that the 20 priests credibly accused since 1950 represent less than 4 percent of the 514 priests who have served the archdiocese during that time.

The abuse in the Catholic Church also speaks of a "spiritual and moral failure" in the larger, American society, according to the archbishop.

"At the same time, it is a scandal and a tragedy," Buechlein says. "The bottom line is, we need to take care of our children and young people."