Confronting Abusive Priests

USA Today [United States]
Downloaded September 30, 2004

The national spotlight has dimmed, but the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal has not gone away. On Monday, authorities in Springfield, Mass., unsealed an indictment charging a retired Catholic bishop with raping two boys in the 1970s.

This latest disclosure in the nearly three-year-old scandal reignited pain for victims, frustration for reformers and anguish for church leaders trying to put the scandal behind them.

Yet to regain public trust, the church still must confront old allegations of pedophile priests and implement new reforms to prevent abuses in the future. That effort is being hampered by a steady drip of damaging revelations. Often, what looks like a step forward turns into a step backward.

Take the Massachusetts indictment. It charged Thomas Dupre, former head of the Springfield diocese, with child rape. The diocese had been plagued by abuse accusations against others for years. Yet Dupre resigned only last February the same day a newspaper reported the allegations against him. That undercuts earlier church pledges to deal aggressively with abuse.

The same schizophrenic movement is evident in many of the church's reforms, adopted in 2002. Some examples:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops named an oversight panel of 12 prominent lay leaders in 2002. The group, brutally honest in reports on the scandal, has had several confrontations with church leaders over their resistance to fully disclosing reported abuses. Creating the independent group has helped the church regain credibility among parishioners. Yet now the bishops plan to appoint a nun to the panel, undermining its valuable role as an outside watchdog.

Under a national reform plan, many dioceses have appointed their own lay boards to review charges against priests and ensure offenses don't recur. But in dioceses from Orange County, Calif., to Long Island, N.Y., several lay members have resigned in protest, some accusing church officials of trying to silence them for siding with victims.

Since 2002, a number of bishops have acted diligently to heal wounds by publicizing the names of abusive priests, offering generous settlements and reaching out to victims.

That plus time offers a promising route to reclaim trust. A scandal 30 years in the making won't be wiped away in months.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.