Sins & Silence
Amid the Dark Stories, Reason for Optimism

Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 5, 2006

[See the main page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and letters to the editor.]

The Telegraph Herald today begins a week-long series, "Sins and Silence: Betrayal and Response."

It concerns past incidents of sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dubuque, last month's $5 million settlement with victims, the impact on current priests and laypeople and the church's recent efforts to prevent future incidents.

Some readers complained, "Why dredge up all this up when it happened so long ago? Nearly all these priests are dead."

Yes, most of those priests are gone. However, many of their victims are very much alive. And thousands of people—from Archbishop Jerome Hanus down to the parishioner in the pew—today are impacted by what happened as many as 50 years ago.

If, indeed, all this series did was recount heinous incidents of decades ago, it would be of limited benefit. However, in telling the stories of just some of the victims, readers should gain important insight into the patterns of these incidents, the church hierarchy's inappropriate response and the emotional scars victims carry with them every day.

It is our hope that readers will have a better understanding of why the pain is so deep for so many victims. A crime committed against a child is terrible; when the perpetrator is someone trusted and revered, the pain is magnified.

However, this series does not only look back. It also details the recent past and present, when church officials finally acknowledged the crisis and took proactive steps to identify past offenders and weed out any still in their midst. Archbishop Hanus and his administration deserve credit for his redress of the aggrieved, including the recent settlement of lawsuits, a heartfelt public apology and other actions to make amends.

This series also looks ahead, discussing what seminaries and church officials are doing today to screen candidates for future roles as priests.

Through this series, readers will identify certain patterns or themes:

• The word "naive" turns up in several victims' statements. They were so young and unaware, some did not realize until later—much later, in some cases—that what they experienced was abusive and criminal.

• Children who, despite threats from their abusers, informed their parents, were not believed and told never to talk of such things.

• Priests who were the subject of complaints that reached church officials were often simply moved—with or without treatment—to other communities, where they abused again.

• Things have changed. While no one will ever promise that abuse will never occur again, church officials now promise to deal with complaints appropriately and promptly.

Several of these stories will be difficult to read. They were difficult to write; for lead reporter Mary Nevans-Pederson, the interview sessions themselves were gripping and emotional.

To now tell what happened so many years ago probably won't do much to heal those victims' wounds. It is far too little, and it is much too late.

But bringing these dark secrets into the open should encourage other victims to come forward and to empower all who care about the Church—ordained and laypeople alike—to be more aware, more vigilant, more understanding and more committed to never allowing these tragedies to happen again.

To truly move forward, it is important to acknowledge the past—no matter how dark. Archbishop Hanus has done that, and the stage is set for a brighter future.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board: Jim Normandin (Publisher), Brian Cooper, Ken Brown, Monty Gilles, Amy Gilligan and Sharon Welborn.


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