Pennsylvania Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal Reemphasizes Issue’s Persistence
Daily Free Press
March 2, 2016
A grand jury report released Tuesday detailed two bishops’ cover-up of a Pennsylvania sex abuse scandal involving more than 50 priests sexually abusing hundreds of minors over the course of 40 years, The Guardian reported.
One bishop involved in the scandal, Joseph Adamec, threatened abuse victims with excommunication and created a “payout” chart detailing how much the church would have to pay victims to settle their claims, The Guardian reported. The amounts ranged from $10,000 for victims of groping to as much as $175,000 for victims of sexual intercourse.
The grand jury said it was “concerned the purge of predators is taking too long,” according to a statement reported by The Guardian. The grand jury also found “the police and civil authorities would often defer to the diocese” when accusations of abuse would come up.
The clergy involved in the sexual abuse cases cannot be taken to court, either because they are dead or because enough time has passed to have the statute of limitations go into effect.
Cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have surfaced frequently in the past few years, especially in the wake of “Spotlight,” the Academy Award-winning film about the Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s investigation into the Boston Archdiocese’s cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The movie documented the lengths to which the investigative team had to go to bring the truth about the scandal to light.
The reporters faced setbacks at every step of the investigation because nobody in the Catholic Church or the City of Boston wanted the story to be published. People who have made church an integral part of their lives don’t want to believe something so horrible could be happening so close to home.
The entire weight of this epidemic is so immense that it can’t even be understood by those investigating it, and some members of the Catholic Church refuse to acknowledge it. Churchgoers don’t want to know about these cases, and they want to keep believing they’re safe from harm.
The first time people spoke so openly about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church was in 2002, when The Boston Globe published the Spotlight Team’s story on the Boston Archdiocese’s cover-up of child molestation within the church. It’s more sad than surprising that it took decades for victims to speak out about the abuse they faced at the hands of priests.
In the Catholic Church, priests are viewed as the ultimate role models for children, and priests are often the closest things to God in these children’s eyes. Children can be taught about what’s wrong until the end of time, but when a role model in a position of power tells them to do something, they’ll do it.
It’s not up to kids to prevent this abuse from happening. It’s on the priests. Because of their age and lack of power, the children often don’t understand what’s going on when the abuse is taking place. It’s not a six year old’s responsibility to stop a grown man from committing such a terrible act.
The shame that goes with coming forward about sexual assault must be eliminated before any efforts can be made in fighting this epidemic. Children have nowhere to turn when the place they felt was the most secure is no longer safe. It’s no wonder victims aren’t more willing to speak out about their experiences with abuse within the church.
If the sums of money with which they were willing to pay off victims are any indication, the Catholic Church is ridiculously wealthy. Fighting the church from the outside is a losing battle. Repressing instances of abuse is, unfortunately, often easier than pursuing court action against the church, an age-old institution.
Conversations about sexual abuse should be had within the church itself. People on the outside can talk about the issue all they want, but if something is to be done, change must come from within. Sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is something the church should want to fight. It’s on the church to change itself and make sure it’s the safest and holiest place it can be.
Trauma is difficult to report no matter how many people come forward with their stories, and internalizing a traumatic event like sexual abuse is often the easier thing to do. But hopefully, more victims will feel comfortable sharing their stories as others come forward.
The last scene of “Spotlight” is a black screen with names of cities around the world where the Catholic Church has tried to cover up sexual abuse by priests. This problem isn’t just contained to the United States. It’s global. Abuse follows the Catholic Church wherever it exists, and the release of “Spotlight” illuminated an ongoing problem in the Catholic Church.
Religion is meant to guide followers through life, so the church should own up to its crimes and make Catholicism something people can feel safe believing in again.