SNAP: Predator Priests’ Files Should Be Exposed

Hamilton and Griffin on Rights
March 07, 2016

Why is it important that predator priests’ files are exposed?

More than 30 US bishops – out of nearly 200 – have grudgingly posted partial lists of predator priests on their diocesan websites. But virtually none have voluntarily released their voluminous records about child sex crimes and cover ups.

Why should they?

Because, as the Bible tells us, “the truth shall set you free.”

Because, as Alcoholics Anonymous tells us, “we’re only as sick as our secrets.”

Because for decades, bishops have pledged to be “open and transparent” about this crisis.

Because since 2002, US bishops have claimed such “openness” is mandatory, as promised in the church’s first-ever belated, grudging nationwide abuse policy.

But here are the best reasons:

Because disclosing long-secret abuse and cover up records is the quickest, easiest, cheapest and most effective way to protect kids now. It’s a way to be sure that no proven, admitted or credibly accused abusive priest is still on the job today.

Because it’s the best way to deter future cover ups. For thousands of years, adults have known that most child sex crimes will never be exposed. So for thousands of years, many adults have not reported knowledge or suspicions of child sex crimes. Unless adults see that this is changing, and learn that even decades-old abuse cover ups are being exposed, many will continue to conceal child sex crimes.

Because it helps heal the wounded. Somewhere today, an elderly Catholic mom will get on her knees and pray “God forgive me for being a bad parent. Sally has an eating disorder and Bill is an alcoholic. I tried my best but I’ve somehow been a bad parent.” Then she sees a news story or grand jury report exposing, for the first time, that Fr. John Smith is a predator. She recoils in horror, recalling all the times Fr. Smith gave her “a break” by taking Sally and Bill to the movies. The mom calls her kids and they acknowledge, after decades of suffering in silence, “Yes, he molested me.” The whole family begins to stop blaming themselves and start their recovery.

And finally, because it helps reassure Catholics. Until bishops “come clean” about all clerics who committed or concealed child sex crimes, parishioners must look up from the pews at their pastor and wonder “Has he hurt a child or protect a predator?”

“Has this been done before? Have Catholic officials voluntarily made this information public?” one wonders. The answer: Yes, but virtually never voluntarily. It’s happened only because of civil lawsuits – when compassionate, brave and determined victims have insisted that records be disclosed – or because of grand jury investigations or governmental inquiries launched by brave and dedicated secular authorities. Catholic officials routinely and vigorously fight such disclosures, often for years and years, while racking up massive legal bills and letting wrongdoers remain hidden as the statutes of limitations on their crimes expire.

“Why are you asking bishops to do this now?” one might ask.

Because many who have hidden predators are still on the job in the church and have, in fact, risen through the ranks and now hold even greater power than ever. That means they are even more likely to know about, and keep silent about such crimes. (If you’ve hidden abuse and gotten promoted, why wouldn’t you keep hiding abuse?)

Most Catholic officials are well-educated. So even if they leave the church, they’re likely to get management jobs elsewhere – in schools and non-profits and elsewhere. So they’re apt to hear about abuse by employees and continue in their old, irresponsible patterns of maintaining secrecy.

Another reason “why now” is because while we’re very grateful for the attention to the film “Spotlight,” we fear any have fallen prey to the tempting myth, so aggressively peddled by bishops, that “this is mostly in the past.” It’s not.

Proof of this sad truth is easily found:

–See the just-released Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report that contains this chilling conclusion: “Nothing has changed.” (We suspect grand jury probes of other Pennsylvania dioceses would be just as scathing.)

–See the case of Fr. Joseph Jeyapaul, the convicted predator priest whose suspension from active ministry has just been lifted by Vatican officials.

–See these nine credibly accused child molesting clerics who are still on the job today in the US church.

And because every day the identities and whereabouts of these predator priests and their “enablers” stay hidden, more kids are needlessly being put in harm’s way.

Aren’t many predator priests dead?” one might ask.

Yes. But many are alive too. Exposing the living predators helps safeguard kids. Exposing the deceased predators helps victims heal. Exposing any predators helps Catholics move forward and helps make the church a healthier place and helps deter future cover ups.

And exposing “enablers” has many benefits too.

How can bishops do this without violating the privacy of current or former church employees?

You bet. It happens all the time in litigation. In some instances, some names can be redacted. But even in those cases, parents, parishioners and the public still benefit because the pattern of how abuse reports, predator priest and wounded victims are treated becomes clearer, even if some of the individual wrongdoers remains hidden.

And keep in mind, the safety of kids and healing of victims trumps the privacy of adults, especially those who ignored or hid heinous crimes against kids.

Finally, bishops should keep in mind the wise words of Martin Luther King who said “No lie lives forever.” Many or most of these secret records will surface sometime. The cowardly but ultimately self-destructive approach is to fight tooth and nail, using parishioner donations, to continue centuries of immoral secrecy, recklessness and callousness, hoping the ugly truth stays hidden until you pass away.

The courageous, compassionate and moral approach is to be honest now so kids are safer, wrongdoers are exposed, cover ups are deterred, and you can sleep better at night knowing you’re on the right side of history.


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