Guest Column: Real action on sex abuse crisis is needed

By Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Daily Times
March 13, 2016

“Spotlight” was awarded an Oscar for the best motion picture of 2016 and it more than deserves such recognition. It brings a whole new level of attention to this outstanding film and the problems it addresses especially the abuse of authority in the Roman Catholic Church.

It is a wake-up call for people in the United States and in countries around the world to recognize the egregious damage done to children and deal with the epidemic, the pandemic really, that childhood sexual abuse is.

“Spotlight” concerns itself with heinous crimes of sexual abuse perpetrated upon innocent children by rogue priests in a powerful religious denomination while it addresses one institution’s corruption played out in Massachusetts by Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston. Law covered up and protected such priests while supposedly “saving the church from scandal.”

Revelations following the Boston Archdiocese’s implosion were catastrophic.

The abuse of power by men in a rigidly structured patriarchal society, the narcissism and the sociopathic behavior of sexual offenders cry out for accountability, transparency, and ultimately, for justice. But lame apologies for criminal actions, euphemistically described as mistakes, and impotent prayer services will not get the job done.

That slick PR maneuver was tried by Justin Rigali, the Cardinal Archbishop of Philadelphia, with the 2006 “Witness to the Sorrow” service and we know what a disaster that turned out to be once the 2011 Grand Jury Report on the Philadelphia archdiocese was released. Words simply will not do but bishops continue trying to make it so as they refuse to follow up with real action.

Real action would include:

1. Publicly listing the names and status of all known, convicted and credibly accused offenders on diocesan and parish websites and in their newspapers. Only about three dozen or so of the 195 U.S. dioceses currently do so.

2. Holding Pope Francis to his word in convening a tribunal to hold bishops responsible for covering up the widespread abuse of children and enabling repeated abuse.

Presently there have been no members named to this tribunal headed by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, even though the national group Catholic Whistleblowers ( has sent material to the Vatican concerning both Cardinal Justin Rigali, formerly Archbishop of Philadelphia and Bishop of St. Louis, Mo., and Bishop John Meyers of Newark, NJ.

3. Supporting the recent action taken by almost 30 national groups, including Catholic Whistleblowers, in petitioning the president of the United States to establish a federal investigation of child sex abuse across the country.

4. Removing criminal and civil statutes of limitation regarding the sexual abuse of minors, including a civil window of at least two years so that previously time barred cases of childhood sexual abuse – by anyone - may be brought forward in court.

Supporting legislative reform on the state level has been opposed by bishops in every state where such legislation has been proposed and has been most viciously opposed in the states of Pennsylvania and New York.

For example, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, has led the Pennsylvania bishops and the state Catholic Conference in staunchly opposing legislative reform that would better protect children while holding enablers and facilitators accountable before the law.

Archbishop Chaput was successful in opposing such necessary legislation in Colorado and is expected to repeat that success in Pennsylvania.

New York Assemblywoman Margaret Markey has proposed legislative reform in her state for almost a decade now but like Pennsylvania, New York’s Cardinal Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the state’s bishops, the Catholic Conference and the insurance lobby are all aligned against such needed reform regardless of the pain it inflicts on victims, survivors and their families.

Such behavior describes neither the accountability nor the transparency promised by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.

The March 1 release of the grand jury report on the central Pennsylvania diocese of Altoona-Johnstown documents the complicity of two of its recent leaders, Bishops James Hogan and Joseph Adamec, with Adamec invoking his Fifth Amendment rights in refusing to answer the grand jury’s questions.

The question is will Mark Bartchak, the present Bishop of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, follow up comments he made in a recent New York Times article ( as well as the recommendations of the grand jury report, or will he continue to toe the party line in opposing Pennsylvania’s proposed legislation regarding child sexual abuse as ordered by Chaput and Pennsylvania’s Catholic Conference.

What is without question, however, is that “Spotlight,” by its winning an Oscar for the best motion picture of 2016, is helping refocus society’s attention on problems that are far, far from over.


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