Boston: Ten Years Later

National Catholic Reporter

by Michael Sean Winters on Jan. 06, 2012 Distinctly Catholic

Earlier this week, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, issued a letter to the people of the Archdiocese of Boston marking the tenth anniversary of the revelations of clergy sex abuse in The Boston Globe. The letter, and an accompanying document about the steps taken by the archdiocese to face the scandal, is remarkable in every way.

Ten years ago, the bishops failed to understand that the scandal was not only, or even primarily, about the underlying crimes pedophilia, but about the failure of the hierarchy to confront those crimes and the weasel words they used to explain their actions. In the spring of 2002, New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan wrote in a letter read at Masses: “If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.” That is not the voice of moral responsibility and, consequently, cannot be a voice of moral authority. Only a lawyer would find no problem in the distance set between the word “mistakes” and the pronoun “I” and the interjection of the word “if” is so tone deaf as to defy explanation.

Contrast that with the words in O’Malley’s letter. “As a Church we must continue to express the depth of our sorrow and contrition for how badly we failed those entrusted to our care. I reflect on this in my prayer every day. As leaders in the Church we must accept our responsibility for those failings and clearly acknowledge that Church leadership could have and should have responded more quickly and more forcefully.”

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