Editorial: 2013’s person of the year

National Catholic Reporter

NCR Editorial Staff | Dec. 30, 2013


It is a tale we have heard many times, too many times: Fr. James Spencer, testifying before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, said that in the 1990s and early 2000s when he was chancellor of the Brisbane archdiocese, he was concerned that the church’s response to victims of clergy sexual abuse wasn’t just. Priest perpetrators were going unpunished and lawyers were bullying victims.

“Did you ever say to the archbishop,” this isn’t right’?” the commission asked.

“I certainly inferred it,” Spence answered. “One doesn’t generally speak so directly to the archbishop. Perhaps one should.”

Indeed, one doesn’t generally speak so to the bishop, lord of his fiefdom, not if one wants to keep his job or advance in his career.

NCR has been reporting on the priest sex abuse crisis since 1984. It has been a soul-numbing experience, as we heard again and again of the pain of victims damaged by abuse and then re-victimized by bishops and chancery personnel and their lawyers who covered up abuse, stonewalled investigations and hid criminals “to protect the church,” as if the church were something other than its most vulnerable members. No, one doesn’t generally speak so to the archbishop, but thank God that some do.

Thank God for the courage of abuse survivors and the families of victims who will not let our bishops and leaders forget the abuse and their complicity in it. Thank God for activists who stand with survivors. But most of all, thank God for one very special class of people: the priests and church personnel who do stand up to their leaders and cry out for justice. People like Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle and former Benedictine Patrick Wall, who sacrificed promising ecclesiastical careers because they sided with the victims of abuse and not with those who would cover it up. Thank God for the recently formed Catholic Whistleblowers, a group of mainly priests and religious women, Catholic insiders dedicated to fighting the scourge of sex abuse and its cover-up.

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