OCTOBER 29, 2015 MARCI A. HAMILTON
While Pope Francis was visiting Philadelphia last month, the ten-year anniversary of the groundbreaking 2005 Grand Jury Report on Child Sex Abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese came and went. Let’s just say it wasn’t one of the topics on the Archdiocese’s agenda for the Pope. Nevertheless, it is important to assess what ten years have wrought as it was the most comprehensive report on clergy sex abuse in any jurisdiction in the United States. While it pales in comparison to the Australian Royal Commission’s report on abuse in multiple institutions across an entire country, it remains the benchmark for responsible prosecutorial initiative on clergy sex abuse in the United States.
There have been eight reports by prosecutors in the United States, and the 2005 Philadelphia Report is the one in my view to be duplicated in other jurisdictions. In the words of Terry McKiernan, president of the comprehensive online archive of the history of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse history, BishopAccountability.org: It “combined many different strong perspectives and modes of analysis. Anyone reading the report can get an education in how priests’ career histories, their abuse histories, and the management approach of the diocese could add up to a catastrophe for children. The report gets at the two crimes better than any other report—it provides detailed case studies of the abuse itself and the best analysis of how management made it all happen. Those case studies and the pattern studies are very unusual in the depth of their engagement and sympathy. The great article in NCR is a good reminder of where that empathy came from and how much it cost.”
Then-District Attorney Lynne Abraham remains the prosecutor who deserves the most credit in the United States for detailing the facts of abuse in a diocese. True, her successor, current District Attorney Seth Williams issued a stinging though much shorter report of his own in 2011, which led to the only conviction on child endangerment of any member of the hierarchy, Monsignor Lynn. But for the work of Abraham’s office, that conviction never would have happened. Full disclosure: I was honored to be selected by Abraham as an outside consultant on the 2005 Report.
Excellent Public Education About Child Sex Abuse in Institutions
The 400-plus page report described in painful detail what dozens of priests had done to children in the Archdiocese, and how the hierarchy covered it up. The now-familiar pattern of shuffling priests among parishes after there were reports of abuse is as clear as the callousness of the hierarchy. The catalog of abusing priests was eye opening to many Philadelphians, especially Philadelphia Catholics whose attendance and giving dropped perceptibly after the facts came out.
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