August 30, 2018
By Walter V. Robinson
Walter V. Robinson is editor-at-large of the Globe. He led the Spotlight Team’s investigation that uncovered the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.
[See also this column in the print edition.]
It is often said that for the Roman Catholic Church, rapid change can take decades. But who knew that law enforcement officials with subpoena power could be equally slow in recognizing their responsibility to bring into full light the hideous crimes by the church that have laid waste to the lives of tens of thousands of children?
Sixteen years later — too much later — it is now time for a full and final reckoning. In the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, prosecutors in every state should finally find the backbone to force the church to tell the truth. The truth we can handle. It is the endless cover-up we must no longer abide.
Until recently, few could have credibly argued — as some are now trying — that Pope Francis and his point man on the sexual abuse scandal, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, should resign. They were, after all, the two men in the Vatican who seemed committed to cauterizing the wounds from a scandal that spools endlessly along. But in light of recent allegations about how, or whether, they dealt with the serial sexual misdeeds of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, their reputations, if not their jobs, are in jeopardy.
Since 2002, when the scandal first broke open, attorneys general in just four states — Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts — and a handful of local prosecutors have used subpoena power to force the church to turn over complete records of clerical crimes. In 46 states, there has been no full accounting: The cover-up continues uninterrupted. It now seems likely that the crimes of several thousand more priests remain hidden.
The recent evidence is nothing if not gut-wrenching. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury scraped clean the records from six dioceses. Its report found that 301 priests had been credibly accused of sexually molesting more than 1,000 children and that — no surprise — the dioceses, all using the same playbook, kept it hidden for decades. It was the bishops who enabled and sometimes facilitated the abuse. I have interviewed scores of survivors of clerical abuse over the years, but reading the horrific details of sexual assault in the report left me choked up.
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