Taking stock of the clergy sexual abuse crisis: Holding bishops accountable

Religion News Service

March 29, 2019

By Thomas Reese

When people were first confronted with the extent of Catholic priests’ sexual abuse of children, they were angry. But when, in the early 2000s, they learned that their bishops knew about the abuse and did little to stop it, Catholics and even the wider public were outraged.

As the crisis has rolled on, the demand that the bishops be held accountable for not reporting the abuse to the police, for keeping these priests in ministry and for not protecting children has become the focus of state and church inquiries, from the Vatican to attorney general offices across the U.S.

As I explained in my previous column, thanks to the 2002 Dallas Charter and other reforms, the bishops are much better at protecting children today than they were in the past, but what about the bishops who did not do the right thing in the past, and what about bishops who fail in the future?

Many people, including myself and many survivors, would like to see these bishops thrown in jail.

The problem is that until recently, state and federal law did not require a bishop to report such crimes to the police. It is a general principle of common law that people are not required to report a crime of which they are aware.

Today, most states do make clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse, but that was not true when most of the abuse took place. As a result, it is difficult to prosecute bishops who governed prior to the mandatory reporting laws.

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