National Catholic Register/EWTN
May 20, 2020
By Janet E. Smith
Bishops and dioceses must answer the phone calls of victims, meet with them, hear their stories and empathize with them. That is not too much to ask.
Victims of sexual abuse by clergy frequently have told me that the way they were treated by bishops has hurt them more than the abuse did.
Virtually every bishop has made the announcement that he is dedicated to helping victims who have been sexually abused by priests and that he has put considerable resources toward that effort. Unfortunately, from what I have heard from too many victims, some bishops are quite adept at virtue-signaling and at making empty promises.
Examples of the unresponsiveness of dioceses to victims are available in nearly every documentary on the sex-abuse crisis. One of the first and most devastating I watched was The Keepers on Netflix, which explores the unsolved murder of a religious sister who taught at an all-girls high school in Baltimore in the late 1960s. The series holds that the sister was killed because she suspected that the priest/principal was repeatedly abusing one of the students and was preparing a report for the archdiocese. Some 20 years later, when the woman who was abused by the priest reported it to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, officials were sympathetic but claimed that they could not verify her story. The woman’s nine siblings sent about 1,000 postcards to other women who had studied at the same high school during the tenure of the priest/principal and asked if they had anything to report about sexual abuse during their time there. Dozens came forward then, and even more came forward after the documentary. Why could not the diocese have done such an investigation? (The Archdiocese of Baltimore defends itself here.)
That event was decades ago, but the pattern of behavior remains all too common.
One reason Siobhan O’Connor of Buffalo, New York, shifted from the role of loyal secretary to Bishop Richard Malone to whistleblower who helped effect the bishop’s resignation is that she discovered the phone line on which victims were to report abuse went to an answering machine in a warehouse and was listened to by no one.
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