Who’s at Fault? New Reports on Clergy Sex Abuse Offer Different Views


November 18, 2020

By Rose Marie Berger

On the same day last week, two reports on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church made headlines.

The first report, released by the Vatican, is the so-called “McCarrick report.” It documents the rise of former (now-laicized, or removed from priestly office) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to the highest levels of the Catholic Church, despite persistent warnings that he had sexually entrapped seminarians for decades and then abused his significant power and finances to buy silence. (The now-90-year-old McCarrick, the most senior church official ever laicized for sexual abuse, lives in an undisclosed location in the U.S.)

The second report was released by an independent commission in the U.K. It documents nearly 50 years of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic institutions in England and Wales and how Cardinal Vincent Nichols, current president of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, consistently elevated protection of his own reputation over that of the children in the care of church workers — priests, brothers, and lay leaders.

What the reports have in common is long lists of sexual abuse victims and their broken families. The testimonies of survivors are instructive for the quality of their demand for justice and yet, to paraphrase Tolstoy, each unhappy survivor story “is unhappy in its own way.” Each story is unbearable in its details of the physical and psycho-spiritual torture and the chronic wounds that remain.

But in other respects, the two reports could not be more different.

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