Opinion: After 20 years, the latest story of Catholic Church sex abuse is familiar — but still shocking

Washington Post

October 6, 2021

By The Editorial Board

A sweeping French report finds that priests sexually abused some 200,000 children over 70 years.

The scale of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and lay figures against children in France since 1950, detailed in a report this week by an independent commission, was a jaw-dropping reminder that revelations of the church’s complicity and coverup in the scandal have not run their course, nearly two decades after they gained wide public notice.

The French commission’s investigation, which took about two-and-a-half years, found that the victims of priests, many or most of them boys between 10 and 13 years old, numbered more than 200,000 over seven decades. Additionally, the commission concluded there were more than 100,000 additional victims, counting abuse at the hands of Catholic lay figures — nearly all of it overlooked, accepted or intentionally swept under the rug by the church hierarchy.

Those findings prompted acknowledgments from senior French Catholic officials that the church had been disgraced. At the same time the report also bestowed upon victims knowledge at least as important: institutional recognition of the truth. In the absence of that, justice, let alone healing, is a pipe dream.

The world has been broadly aware of the patterns and prevalence of clergy sex abuse for nearly 20 years, in diocese after diocese, city after city, country after country. The same evil. The same criminality. The same culture of concealment by higher-ups in the church, so intent on protecting the institution and so blind to the unspeakable damage done to children.

The familiarity of those revelations must not be an invitation to complacency. There can be no slackening by government agencies and other investigative bodies in their efforts to document, expose and prosecute abusers and their enablers.

In the United States, those efforts, underway unevenly for years, were given a jolt of urgency in 2018 when the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office issued a massive grand jury report, the product of a two-year investigation, detailing abuse by Catholic priests and complicity by their enablers, including bishops and other senior figures in the hierarchy. The scope of the findings in a single state: 1,000 children victimized, and 300 abusive priests over 70 years, an incalculable psychological and emotional toll.

The Pennsylvania bombshell lit a fire under other state attorneys general, with inconsistent results. In some states, criminal charges and public truth-telling have ensued. In others, progress is murkier.

In Maryland, the office of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) began contacting past victims of sex abuse by Catholic clergy and others in the fall of 2018, within weeks of the publication of the Pennsylvania report. In January 2019, Mr. Frosh announced a telephone hotline and email for abuse victims to report their stories. Investigators undertook what victims said were painstaking, detailed interviews.

Yet three years after that effort was launched, there are no announced conclusions, no report and no public updates beyond oblique official acknowledgments that an investigation is ongoing. Granted, prosecutors do not typically issue public pronouncements on probes while they are in progress. But at this point, Marylanders are entitled to ask: What is taking so long?