Episcopal settlement is reminder institutions must do more to protect children from abuse

Chicago Sun-Times

June 9, 2022

By CST Editorial Board

Transparency about abuse is also essential. Learning from past mistakes will help keep more children from becoming abuse victims.

Too many institutions that have children under their care do not do enough to ensure they are protected from sexual abuse, as we were reminded by the recent report by Robert Herguth of the Sun-Times’ Watchdogs team.

Last month, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago settled a case of alleged sexual abuse for $750,000, without admitting wrongdoing. Such settlements, in one institution after another, are a warning the nation has further to go than some people might realize to fully protect children.

According to records that emerged from the lawsuit against the Episcopal Diocese, the office of Bishop Frank Griswold knew as early as 1987 that priest Richard Kearney might have molested children at Saint Bride’s Episcopal Church in Oregon, a half hour from Rockford, but did nothing. Griswold is now retired. Kearney is 81 and living in a nursing facility in Maryland.

The Episcopal Diocese says on its website it began a review of its archives four years ago to look for historic cases of sexual abuse that had not been properly disclosed at the time they occurred.

On June 1, to create a public record, it re-released the names of four former priests, including Kearney, who were convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, sexually abusing children, the diocese said.

The Episcopal Diocese’s settlement comes at a time when a separate May 22 independent investigative report detailed a history of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, along with decades of cover-ups.

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention released the names of about 750 alleged abusers, along with details of their alleged crimes. The report alleged that top church leaders resisted reforms, suppressed abuse claims and discredited victims and their families.

The lesson here is that all institutions, from churches to parks to schools, should not only implement policies to prevent child abuse but should also be transparent about historical records.

Institutions can learn from each other’s failings — and keep more children from becoming abuse victims.

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