Opinion: After a new report on clerical sex abuse, alleged victims need justice

Washington Post

November 18, 2022

By The Editorial Board

The nearly half-million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore exceed the entire population of Miami, Cleveland or New Orleans, and on Thursday they heard from Maryland’s attorney general that scores of area priests and church officials allegedly abused hundreds of children and young adults over the course of eight decades. The attorney general’s long-awaited report, based on a nearly four-year investigation into clerical sex abuse, promises some accountability, at last. At the same time, there will be no justice in a court of law for the majority of victims. For that the blame lies with the Catholic Church and its lobbying in Annapolis.

The report by the office of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, who is retiring in January after decades in public service, is the second on clerical sex abuse from a state prosecutor’s office; the first was Pennsylvania’s, released in 2018. The Maryland report found more than 600 alleged victims of abuse at the hands of 158 priests in the course of 80 years. According to the report, the accused clerics included 43 the archdiocese had not previously identified, of whom 30 are dead. Mr. Frosh’s office said there are likely hundreds of additional victims.

To its credit, the Baltimore Archdiocese cooperated fully in the preparation of the report. However, state legislation enacted five years ago included a provision, slipped into the bill by church lobbyists, barring any future extensions of the period adult abuse victims have to seek restitution — even a brief time window for victims of any age to sue their abusers or those who shielded their abusers. That precludes a measure of justice for innocent victims.

The Maryland report weighs in at 456 pages. In a 35-page filing, Mr. Frosh’s office asked a state circuit court to approve the release of the full report, which includes information from grand jury testimony. The court should grant that request; the era of secrecy around clerical sex abuse should be over.

That assertion should not be debatable, but the church’s reckoning with its responsibility for clerical sex abuse is a work in progress, as Pope Francis himself has acknowledged. And this month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops elected as its new president a prelate whose views on the scandal are unsupported by fact, and who served as a top aide to a senior Vatican official notorious for slow-walking investigations of prominent priests accused of sexual abuse.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Services, a former Vatican diplomat who will become head of the U.S. bishops’ umbrella group, has embraced the view that homosexuality is to blame for much clerical sexual abuse. That point of view deflects from the reality of pedophilia and the church’s complicity in covering it up. It has been rejected by a range of authorities, including the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in a 2011 study the bishops commissioned. His election, and Maryland’s report, are both signs that the church still has a distance to go.