Diocese Needs to Come Clean on Abuse

By Donn Esmonde
Buffalo News [Buffalo NY]
September 12, 2003

As any Catholic knows, confession is good for the soul. It's time the Catholic Diocese tried it.

It's way past time for the diocese to come clean, to rid itself of a stain that afflicts it. It's time for Bishop Henry J. Mansell to release the names, dates, places and details of any accusation of sexual contact with kids made against any of its priests.

Only then can we put to rest any horrors that happened here - just as they happened elsewhere - the past few decades.

I can't promise forgiveness. That's up to the victims - and the parents of kids who've been put at risk by the diocese's silence. But shining a light in the darkness is the first step to healing, to understanding, to absolving - and to making sure not one more young soul is damaged.

In case you missed it, The News has reported that at least two local priests, the Rev. Thomas McCarthy and the Rev. Robert Wood, recently were removed from their ministries. The diocese has said only that some priests have been removed because of claims of sexual abuse of minors, and that the claims are at least a decade old. It said those removed got counseling before returning to their parishes and haven't been accused since.

It's the "old story, took care of it" defense that's too weak to stand. For starters, church-sponsored counseling is a notoriously lame half-step that covers tracks instead of cures ills - if this is even a sickness that can be cured. Beyond that, kids abused by priests usually don't come forward. No accusation doesn't mean no abuse.

"The landscape is littered with the shattered lives of people abused by priests whose bishop said were cured," said David Clohessy of SNAP, a national network of victims of clergy abuse.

These two priests are not the only ones the diocese hasn't owned up to. The diocese admitted last year that "12 to 15" priests were accused of sexual improprieties over the past two decades. Six of those cases hit the news in the early '90s. Now two more names have surfaced. Which leaves at least four others who may have preyed. And, given the diocese's silence, maybe preyed again.

Silence breeds abuse. There are numerous cases nationally of defrocked priests who - under the cloak of silence - became teachers, counselors and coaches.

Look no further than the mess in Boston to see the damage silence does. Once names were named, hundreds of victims came forward, finally confident they would not be ignored. Only then did we know the depth of the horror. Only then were predators made accountable, were those hurt allowed to heal, did the sins - of the priests and the diocese that protected them - begin to be paid for.

You don't solve this by sweeping it under the pew. Yet Mansell owned up to recent removals - which were prompted by a national decree - only after News reporter Jay Tokasz spent three days asking questions and not getting answers.

You have to ask why it takes a decree to do the obvious: remove the accused from service and contact the authorities.

But that's the horrible lesson we've lately learned: The church bureaucracy, most shamefully in Boston, chose time and again to protect the institution rather than the children who believed in it.

A diocese spokesman repeated Mansell's line that "just because someone is accused of an offense doesn't mean we're obligated to reveal the names."

Given the routine protection of sexual abusers over the years, "obligation" is not a concept many dioceses have a firm grasp of. Imagine if a teacher were accused of sexual abuse and the principal mouthed the "not obligated" line - and then sent the teacher back to the classroom. Irate parents would break down the office door.

Mansell should ask for information, not hide what he has.

"Jesus said go out and look for the lost sheep," said SNAP's Clohessy. "I'd love to see a bishop go into a parish and say: "Father Bob has been accused. It's your Christian duty to come forward with information on his guilt or innocence.' "

Do that, and it puts a stop to any perpetrator - or protects any priest wrongly accused.

Say nothing, and more souls will be lost.


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