Priestly Abuse: Report Unsettling for What It Doesn't Say

The Dallas Morning News [United States]
March 3, 2004

You could pick out a number of telling details from the National Review Board's final sex-abuse report to the U.S. Catholic bishops, but to us, one stands out: Investigators looking at church files in nearly every diocese found not one scrap of paper on which a supervising bishop recorded his outrage over a priest's molestation of a child.

Not one.

These are in many cases the same bishops now asking the Catholic faithful to trust them to restore church integrity. It's said that character is how you behave when no one is looking. These bishops, as a class, proved their character by their indifference to this grave evil when these deeds were cloaked by shame and secrecy, before being reported on front pages.

It's true that the sexual abuse of minors is a society wide problem, but it's also true, as the board concluded, that given the church's moral stature, abuse committed by priests is "particularly abhorrent." And the human toll tallied by the report is breathtaking. According to church records, 4 percent of American priests serving between 1950 and 2002 stood formally accused of sexually abusing minors, the overwhelming number of these victims males. Investigators found that 10,600 minors reported abuse - enough children and teenagers to fill 150 school buses.

While the review board highlighted several contributing factors to the crisis, including a sexually active "gay subculture" in the priesthood that created an atmosphere of sexual lawlessness, it laid the greatest blame on failed episcopal supervision, and it insisted that there must be consequences for failed bishops if the church is to move forward credibly.

That's obvious, right? Somebody tell these bishops, who won't even subject themselves to the zero-tolerance standard to which they hold priests. With the possible exception of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, not a single bishop has resigned over his mishandling of abuse cases - nor has Rome insisted on it. The Catholic hierarchy, from the chanceries to the Vatican, still doesn't grasp its most grievous fault in this crisis.

Commenting on the report, Bishop Wilton Gregory said, "The terrible history recorded here is history." Well, it would be nice to think so. But until bishops guilty of helping cause this Catholic catastrophe do the just, honorable and necessary thing by resigning their offices in humility, the church's Long Lent will continue.


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