Did We Only Now Learn Abuse Is Wrong?

By Paul Kendrick
Maine Voices
April 12, 2004


Paul Kendrick of Cumberland is a co-founder of the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful.

Even the disbelievers couldn't turn away from these headlines: "Maine diocese hid abuse" and "An investigation finds the church put children at risk."

David Clohessy of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests stated, "If there ever were any doubts that church officials (in Maine) put the church's reputation and assets ahead of the protection of children, this report should shatter those doubts."

Attorney General Steven Rowe said that investigators reviewed allegations against 63 Roman Catholic priests, brothers and diocesan workers.

ONCE AGAIN, parents and grandparents throughout Maine were painfully reminded that it might have been their own child that Rowe was talking about, or maybe it is one of their kids - who remains silent, still paralyzed by the fear, shame and guilt of their own sexual abuse.

Even with all this bad news, even with all this wreckage, I knew that my church leaders would somehow find a way to make an excuse, to find a loophole, to twist the truth, to minimize the damage, and above all to avoid responsibility and accountability for their past actions.

When we're wrong, it's usually best to apologize, make our amends, and shut up.

We teach children to be responsible and accountable for their words and actions. We teach children to tell the truth and not to make excuses for the harm and hurt they have caused.

Apologies offered with remorse, sincerity and restitution are opportunities to restore some of the dignity and respect that was taken away from the person we have harmed.

When former Bishop Joseph Gerry apologized for the "immeasurable suffering and for the six reassignments of the past," and then qualified his apology by stating, "Clearly, different decisions would be made today on what we have learned about child abuse," he lets all the air out of his words.

Is Bishop Gerry's excuse even credible? Would any parent who learned that a neighbor's child had been sexually abused by a priest, teacher, coach or family member allow their own child to be near this person? What mother or father has only recently learned, as Bishop Gerry said he had, that children should be kept away from sexual predators?

Then there's the minimizing. Diocesan spokeswoman Sue Bernard said, "There's only the one case of reassignment where we know there was more abuse," referring to a case singled out in Rowe's report in which the priest was reassigned after church officials knew he had abused a 6-year-old girl.

"Only the one case." After the priest died in 1990, 10 women came forward and said the priest sexually abused them in the 1960s and early 1970s when they were all between the ages of 8 and 13.

Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said letters she has received from victims often begin by saying, "I have never in my life told a soul what I am about to tell you."