Ronnie Polaneczky | A Better Idea: Sell Mansion, Use Money to Heal Wounds

Philadelphia Daily News
September 14, 2006

Whatever this gesture is supposed to deliver, it's way too little, way too late.

I'm talking about the news that Cardinal Justin Rigali has invited the priests and auxiliary bishops of the Philadelphia Archdiocese to join him tomorrow in hearing survivors of clergy sex abuse tell their stories.

The news release announcing "Witness to the Sorrow," which the event is dubbed, states that "one of the most significant things [Rigali] has learned in the past year is the importance of listening to victims who are able to convey the hurt, pain and suffering which is still part of daily life for many of them."

The event, to be held at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, will be live-streamed on the archdiocese Web site, so all can hear two victims, and the parent of a third, share their tales of horror.

Truly, I hope this brings some peace to victims betrayed by men they'd trusted.

But, please: What will the priests and bishops learn that they don't already know?

Haven't they already flinched their way through the D.A.'s devastating grand jury report, released a year ago, chronicling decades of abuse in the archdiocese?

Don't they already know about the calculated cover-up by archdiocese bigwigs more concerned with covering the church's assets than protecting its children?

Haven't we all been here before?

Yes, yes and hell-yes.

Where we have yet to go, because the archdiocese continues to present the illusion of action instead of actual deeds, is to a place that offers tangible justice to its victims.

I can think of a way to get the road trip started, and it'll ring a lot more sincere than any live-streamed Internet event:

Rigali should sell the mansion.

Have you seen the cardinal's huge, stone palace, on many rolling, leafy acres set back from City Avenue? It's a multimillion-dollar, primo property that any developer would die to subdivide into a gated McMansion village.

It's similar in opulence to the Boston compound where disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law once lived.

In the aftermath of the lawsuit that exposed the Boston church's own awful sex-abuse scandal, the archdiocese there agreed to sell its mansion, along with other properties, for more than $100 million.

The church did so to settle claims and other expenses related to the scandal.

Said new Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley at the time, "People are more important than money, and the church is more important than our buildings."

Proving that real men of God know that apologies without actions are meaningless.

Why shouldn't Rigali do the same thing? Use proceeds from the mansion's sale to remunerate victims who, though the statute of limitations ran out on their cases, deserve compensation for what they endured?

Not to mention ongoing access to therapy and other services to help heal wounds that re-open whenever they see a steeple?

In the process, Rigali could move into one of the small, struggling inner-city parishes he keeps threatening to close. Maybe there he would remember why he probably entered the priesthood in the first place:

To minister to the poor and meek, and to protect the smallest among us.

So transforming might the experience be, perhaps he'd do what should've been done by now.

Like open the archdiocese's "secret archives" of additional suspected priest perps.

And push the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which he heads, to back new legislation that would make life tougher for sex abusers and easier for their victims.

Until the archdiocese Rigali shepherds does these things, gestures like "Witness to the Sorrow" will remain way too little, way too late.

And that's the real sorrow.

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