Catholic Church Can't Be Trusted to Fix Crisis, N.J. Lawmakers Should Step in
By Mark Crawford, Guest Columnist
September 2, 2018
|In this 1995 Star-Ledger file photo Pope John Paul II embraces then-Archbishop Theodore McCarrick in Sacred Heart Cathedral in Newark. McCarrick, now a cardinal, faces a credible and substantiated allegation of sexually abusing a minor. Will the state step in where the Catholic Church has failed?|
In recent weeks you have most likely learned that one of the most prominent Catholic Church officials, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, faces a credible and substantiated allegation of sexually abusing a minor. Since then, others have come forward disclosing how he used his position and authority to sexually abuse seminarians, priests and at least one other child.
To make matters worse, we learned that several bishops knew of settlements made decades earlier. Secrecy and silence prevailed at the highest levels within our church. At the very least, our local bishops knew and remained quiet as McCarrick -- the former head of the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Metuchen -- ascended to one of the highest positions within the church. He was allowed to craft the very document that was intended to stop child sexual abuse by clergy.
Then we learned that the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mary's -- which operates one of New Jersey's most prestigious schools, Delbarton in Morristown -- issued a letter to parents this summer acknowledging the presence of 13 monks and one lay teacher who had been accused of abusing children in their care over the past 30 years. It was a staggering admission, almost incomprehensible in scope.
The letter referred to their efforts to be open and transparent. Yet officials currently are pursuing a case to sue an attorney who allegedly mentioned the term "7 figure settlement." This attorney, who was never a party to the original settlement or confidentiality agreement, offered to help a young victim of the Rev. Timothy Brennan to be released from a confidentiality agreement. Talk of real openness and transparency by school officials? Hardly.
Last month we learned that a Pennsylvania grand jury reported that more than 300 clergy members have abused children in six of the state's eight Catholic dioceses. If you include Pennsylvania's other two dioceses that already have been investigated, the number of known child-abusing clergy members in one state will almost double.
And last week, a Newark Archdiocese official said two priests have left their parishes in Bergen and Hudson counties while the church reopens investigations regarding allegations of sexual misconduct allegations.
How is it, 16 years after the Dallas Charter was implemented, we are just learning of these predators who were known to our church officials for years? Why is it we learn the true extent of abuse perpetrated upon children only when either victims finally speak publicly or investigations by civil authorities are about to reveal what has been kept from us all along?
The fact is, the Dallas Charter, which outlined such policies, is meaningless when the men responsible for their implementation and enforcement are themselves so compromised that they simply look the other way when faced with the knowledge of serious wrongdoing by clergy. Our bishops have had many, many opportunities to do what they had promised in Dallas, yet time and time again they failed to abide by the rules.
The following are but a few, well-publicized examples of such episcopal failures in New Jersey. Our bishops and cardinals are well-educated men. These decisions were choices, not mistakes:
The Rev. Michael Fugee, in violation of a court order forbidding his work in a parish or ministry to children, was allowed to travel with a youth group and hear children's confessions.
The Rev. Matt Riedlinger, believing he was texting a 16-year-old boy, quizzed his texting partner about sex videos, pressed for details about intimate liaisons, described sexual acts and encouraged mutual masturbation. The priest was quietly removed and sent for treatment, but parishioners were not told for more than a year, not until a reporter began to inquire.
The Rev. Robert Chabak, credibly accused of abusing a minor boy over several years, was banned from ministry -- yet with the full knowledge of the Archdiocese of Newark, he was allowed to live in a parish rectory directly across from a Catholic elementary school, while the parishioners were never informed of his presence.
The Rev. Edgar M. da Cunha, a bishop of Newark, allegedly failed to act on a mother's complaint that a priest had molested her twin sons. The diocesan spokesman said they had immediately notified Essex County prosecutors, but those prosecutors had no record of the complaint. By that point, the woman's allegation was 4 years old.
These examples are but a few of how our bishops implemented their new commitment of openness and transparency in the wake of the Dallas Charter. So one must ask: Do we trust our bishops to fix this mess with more policies and procedures as they plan to revise the Dallas Charter this November?
Our bishops have instinctively "protected the institution" in an effort to protect itself from scandal and harm to its reputation, even when that meant putting children at risk. Society must no longer accept the fact that our bishops can or will fix this clergy-abuse crisis. It has been 16 years since the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe exposed the systemic violation of children by clergy who were simply protected and reassigned to unsuspecting parishes, where more children were harmed.
Such cases were highlighted throughout the country as scores of child victims found their voice. No, we cannot count on more rules, process and procedures when the men in charge have failed to follow such rules. Our bishops have had countless opportunities to change course. Their credibility in such matters is gone.
Society must demand that our lawmakers pass legislation that will instill accountability and consequences for those predators and all institutions that have concealed, protected and failed to report knowledge of predators
If our bishops and cardinals are truly sincere and repentant, they should start by addressing the needs of the victims, for justice and healing. I call on our state's bishops to openly support bills S477 and A3648 -- now pending before our New Jersey Legislature -- which would eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse and hold accountable all institutions that fail to protect our children. It would restore justice for past victims of abuse, protect future generations of children and allow for further healing of those abused.
The Catholic Conference -- the lobbyist lawyers who represent the New Jersey bishops of the Catholic Church once headed by McCarrick and now governed by our Cardinal Joseph Tobin -- has opposed these long-overdue changes to our laws for years. Now I believe we can clearly see why. Only accountability and consequences instilled by our laws will bring these much-needed changes to institutions that have had no impetus for true reform.
State government, too, can take important steps to reveal abuse and cover-ups by the church. State Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, on Thursday called on Attorney General Gurbil Grewal to impanel a grand jury to investigate abuse, similar to how Pennsylvania uncovered wrongdoings.
New Jersey lawmakers now have a choice as well: They can choose to protect predators and the powerful institutions that have given them safe haven, or they can choose to protect our children from sexual predators. I pray our lawmakers have the fortitude to do the latter.