Catholic Bishops Promising to Fix Sex Abuse Problem Face Cover-up Accusations

By Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
October 19, 2018

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, who is the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, faces allegations that he overlooked abuse.

As Catholic bishops try to reassure the flock that the church is finally confronting the scourge of sexual abuse by priests, it has fallen to Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the president of the American bishops conference, to lead the effort.

“I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures,” said Cardinal DiNardo, in one of the many statements he has issued on sexual abuse in recent weeks. “It will take work to rebuild that trust.”

Yet Cardinal DiNardo himself has recently been criticized for allowing a priest accused of abuse to serve in a parish in his archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, disregarding the warnings by a young woman who said she told the cardinal in person seven years ago that this priest had molested her when she was 16.

The priest, who also served as the vicar for Hispanics for the archdiocese, was not removed from ministry until August, when a second victim stepped forward and the priest was arrested and charged with four counts of indecency with a child.

Cardinal DiNardo’s troubled record illustrates why the sexual abuse problem has proved so intractable for the church. The bishops charged with rebuilding trust are still facing accusations that they neglected victims and protected abusive priests.

[Read more here about the federal investigation into the Pennsylvania dioceses.]

The church’s failure to police its own ranks, despite round after round in the abuse scandal, has led some Catholics to call for a total housecleaning. More than 6,100 Catholic theologians, educators and lay leaders have signed a petition calling for all the American bishops to offer the pope their resignations, as the bishops of Chile recently did.

“This wasn’t just a few bad apples, just a couple of unfortunate cases,” said Susan Reynolds, the author of the petition and an assistant professor of Catholic studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. “This was systemic evil in the church.”

When the American bishops gather in Baltimore in November to discuss how to respond to the crisis, Cardinal DiNardo will preside over the meeting. Also up on the dais will be the bishops’ vice president, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who faced accusations in August that he paid a settlement to an adult woman who accused her priest of molesting her as she was decorating her church for Easter. The bishop then moved the priest, the Rev. Nicholas Assi, to a parish in the city’s Koreatown.

Church officials said in an interview that an investigator and review board at the archdiocese determined it was credible that Father Assi had inappropriately touched the woman, Catherine Bergin. But because Father Assi’s hand did not touch her breasts, buttocks or genitals, they said it did not qualify as sexual assault or battery. The district attorney decided not to prosecute, and Archbishop Gomez returned Father Assi to ministry until he retired this year.

On Thursday, Roman Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania said they had received federal grand jury subpoenas from the United States attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania requesting documents. The scope of the investigation remains unclear, but it comes as the bishops are under scrutiny as never before by civil authorities.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who resigned as archbishop of Washington after a report showed that as bishop of Pittsburgh he delayed in removing priests who victimized children.

In August, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office released an explosive grand jury report charging that bishops and other church leaders had covered up the abuse of more than 1,000 people over a period of more than 70 years. Attorneys general in at least 10 other states have opened their own inquiries — some more aggressive than others

Last week, Cardinal Donald Wuerl resigned as archbishop of Washington after the Pennsylvania report showed that as bishop of Pittsburgh he delayed in removing priests who victimized children.

But Cardinal Wuerl’s record of handling accused priests was no different from that of many of other bishops of his era, according to experts on sexual abuse in the church.

Before the sexual abuse scandal flared up in Boston in 2002, forcing the bishops to institute reforms, bishops routinely sent abusive clerics to church-run treatment centers and then returned them to ministry.

As new cases are unearthed, Catholic parishioners are focusing their anger and anguish on the bishops — even more than on the perpetrator priests. And they are demanding that the church step in and hold negligent bishops to account.








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