Editorial: Long-overdue list from the Diocese

Providence Journal
July 2, 2019

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. It was right of Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin to release a list of 50 clergy members who had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children.

We saw the faces of some of the accused spread across the front page of The Providence Journal Tuesday — many of them surely guilty of monstrous acts of cruelty and betrayal. Readers no doubt scanned the list for clergy that had worked in their churches. Only 19 of the 50 are still alive, and none still serve the diocese.

In a letter that Mr. Tobin read in a video, the bishop said that publishing the list “is a difficult but necessary moment in the moment in the life of our Diocesan church.”

He said “our thoughts and prayers turn first of all to those who have been harmed by the grave sin of sexual misconduct by clerics — priests and deacons — over the years.” He offered to the victims, their families and faithful Catholics who have been “rightly scandalized by these disgraceful events ... the profound apology of the Church and the Diocese of Providence. We pray fervently that God will give you the grace of healing and peace.”

The list was released as Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law a new measure extending from seven years to 35 the time limit for victims to file suits against their molesters. The legislation generally looks forward. Institutions through which molesters acted are protected from further lawsuits if the seven-year statute of limitations has already passed, except in cases of recovered memory.

The Catholic Church’s past gross mishandling of sexual abuse charges — predators were shifted from parish to parish, and children left unprotected — has done lifelong harm to victims and grievously damaged the institution’s reputation. Good priests have been stained by the association, and the church’s charitable mission damaged.

We hope that the list will provide at least some comfort to victims who felt they were alone or not believed.

What is most important is that serious changes have been undertaken, and that a system now exists in the Diocese to bring in the police and deal with allegations of sexual abuse immediately.

Predatory sexual behavior is a problem far beyond the Church, of course. “No empirical data exists that suggests that Catholic clerics sexually abuse minors at a level higher than clerics from other religious traditions or from other groups of men who have ready access and power over children (e.g., school teachers, coaches),” Rhode Island native Thomas Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University, wrote last year in Psychology Today.

A 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Education “found that about 5-7 percent of public school teachers engaged in similar sexually abusive behavior with their students” during the second half of the 20th century, while the “best available data reports that 4 percent of Catholic priests sexually violated a minor child” during that period, Mr. Plante wrote.

All this suggests that our society must be vigilant about protecting children, something the Catholic Church failed to do by permitting predators to strike repeatedly.

The abuse of children by those placed in positions of respect and trust is one of the worst betrayals imaginable. All institutions whose members preyed on children must work to help victims heal and do all they can to prevent new abominations.


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