Friday, January 11, 2019
I am very glad that Commonweal published this piece by Peter Steinfels ("The PA Grand-Jury Report: Not What It Seems"). The article should be required reading for Catholics and non-Catholics, journalists and citizens. Peter makes, among other things, some of the points I tried to make (but he makes them better) in this post ("Disentangling the Crisis") a few months ago. It's a long read, but -- again -- a must-read nevertheless.
My sense is that many Catholics are reluctant to take issue with reports and news stories about clerical abuse and episcopal cover-ups, for fear of seeming to minimize or excuse the grave wrongs committed by some. This reluctance is understandable. And yet, it is very important that Catholics and others be told the truth and understand what did, and what did not (or, what might not have) happen. Here's a bit, from near the end:
What does the report document? It documents decades of stomach-churning violations of the physical, psychological, and spiritual integrity of children and young people. It documents that many of these atrocities could have been prevented by promptly removing the credibly suspected perpetrators from all priestly roles and ministry. It documents that some, although far from all, of those failures were due to an overriding concern for protecting the reputation of the church and the clergy and a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of children. It also documents that a good portion of these crimes, perhaps a third or more, only came to the knowledge of church authorities in 2002 or after, when the Dallas Charter mandated automatic removal from ministry. It documents, well before 2002, many conscientious attempts to determine the truth of accusations and prevent any further abuse, often successful though sometimes poorly executed or tragically misinformed. It documents significant differences between dioceses and bishops and time periods in the response to allegation of abuse. It documents major changes in vigilance and response in some dioceses during the 1990s and, as far as the evidence shows, dramatic changes after 2002.
What does the report not document? It does not document the sensational charges contained in its introduction—namely, that over seven decades Catholic authorities, in virtual lockstep, supposedly brushed aside all victims and did absolutely nothing in the face of terrible crimes against boys and girls—except to conceal them. This ugly, indiscriminate, and inflammatory charge, unsubstantiated by the report’s own evidence, to say nothing of the evidence the report ignores, is truly unworthy of a judicial body responsible for impartial justice.
Why the media were so amenable to uncritically echoing this story without investigation, and why Catholics in particular were so eager to seize on it to settle their internal differences, are important topics for further discussion.