In light of the document release from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the long, expensive, abhorrent, cover-up it exposes of child sexual abuse, Catholics discuss whether the Church is becoming more accountable in Her attempts to protect children.
The reports coming out of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles of the cover-up of scores of cases of child abuse that occurred over several decades and at least as recently as the 1990s brought back feelings of outrage, pain and sadness among many of the nation's Catholics. Some reacted to the document release with jaded resignation, watching as yet another cache of case files on hidden abuse was unveiled. When reflecting on why this abuse remains hidden, the issue of accountability among the Church's leadership is of central importance. Will the Catholic Church, those inside and out of the Church wonder, ever heal from the evil inflicted upon children, and the secrets kept by Church officials to protect those who preyed on the innocent?
In the following, those who recognize the horror of abuse but still love the Church comment on this complex issue, in particular on what this most recent story signifies for the American Church in its journey to accountability.
Based on the news out of Los Angeles, is Church leadership making any progress in terms of accountability?
John Zmirak, author of The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Catechism, offers his straightforward analysis to Aleteia that “Eleven years after the explosion of the abuse scandal–when 2/3s of bishops were shown to have hidden sex abusers, it still takes the action of a secular judge and secular journalists to make bishops come clean. If those files had been silently handed from Cardinal Mahony to Archbishop Gomez, does anyone really believe the Mahony would have been suspended? If so, I have some indulgences I'd like to sell you.”
Rev. C.J. McCloskey, author and Fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute, believes that what the late Fr. Neuhaus called “the long Lent” is, in fact, almost over. “The problem in a word was 'clericalism'”, explains Fr. McCloskey. There is a generation of Church leadership that “simply did not believe or want to believe that they had priests who were acting in this way – it was clannish, they were protecting their priests and not reporting them. That can’t happen anymore. Any bishop or priest who is protecting a pedophile could go to jail. That generation [of Church leadership] is passing now.”
In a recent article, Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, sees Archbishop Gomez's public letter as a definitive sign of change. “For more than a decade, since the explosion of the sex-abuse crisis, American Catholic bishops have been issuing apologies, promising changes, instituting procedures—but never directly acknowledging the damage done to their credibility by their own negligence and malfeasance…Now at last—a decade overdue, but better late than never—we have the first clear public example of fraternal correction. One prelate has held another to account.”
These are just a few of the varying perspectives that are held by faithful Catholics on the state of episcopal responsibility in the United States. All seem to agree, however, that there certainly is still room for improvement.
Are there ways in which Church leadership could become more accountable?
Patheos Blogger Elizabeth Scalia, in a recent post on Cardinal Mahoney's accounting of child protection efforts in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, says that keeping silent about abuse can not be reduced to a single motivation. She writes, “what happened in the church, the abuse, the cover-ups, the neglectful mentality, was like a macrocosm of sexual abuse within the family, where authority, shame and confused love all work to keep things hidden.”
According to Fr. McCloskey, much of the abuse scandals stem from poor formation and the application process for the seminary. When poor moral theology was commonplace and those with deep seated homosexual tendencies were accepted into the seminary, the result was “men who acted out in the seminary and then preyed on young men after ordination. Any bishop of the Pope Benedict era is going to make sure that anyone who enters the seminary has the capacity to live chastely.” Bishops and priests, Fr. McCloskey insists, must make the laity their primary concern. “Therefore,” Fr. McCloskey says, “Bishops’ first pastoral concern is to take care of their priests so that they are healthy, chaste men.”
John Zmirak takes a different tack, suggesting, “Every bishop in America should submit his resignation to the Vatican, along with the full records of his handling of sex abuse cases. The pope and his staff should review those records, and decline the resignations of men who performed well.”
The U.S. Bishops themselves have worked towards increased accountability by developing and agreeing to adhere to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (chartered in 2005 and revised in 2011) which outlines ways in which dioceses are to respond to allegations of abuse, report such allegations, protect the faithful in the future, and reach out in reconciliation to victims.
Is there hope for a more transparent Church in the future?
In the discussion about accountability, it should be acknowledged that the ultimate goal of holding leadership accountable is to prevent the pain and suffering of sexual abuse in the future.
Pope Benedict, in an audience with U.S. Bishops in the Fall of 2011 agreed with many of the above commentators that a confrontation with reality is what is needed to move forward with efforts to prevent abuse. He said that he “wished to acknowledge personally the suffering inflicted on the victims and the honest efforts made both to ensure the safety of our children and to deal appropriately and transparently with allegations as they arise. It is my hope that the Church’s conscientious efforts to confront this reality will help the broader community to recognize the causes, true extent and devastating consequences of sexual abuse, and to respond effectively to this scourge which affects every level of society.”