I'm sure most of my readers have by now heard about the publication of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania. It investigated pedophile acts by clergy and laity in the Catholic Church over a period of some decades. The full report is devastating. Over a thousand known victims; hundreds of guilty persons; and a massive, deliberate, institutionalized cover-up of the facts by bishops and other authority figures within the Church.
I've written about this many times before, in the light of my own experiences within the Church - most recently just a few weeks ago. I won't repeat my sentiments here. It would be pointless.
However, for me, this grand jury report is the last straw. There is no longer any excuse for allowing the Church to police herself. The time has come to enforce policing upon her. If we don't, this will happen again, and again, and again. Sooner or later, we have to draw a line in the sand and say, "No further!" I believe that time has now come. I suggest the following steps.
- The first measure must be imposed on the Church by civil authorities. Investigations under the RICO statute(Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) should be summarily launched in every single diocese where clergy pedophilia is known to have occurred. All those involved in it - actors, those who covered it up, those who permitted it to continue by transferring priests to different locations where they could offend again, those who selected or approved candidates for ordination knowing of their deviant sexual status, the whole schmear - should be prosecuted under RICO, wherever possible. Where the statute of limitations on those offenses have expired, it should be extended to permit prosecution. If a long-term, repeated pattern of abuse can be identified and proved in court, that diocese as an entity or organization should face the maximum penalties under RICO, up to and including being shut down by the law.
- The Church must deal publicly and ruthlessly with its own "problem children". Every single bishop, vicar general, chancellor, vocations director, seminary professor or lecturer, etc. who ever permitted, tolerated, covered up, or otherwise enabled pedophile actions, by commission or by omission, should be forced to resign their positions, and never again trusted in public ministry. Those who have made vows or promises of obedience should be ordered to live the rest of their lives penitentially and prayerfully, perhaps in a monastery of strict discipline, perhaps in another form of private life where separation from the people of God is enforced.
- Those who do not merit removal from office must nevertheless be aware that this problem must be, and will be, rooted out. In the past, one would have presumed that those in ordained ministry would have at least some fear of God's justice. Sadly, events have demonstrated that this is probably a pipe dream. Nevertheless, every single ordained minister of the Church should be ordered, on pain of instant and irreversible removal from the clerical state, to swear an oath, under the most severe penalties, that he has never engaged in any pedophile act, never covered one up, never helped to enable a pedophile to continue his career, or in any other way permitted, tolerated or encouraged this sin. If they won't take the oath, laicize them on the spot. The penalty for perjury, if and when discovered, should be instant, automatic, and irreversible excommunication from the Church. I think Matthew 18:6 is sufficiently explicit to warrant such a punishment.
- The Church's structures and institutions for selecting, educating and ordaining candidates to the priesthood must be reformed to eliminate, as far as possible, every influence and individual who might select any but the most orthodox, committed and faithful would-be clergy.
The book "Goodbye, good men" describes the situation that developed in US seminaries and dioceses in the past. Sadly, this is often still the case. The entire process must be reformed. If the US church will not do it itself, then reform must be imposed from outside.
For myself . . . I find myself saddened, yet again, beyond my ability to describe it. I've been accused of being a traitor to God and the Church by turning my back on it and my vocation, and walking away from the priesthood. I was excoriated for not staying in the priesthood and working to fix the problem, instead of running away from it. I did not do that because I saw no meaningful way whatsoever of working to correct the problem, inside an institution that was working to cover it up rather than fix it. I believed that staying within so fundamentally flawed an institution - not in its Divine sense, but in its human sense - would actually help to perpetuate the problem, rather than solve it. Nothing I've seen in recent years has led me to revise that belief. Instead, events have reinforced it.
I believe that the human institution of the Catholic Church has so damaged itself that it is no longer salvageable except by radically stripping and pruning it of all who are or have been complicit in this disaster, from the highest levels to the lowest. It appears that the Church cannot or will not do this from within; therefore, I believe the time has come that it must be imposed from outside. The alternative is to see this situation continue - and that is so wrong, on moral, ethical and legal grounds, as to be absolutely intolerable.
Meanwhile, until that is done, I suggest that the faithful should withhold their support from the Church for all except its local needs. A parish should support its own activities, that goes without saying; but any special collections, any appeals for Diocesan projects, any funding of anything outside the immediate oversight and scrutiny of those donating the money, should be summarily rejected. The institution of the Church depends on its deep pockets - so sew them shut. Deprive those who have allowed this problem to arise and continue, of the financial wherewithal to keep on doing so.
Finally, to those who are still faithful, please don't be angry at the press and others who have exposed this problem for what it is. As I said a long time ago:
I ... had to ask whether God wasn't deliberately using the news media to accomplish something He'd been trying to get His bishops to do for years – decades! - without success. Since they'd so signally failed in their responsibilities, it seemed to me that the Lord appeared to be using the news media instead – conspicuously less than holy though it might be in many ways – to clean up His Church.
I've seen nothing to make me change that opinion. We owe a debt of gratitude to the reporters, legal professionals, and others who've refused to let things lie, and have continued to investigate this crisis and bring it to the attention of the public. I believe they are doing God's work, where the bishops have failed to do so.
Nevertheless, I remain sickened, saddened and in mourning for what the bishops have done to what was once the institution to which I swore obedience, and expected to serve for the rest of my life. I no longer know what to expect when my own time comes to encounter God's judgment. Heaven knows, I'm at least as much of a sinner as anyone else. Will I find understanding and mercy at the end? Or have I forfeited them by "looking back" after my ordination? I don't know, in human terms. All I can say is, if I had to make the same choice again, I'd probably do today what I did at the time. In conscience, I could do no less. May God forgive me if I'm wrong.
EDITED TO ADD: Go read Rod Dreher's impressions of the report. He lays it out in sickening detail.