Many of us have wanted to believe that the Catholic Church had finally turned a corner in dealing with the crime of clerical sexual abuse.
Last August’s Pennsylvania grand jury report about 70 years of abuse in six dioceses and the July revelation of abuse of teens and adults committed by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick confirm that is not the case. Similar inquiries by approximately 20 state attorneys general, continuing efforts to lift the statute of limitations in many states for this crime, and the February 21–24 summit at the Vatican for presidents of bishops’ conferences all ensure that this issue will be in the Catholic and secular spotlight for the foreseeable future.
• Managing Editor Daniel Imwalle’s interview with a man who survived clergy abuse but whose faith has grown stronger;
• Sarah Margaret Babbs’ reflection on not being abused by a priest but dealing with the excruciating pain that she and countless others are facing;
• Janice Lane Palko’s interview with a young priest in the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania, ministering to Catholics reeling from these revelations; and
• Executive Editor Susan Hines Brigger’s editorial on a subject that she has reluctantly but thoroughly covered for 17 years through news items in our “Church in the News” column and in other forums.
For those who wish that we not publish so much on this subject, we recall that on February 24, Pope Francis told participants at the Vatican summit on clergy sexual abuse, “In people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted by these deceitful consecrated persons.”
The pope’s concluding address at the February summit can be found at www.Vatican.va. The pope noted the widespread abuse in society of minors and vulnerable adults but added: “We need to be clear: While gravely affecting our societies as a whole, this evil is in no way less monstrous when it takes place within the Church. The brutality of this worldwide phenomenon becomes all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.”
Father Federico Lombardi, the summit’s moderator and one of it planners, later emphasized the importance during the summit of personal testimonies from survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Responsibility, accountability, and transparency were the focus of each day during the summit.
On other occasions, the pope has said that the Church must be grateful to journalists who have covered this painful issue honestly. The Church needs the work of dedicated journalists everywhere in order to accompany survivors of such abuse and all those wounded by it.
We cannot change past events, but each day we can reinforce what we accept as normal and work to mitigate the horrendous damage already done. “Honesty Comes before Healing” was the title of my lead article in our June 2003 special issue on clergy sexual abuse. It still does. May St. Anthony of Padua help our Church find healing and hope. May he also assist our society in eliminating a scourge and crime that profoundly affects people in families, neighborhoods, and everywhere else.