New Sex Abuse Scandals Plague Catholic Institutions -- Will the Church Ever Change?
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It’s been years since the massive wave of Catholic clergy-abuse stories began to break, with victims speaking out and horrors uncovered. It’s true that instances of traumatizing sexual and physical abuse from clergy in many other religions and denominations have surfaced in the ensuing years, proving that the problem is hardly endemic to one religion or group of people. But in Catholic strongholds where abuse was widespread, the problem has been systemic, and the coverup attempts by the church are egregious and often premeditated and coordinated. Centralized hierarchies have led to centralized denial--until recent years, when there has been a centralized attempt to clean house.
Nowadays, the subject of child abuse by the clergy is often one broached by standup comedians and cynics. A disconnect is growing between the American Catholic church and its followers, and not just on this issue: study after study shows that Catholic laypeople are aligned with the rest of the American population--and against the church--when it comes to “social issues” abortion, especially birth control (which a vast majority use, directly countering church doctrine) and now even gay marriage.
Yet the clergy abuse stories continue to unfold in the arenas of church politics, law enforcement and the religious landscape. The last big scandal was in Wisconsin, when abuse at a school for the deaf was revealed, and more have surfaced since.
Just this week a record financial settlement was reached with abuse victims in the Northwest, while the Philadelphia abuse scandal continued. Last Friday alone, the New York Times published three separate stories about Catholic clergy abuse cases; a Google news search for “Catholic priest abuse” revealed ongoing or recently concluded cases in Connecticut, California, Tennessee and the Midwest--and these are just domestic cases. In Ireland, the entire nation remains up in arms about a “ smoking gun” document which revealed, essentially, that the coverup of abuses there was sanctioned by the Vatican.
And that culture of denial and collusion that has been so slow to change may explain why these stories keep popping up even after earnest vows of reform from the church. A system that worked for decades one way may not be able to transform overnight--particularly when many of the power dynamics remain the same.
The Philly 21
Two Times stories were related to the unfolding case in Philadelphia, in which a grand jury found that “ the archdiocese allowed 37 priests accused of abuse or inappropriate behavior to remain in ministry.” As a result, a few weeks ago the church suspended 21 clergy or teachers now being referred to by some as “the Philly 21” or “the Philadelphia 21.”
This was after a new system of “review” boards had been implemented by the church (in the wake of other scandals) to root out exactly this kind of problem. But the review boards, staffed by outsiders with experience in law enforcement and accountable to church authorities, found no problem in Philadelphia even where the legal system found many.
A criminal proceeding is beginning against several church officials, including a monsignor, two priests, one former priest, and a former school teacher under the parochial purview:
“The priests and the schoolteacher are already accused of rape; the monsignor, William Lynn, the highest-ranking official to be accused of a crime in the three-decade-long abuse scandal in the United States, is suspected of covering up rape by the priests and is charged with child endangerment.”
One of the stories in the Times described a “blistering courtroom session” at a preliminary hearings for the case, at which the monsignor was repeatedly told by the judge that it could jeopardize his own interest to have a defense team sponsored by the archdiocese itself--which would have a vested interest not in him, but in the church. Nonetheless, he insisted on retaining that defense.