People are struggling with the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is how Church leaders failed to deal with priests who were abusing.
Cardinal DiNardo described the situation as “morally reprehensible.” The Vatican issued a public statement, saying that the abuse is best described with two words, “shame and sorrow” and called the abuse “criminally and morally reprehensible.”
What should be ‘next steps’ for the Church? First, bishops need to focus on the survivors of abuse, not on our reputation. One thing that contributed to the mishandling of abuse cases in the past was that we were too self-focused on the institution of the Church. One of greatest moral failures has been our neglect of victims. We have improved, but we must do better. This is especially true for the bishops, but it applies to the Church at-large. Pope Francis responded to the report by telling the victims that he is “on their side.”
Second, we need to acknowledge the wrongs that have been done, and not go on the “defensive,” which, at times, has been our first reaction. As bishops, we need to listen to the pain of the people in the pew. Conversion is only possible when we admit our sin.
Yet, a balanced perspective is essential. Since the Dallas Charter in 2002, much has changed. This was shown in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which revealed very few new instances of sexual abuse since 2002. Our manner of responding to allegations of sexual abuse has changed drastically. We should not be discouraged and lament that nothing has changed.
Also, the response to allegations has been different in every diocese. In one of the media reports, it was stated the what happened in Pennsylvania is true for every diocese in every state. That is false. It is a gross generalization that the facts will show to be incorrect. Some bishops were getting this right well before 2002.
Next, the Bishops need to invite qualified lay people to scrutinize the issues with impartiality. Bishop Scharfenberger of Albany has called for a commission of lay people to investigate claims of abuse and misconduct against bishops. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo has announced that the bishops will take up a comprehensive plan to address these issues in their November meeting.
These are a few places to start. Also, I am writing about this situation in the September issue of the Wyoming Catholic Register. In the meantime, remember all the good and faithful priests who are serving so well each day. Find hope in their sacrifices and fidelity. Together let us pray for the Church and work hard to address our sins.