Pennsylvania’s newly released grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse focused on only six of the eight Catholic dioceses in the state. Still, jurors’ allegations that senior church officials covered up sex abuse has sent shock waves through Catholic communities across the country.
The report, published Tuesday, unearthed graphic stories of boys and girls assaulted and raped by Catholic priests in the dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. The grand jury identified 301 “predator priests” and more than 1,000 sexual abuse victims over the past 70 years.
Jurors said that in many cases, senior church officials knew that these abuses were occurring yet worked to dismiss victims’ claims and protect the priests.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops promised on Thursday to make it easier for Catholics to report misconduct by bishops and to have those complaints resolved. The USCCB also pledged to ask the Vatican to investigate accusations swirling around former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, a high-ranking cleric who has been accused of sexually abusing boys and adult seminarians.
The proposals will be presented to the full body of bishops during a November meeting.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the USCCB’s president, called the failure of bishops on the issue of child sexual abuse a “moral catastrophe.”
“I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures,” he wrote in a statement. “It will take work to rebuild that trust.”
The Vatican also issued a statement Thursday, saying, “There should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur.”
Tony Gentile / Reuters
As the church debates its next steps, American Catholics took to social media this week to express their horror over the detailed accusations in the report. These Catholics are not only outraged; they’re also demanding swift and concrete change.
Some called for all U.S. bishops to follow the example of Chile’s bishops and offer Pope Francis their resignations. Others wanted to see similar grand jury investigations taken up by other U.S. states. According to BishopAccountability.org, which keeps track of sexual abuse cases, there have been just nine investigations by prosecutors or grand juries of American Catholic dioceses or archdioceses.
Others wanted all Catholic dioceses to voluntarily release lists of all current and former priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. The Associated Press reports that only about 40 of America’s nearly 200 Catholic dioceses have released lists with the names of accused priests.
Although the outpouring of anger may seem to be tearing the church apart, the Rev. James Martin, an editor at large of the Jesuit magazine America, said he believes that it is “good, healthy and clarifying.”
In a New York Times op-ed, he encouraged Catholics to speak to their pastors and bishops and express their anger to the Vatican’s representatives.
“Listen to your anger. Let it inform you,” Martin wrote. “Let it move you to act in whatever way you think will most protect children and root out the clerical rot that gave rise to these crimes.”
Read on to see how some American Catholics are grappling with the Pennsylvania abuse report.
I’m Catholic, albeit, a flawed one. Yes, every state AG should follow Pennsylvania’s example and conduct a thorough investigation into sexual predator priests. The Church should fully cooperate.
The victims deserve justice.
The perpetrators deserve punishment. #ZeroTolerance https://t.co/WvwvWXtm0C
— Ana Navarro (@ananavarro) August 16, 2018
Devastating news out of Pennsylvania underscores the fact that clergy abuse is a systemic problem that will only change if we address a culture of clericalism & secrecy. We need real mechanisms to hold bishops accountable, lay leadership, and transparency. Outrage is not enough.
— John Gehring (@gehringdc) August 14, 2018
275 is the number of bishops and cardinals in active (non-retired) ministry in the United States.
275 is the number of resignations that Pope Francis should find on his desk tomorrow.
Do not wait. Follow Chile. The People of God demand it. #usbishopsresign https://t.co/lGpakYiTVl
— Dr. Susan Reynolds (@SusanBReynolds1) August 14, 2018
This is why voluntary release of names of abusive clergy is so important. That’s not to say no more grad juries will be convened but they are far less likely if bishops are simply forthright sooner than later. https://t.co/FTokLo7TyU
— Dan Cosacchi (@dcosacchi) August 15, 2018
At the very least, having all the cardinals renounce their titles and privileges and take on some symbolic gesture of repentance in every state (prostration, etc) – that would go a long way https://t.co/I7nSZ7REau
— Kevin Ahern (@kevin_ahern) August 16, 2018
Given the PA AG report, and that something similar likely occurred in every other state, I don’t see how we as a Church move forward without massive resignations. And by move forward, I mean care for the victims and show sinful abuse of authority has no place in the Church.
— Michael Rozier (@RozierSJ) August 16, 2018
Dear @USCCB: More resignations and handing over to the police, less vague and empty statements of regret.
— Zac Davis (@zacdayvis) August 14, 2018
The Church is now on the edge. How this is handled will determine its future. There has to be open, willing and courageous conversation about the Church’s poor relationship with human sexuality which is the systemic problem. We have to face up before it all is destroyed
— Russell Pollitt (@rpollittsj) August 16, 2018
Every current U.S. Bishop – every. single. one. – should make a public statement, both filmed & written, about their desire to weed out corruption, sexual impurity, & defend people against potential abuse of any kind.
This is no longer an “option.” This is a necessity.
— Katie Prejean McGrady (@KatiePrejean) August 14, 2018
27/Top-to-bottom, Spirit-led reform guided by a combination of clergy, religious, lay leaders, theologians, and outside voices is the *only* step that will move us forward as a Church. Anything else is giving aspirin to a cancer patient.
— Michael Bayer (@mbayer1248) August 16, 2018
As a Catholic, as a father, I want to know the concrete steps my diocese and other dioceses have taken to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. With so many bishops implicated by this and other scandals, what reassurances do we have?
— Greg Hillis (@gregorykhillis) August 14, 2018
The church’s institutions have been reformed and reformed again. It’s time for us, especially those of us who were too young to do anything in 2002, to step up and push for reform again until we’ve rid the church of this evil. (end)
— Colleen Dulle (@ColleenDulle) August 16, 2018
For right now we’re not conservative Catholics or liberal Catholics: we’re all just really, really, really angry Catholics.
— Kaya Oakes (@kayaoakes) August 15, 2018